Running a team colocation — Days of the week

Shiyu Zhu
Shiyu Zhu
Mar 5, 2018 · 7 min read

As a part of the COLOYOLO series, this is a second post to giving you insights into our week.

The Friday before

In preparation for the co-location week, we started off by sending a survey to gather:

  1. Everyone’s objective for the week
  2. List of questions they’d like answers for by the end of the week

We then added this to a google doc and decided to divide the week into two streams; engineering and product/design with data science in the middle.

To maximize team collaboration and to embrace the ‘working week’ idea, we took the flexible (YOLO) approach and avoided planning sessions with a defined agenda.

Instead, we booked 2–3 hour time-blocks in the teams calendar by grouping a list of similar questions/objectives collected via the survey. We used time-blocks to:

  1. Block the team’s time
  2. Book meeting rooms
  3. Allow team collaboration to happen locally
  4. Avoid over planning

Monster Monday…

Our Morning

Long flight, jet-lagged and sleep deprived. Sounds hectic?? But no excuses.

We started the morning with yummy Danish cookies and licorice. With that perfect balance of sugar, we are now ready for a ‘sweet’ start to the week.

We started our first 2-hour time block discussing:

  1. Pressing issues we would like to resolve
  2. List of goals we have for the week

From there, we opened up our calendars and juggled the time-blocks to meet these objectives.

To maximize the week, this was the structure we came up with:

  1. Monday — Tuesday (Meetings to spec out details)
  2. Wednesday — Thursday (Working days)
  3. Friday (Demo day)

Our Afternoon

It was soon the afternoon and where is our designer Tim??

Just as we speak, we see Tim rockin’ into the office with bloodshot eyes telling us the last thing he remembers was leaving Copenhagen on a Saturday afternoon. It turned out the connecting flights in Dubai had not ‘connected’, leaving Tim to chill in the desert for 10 extra hours (not actually a desert but an air-conditioned room in a hotel, but you get the picture :p)

With no rest, he huddled the engineers around our desks telling us he wants a treat! A huge treat by the end of the week that makes all this traveling worthwhile. How would we document this adventure? How many customers could we speak to? How fast could we move?

We had a unique opportunity, and we had to harness the collective powers. We had all the ingredients we needed to cook up a working Content Cues feast.

With collective power and EAP metrics in mind, we narrowed down the scope of the problem and came up with a ‘weekly challenge’, which was:

“Solidify previous customer feedback, design a solution that presents the available data to drive knowledge creation and edit actions by the end of the week”


Our plan of attack was to use this co-location opportunity to conduct daily A/B test with customers, ultimately finalizing on a single design.

To split up the work, we had Tim(designer) responsible for prototyping, me booking in the daily customer sessions and the engineers setting up for the UI work and the backend APIs.

Learnings of the Day

Get everyone in the same room when you can, being together allows for quick breakout sketch sessions and jam on workflow ideas.

Tuesday Tuning..

Here comes Tuesday and we spent the day:

  1. Polishing our InVision prototype
  2. Collecting internal team feedback on designs
  3. Building out our research plan for validation
  4. Populating the user prototype with customer data with the trusty help of our data scientists

Work-it Wednesday

It’s judgment day, and today will be the first time where we will take our work for customer feedback

Customer Session 1

With the help of caffeine, we quickly pulled together the prototype just in time for our afternoon session with Sheldon, Support Manager from Box & Dice.

The session intended to compare the information architecture of the two designs we came up with on Monday. There was one question we wanted answer:

“Do enterprise users prefer creating new knowledge or do they prefer editing existing knowledge ”

To achieve this, we prepared two prototypes containing identical data. We had one design focusing on driving article creation while the second design was focusing on presenting a workflow of how users might decide to create/edit self-service knowledge.

To facilitate the session, we started off by giving the user a few minutes to digest the first design followed by the below questions:

  1. Describe to us what you think the purpose/intention of this page is?
  2. What will you remove from the page?
  3. What is one component which you love about the page?
  4. What other functionalities would you like to see on the screen?
  5. How do you think this will fit into their day to day workflow?

We then went through the same process for the second design before concluding.

One crucial insight we heard was:

This was a vital piece of insight for us with the message being:

Before ending the call, Sheldon said he couldn’t wait to start using the product, and this was tremendous validation for us!

That satisfying feeling when you know you are solving a real customer problem allowed us to end the day on a high note.

Learnings of the Day

  1. Start your customer session with a question, validate your hypothesis and listen to your customer’s feedback. Never forget that we are building an experience, building software for people. It needs to be simple, engaging and understandable. It doesn’t matter how advanced your algorithm is, if users don’t understand it, they will never use it.
  2. Have customer sessions together with your designer, allow the power of UX and product to come together for quicker iterations and better alignment.

Thriving Thursday..

It’s nearly the end of the week, but we are just getting started!

In preparation for demo day, the engineers continued to work on the UI layout and the publishing of the backend events, while myself and Tim worked on finishing the remaining customer sessions.

Customer Session 2

We scheduled our second call in the afternoon with Cotton-On, leaving the morning free for us to update the design with Cotton-On’s data for a more realistic experience.

To ensure consistency in testing our hypothesis, we ran the session in the same way and received similar insights around the preference of editing articles confirming we are heading in the right direction.

Emma again was excited to see the design and says she can’t wait to use the product. Whoop Whoop! What a massive confidence boost for the all of us.

Bonding Time!!

While it has been a packed week, we are all about work hard, play hard. It’s 4:30 p.m, and with our game face on, we were off to laser tag and woahhh…. what a good sess with everyone unleashing their competitive side

Covered in sweat, we ended our Thursday night with Korean BBQ. We ate, chatted, relaxed and genuinely just had a good time. The huge smile on everyone’s face was priceless making this one of the highlights of our COLOYOLO week.

Friday… Funday!

Time flies, and it’s already wrap up time with our demo scheduled for the afternoon.

Last Customer Session

With no time to rest, Tim and I wrapped up our final customer session with a site visit to Real Estate Australia (REA) where we got to meet Abby and Norm, REA’s content creators. We structured the meeting like the previous two and guess what! Design 2 takes the trophy…..

As a bonus, we got an office tour from REA and gained a deeper understanding of how they are running their support teams and their daily struggles. In turn, it sparked valuable future product ideas for us to capture and take back to the broader team.

Demo Time!

Feeling deja vu, we are now back in the same room to where we were aside from the fact; we made progress! We kept the demo reasonably informal where we had each stream

  1. Summarizing their goal for the week
  2. The progress they made
  3. Demo the work

To our surprise, we completed what we set out to do walking away with:

  1. Publishing backend events to UI (Engineering & Data Science)
  2. A user experience which presents our model data in an understandable and actionable way
  3. UI layout built for the new experience

As a cherry on top, we are leaving the week with a list of tasks to focus on post EAP and most importantly, a team…. a team that succeeds and fails together, a team who trusts and opens up to each other.

Lesson of the day

Plan for at least one onsite visits for co-locations, especially when you are early in the development process. It’s an inexpensive way to test concepts and allows you to be closer to your customers

Zendesk Engineering

Engineering @ Zendesk

Thanks to Adel Smee and Nick Chieng

Shiyu Zhu

Written by

Shiyu Zhu

Product Manager @ Zendesk | Passionate about building great software products, eating nommy food and meeting new people

Zendesk Engineering

Engineering @ Zendesk

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