- This is the first week in quite a while that I fulfilled all of my at-work weekly objectives. Sometimes lowering your sights slightly can pay off. Yet I also feel I accomplished more than recent weeks. It’s probably a combination of smaller, more accomplishable (therefore likely better-defined) objectives and actual progress on a thing that’s been lingering for a while. We’ll see if this is a trick or a technique.
- Having to explain my thoughts about product research/design/development to folks I work with, and having them ask me to operationalize parts of it they don’t fully understand, has led me to explaining some of the concepts from new angles. This is challenging my thinking and helping me to firm it up.
- I had a lovely chat with a person who is contemplating moving from designer to design manager. I find this sort of thing rewarding because I like helping, and I like meeting people, and because it reminds me of what I’ve learned, what I think, and to listen first. It’s tempting to opine, but only valuable lightly and if that opinion is actually relevant to the person’s situation or question.
Be it version three or an MVP, the experience we deliver should
- be valuable to specific users
- be usable by those users
- conform to or enhance the user’s understanding of the subject area
- be pleasant to use
- be visually polished
- deliver value in results and conveniences
- minimize toil
- be complete in its delivery of the uses we offer
- be complete in its states, messages, and errors
- make good use of familiar controls and interaction paradigms
- make success obvious
- be obvious in expected actions and right action
- be self-explanatory, relying on recognition rather than training and recall
- be well-labeled
- be instrumented so we can witness users’ successes and difficulties
…even if the scope is small, even if it’s a little slice of functionality from a bigger, longer-term plan, even if it is a fragment of the excellent future we envision. Even the basics should be built completely, with thoughtfulness and pride.
- I installed a bluteotth kit behind the factory car stereo in the 2006 Matrix and
- it worked on the first try,
- it sounds great,
- pairing was easy and the connection seems reliable, and
- in doing so I accidentally fixed the clock.
- I also found a decent way to plug the hole in the dash left by the old aux in jack.
- There’s a personnel issue at work, but it has a bright side and is totally surmountable. It is very likely that the parties involved will grow as a result. That’s not an easy way to get growth, but I’ll take it, this time.
- I hit a new one-rep deadlift max on Wednesday. 365lbs is a far cry from the max of my youth or even of a decade ago, but I can see my way to exceeding those with time. Forward!
- It’s downright refreshing to work for a company that doesn’t reflexively look to “try harder” as the answer to its problems. It’s nice to hear the CEO say that he doesn’t think our problem is not stretching enough. (His assertion is that it’s alignment we don’t have enough of, and that’s generally true also.)
- Our first design critique (of the “expected, not volunteered” style that I favor) went great. I expect it will continue to go great.
- My wife and I have hatched a plan to get our remaining stuff out of storage that does not involve a supreme concentrated effort. Much like how I’d prefer companies make progress on major initiatives, we have a plan to do a little each weekend. This will help us move items, repack the ones that need repacking, and weed out things we no longer want to keep a bit at a time and get out of the storage unit by March. We’ve already transformed four boxes of books into two boxes to keep and two for the Friends of the Eugene Public Library’s annual book sale. The lesson for everyone: you can get a lot done by
- getting started
- taking small bites
- in priority order.
This was meant to be a week in Santa Barbara for work and a little play. A climate-change-strengthened “atmospheric river” made it a week of travel difficulties, muddy torrents, and missed connections. Even so…
- One-on-one meetings in person, with folks I’ve only recently met and met only online, went fine. Well, even.
- Though we were only able to accomplish about half of our agenda, that half was a good half.
- Santa Barbara has good food.
- It was interesting to watch, over the course of a few days, our ideas about alternative travel emerge rise and fall in sensibility as conditions changed: roads closed, buses halted, trains canceled, airports shut…ultimately the tie between “take the train” and “rent a car” was decided by Amtrak taking longer to dry the flooded train tracks than CalTrans took to scrape the mud off of the 101. But…
- …renting a car allowed us to give a ride to two team members, adding a positive to early disaster.
Do you have any suggestions for the management team?
1) If you make a decision, tell us. Better yet, tell us right away and tell us why, especially if that decision reverses a prior decision.
2) Please consider different/additional business models for the consulting business. I wrote a bit about this in my prior review and shouldn’t repeat it here except to point out that it is apparent to me that the strict hourly model places a lid on profitability, quality, and employee engagement in the work. That’s probably necessary to point three below.
3) Please consider how to make compensation and benefits more competitive. I also wrote about this in my prior review. I’ve since realized that this is not just a competitiveness problem; it is also an equity and inclusion problem.
At the time I said “there also are numerous small compensation-related disappointments that I’ve mostly gotten over” — I was wrong about that. A few of them have run their course and no longer affect me directly; these are PTO accrual from zero, no benefits until well over one calendar month plus the month of start has elapsed, no profit sharing after a cutoff date rather than prorated profit sharing after a cutoff date, no key to the office for the first month. These will remain disappointments to new hires and in one case (benefits delay) is distinctly family-unfriendly.
