Breaking it down and putting it back together, together ;)

Knowledge / Inspiration

Breaking it down and putting it back together, together ;)

Continuous Discovery
UXDX USA 2021

For every UX & product challenge that Reed has encountered, he has always relied on his ability to break down any problems into digestible pieces and reassemble them into new perspectives. This allows the team and stakeholders to get clear on what they are talking about, and gain a deeper understanding of the basic principles of the user problems.
Drawing on the Generic Parts Technique developed by psychologist Tony McCaffrey and Ground Theory developed by two sociologists, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, Reed will talk through:

  • How he has overcome stakeholder challenges and increased the value of UX throughout his experiences,
  • How he has encouraged his product teams to be more involved through the UX process, and
  • How this framework has not only lead to a more cohesive and efficient team process but a more innovative culture

Hi, my name is Reed Jones. I'm a User Researcher at Zoox and I have the fun privilege of being able to work on autonomous vehicles