No holidays is a real problem, as it takes fifteen days of PTO and makes it behave like eight. Eight days are VERY easy to consume and exceed in a year’s time, and folks in young families, with elderly parents to care for, or with disabilities or medical concerns are likely to burn through this allowance rapidly and find both their earning potential and ability to recharge harmed as a result. This is (unintentionally) as anti-diversity as it could be, as the least likely to be negatively affected are unattached young men followed by men in multi-earner households.
We’ve since learned from our research interviews with Directors and VPs that low offers plus lack of holidays is also a distinct brake on hiring, as they are a double blow to total compensation. We’re in a competitive environment where parity with local employers is no longer sufficient (and are we sure we meet even that standard?).
All the more reason to examine the business model or add additional business models to our portfolio.
Back to work! Back to school!
- I had good workouts this week. I’m going heavy, pushing the intensity, and I can tell the day after, but it’s not coming with the little injuries and issues that it once did. I’m adapting.
- I let my diet go a bit (a bit?) during the holiday break and have not been that quick to come back to plan, but things are fine. I could do better at getting enough protein, and my discipline with sugar is a bit off, but nothing terrible. I’ve noticed that unless I need to report my diet to someone it’s a lot harder to keep up with logging, and thus staying on plan. It doesn’t make rational sense, but it makes emotional sense. Renting accountability is a thing.
- The good meetings with good people at work continue – including a refreshing chat with the CEO. I remembered to ask him how he would notice if I accomplished the transformation we are hoping for, and he had an answer and a promise to think more deeply about it.
- The real question will be whether or not this transformation and the attendant results are contradicted somehow by coming OKRs. Since the company is new to OKRs there’s widespread fear that each important thing that should be done will be crowded out if it doesn’t directly and strongly map to an OKR. The reason this is a win is that it represents the company trying to focus more, which is better than the all-too-common alternative to try harder.
Weekly wins seems to do its job, reminding me to remember what good is happening. Sometimes it is quiet.
- Two words: LEGO Minibus. It’s a super fun set, though delicate in some areas (attachment of the front roof, attachment of the front bumper) and weirdly overbuilt in others (steering, pop-up roof). It’s stuffed with enjoyable details like the refrigerator, tilting table, folding rear seat, cooktop, and boxer engine.
- Two words: holiday shutdown.
- I almost always type “weekly winds.”
Things are quieting down at work as people prepare for the holidays and tack a little more break onto the company’s end-of-year break next week. Even so
- I managed to interview twenty or so key employees and pick up the names of another nine I should talk to
- I started to plumb the depths of what we do and don’t know about our users – there are many opinions about the adequacy of what we know, and I suspect most of them are at least directionally right (most folks I have spoken to think we know at least a little less than we should).
- I moved portfolio items to this site and dropped the other host. It all looks like a dog’s breakfast at the moment, but phase one of my “online presence improvement project” is thus under way.
- I had productive one-on-ones and critique with the few members of my team that aren’t yet on vacation. It’s nice to get back into the routine and to be helping.
The twists and turns of my prior role are relevant to my new role. My self-eval of 2021 contains lessons for me now, though the stated goals of my new role will be related but different. (Edited to anonymize.)
What are the top three accomplishments you want to celebrate this review cycle? (Please include specifics: dates, outcomes, team members, metrics/data)
I had a handful of goals and subgoals since starting. Some of these I have been successful in.
Increase UX Design capacity to meet demand, which meant
- Seek temporary capacity from known good sources
- Hire for open positions
- Establish job descriptions and UX career ladder
- Adjust hiring process to be more rapid
I did all of these over the course of one and a half quarters, though we later lost three of our six designers and are back near where we started (one to another role, one to health issues, and one to performance and budget). So this is both an area of accomplishment and an area for improvement, as I have two positions that remain open at this moment.
Review and approve “One Look” style guide
It turns out that our pattern library was not in a coherent or approvable state and we needed to pick up the pieces. So I allocated some capacity to it, coached [person] in how to proceed, and we’ve since adopted it as a team even as it continues to improve. It’ll always be a work in progress, but we hear that at least two engineering teams are starting to share components based on our work there. Short of a CTO-level initiative to change coding practices this is about as good a result as we could hope for – engineers seeing the value and taking initiative. We also have POs interested in the contents of the pattern library as they look over the engineering team’s work and seek to provide better guidance and checking that things are made well.
Recruit to begin establishing UX Research capability
I was successful in this goal until it was withdrawn for budget reasons. It involved
- Writing our first research job description and including research functions in the career ladder
- Coaching and calibrating internal recruiting to find the right sorts of candidates
We got to the point where we found a great candidate and made an offer! But it was not to be, budget-wise.
What are three areas you could improve based on your performance during 2021? (Please include specifics: dates, outcomes, team members, metrics/data)
I could be more effective in driving the accessibility of our products. This isn’t an area that has a single owner – the responsibility and activities necessary to do a good job here are distributed over PM, design, engineering, and QA. Our organizational temptation is to assign a single owner, but what we really need are champions in each of the necessary disciplines, who are charged with working together to adjust our behavior end-to-end. This will be an ongoing effort, but I hope to make major progress in 1H. First step: gather champions.
I would like to devote more attention to adapting UX deliverables to better meet engineering needs and better foster experience quality. This will help with the above accessibility push. This will be an ongoing effort, but I hope to make major progress in 1H. This will involve enlisting the individual designers, their PO counterparts, and their tech leads to discuss what they are receiving, what it lacks, and what it doesn’t need, and experimenting with adjustments.
I wish I had made more progress driving usability testing as a habit. I’ve chipped away at procedures, recruiting. tooling, buy-in, etc. but we have not made it over the hump yet. This will be an ongoing effort, but I hope to make major progress in Q1. I’m currently working on getting an unmoderated testing tool so that we can accomplish tests asynchronously.
Our mission is foundational to what we do. How has your work contributed to our mission?
I regularly re-orient discussion of our products’ features, new work, and remediation toward discussion of who it is for, what scenario they are in, what goals they have, and how we can best help with those goals. As I seek to improve our processes and overall experience quality in an effort to deliver economic value to the business and to our customers, I have a specific focus on improving our level of user contact and our attention on burden. This should make it easier for the above discussions to be successful. (Burden is not specifically mentioned in the mission, but in materials surrounding it, and we have chosen burden reduction as a key component of fulfilling the mission.)
Please reflect on your activities this year and provide examples of how you have contributed to our values of Integrity, Inclusion, and Innovation during the review cycle?
“Contributing to values” is all about embodiment and modeling.
Integrity – by which we mean honesty and strong ethical principles
I model for others being clear and communicative, dealing the good news and the bad, not hiding, and bringing thoughts and feelings to consciousness in the moment. An example of this is leaping into both communication and action once I realized that I had deleted the PM area of Confluence. I also help the people I support act with integrity by discussing their overlapping and conflicting motivations and helping them reframe these into a clear course of action with integrity.
Inclusion – by which we mean recruit/engage/retain diverse and empowered teams
I model for others an appropriately accommodating, empathetic, and observable-fact-based approach to supporting employees and peers, including guiding others to consider and deal effectively with the emotional components of business conversations. I have pressed recruiting to make sure we are casting a wide net, and have offered job boards to post on meant to improve the diversity of our applicants. I examine my own responses to candidates for evidence of unconscious bias. I exhibit genuine positive regard for all those I support.
Innovation – by which we mean creating value for customer and company
Our definition of innovation is, I think, too narrow. More traditional definitions of innovation involve introducing new ideas or methods. Improving our level of user contact will allow us to change our organizational behavior to better deliver quality through research-supported benefits-driven epics, concept generation and testing, and usability testing. I regularly relate difficulties our company faces to things I’ve learned or read elsewhere, seek new input from outside the company, and involve others in considering multiple ways forward for any challenge.
What are your goals for 2022? (Please include specifics: dates, outcomes, team members, metrics/data)
Drive the accessibility of our products
This will require us to
- Complete training of UX team on accessibility topics by end of Q2 for existing employees
- Offer relevant accessibility training to engineering and product teams in Q1
- Work with QA to establish what accessibility details need to be defined in stories and what are to be handled by common test cases by the end of Q2
- Develop the habit of meeting this agreement by the end of Q3
Adapt UX deliverables to better meet the needs of the engineering team
This will require us to
- Examine engineering needs and adapt design deliverables to be lightweight yet complete, having discussed goals and experimenting with changes by end of Q2
- Drive adoption and further improvement of the pattern library, ongoing
- Gain agreement with POs about which acceptance criteria need to come from UX and what are the POs’ responsibilities, by the start of 2H
Improve level of user contact team-wide
This will require us to
- Increase level of research outside of Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) in products that have UX involvement: at least one non-CAB research activity per month per product by start of 2H
- Make usability testing a habit in products that have UX involvement: at least one test round per “UX needed” epic by end of 2H except where change is experientially trivial
Improve the integration of the product content team into design, development, and go-to-market activities
This will require us to
- Catalog product content deliverables and their goals in Q1
- Establish division of labor with customer success and modernization teams in Q2
- Refine delivery process and its reporting in Q3
Contribute to the globalization of our products
This will require us to
- Work with [person] to establish requirements around commonly-localized data formats, ongoing
- Document commonly-localized data formats in the pattern library, ongoing
- Establish, with he help of engineering, a format and process to manage microcopy (so that it is catalogued, available for translation, investable by engineering, and standardized) and by the end of the year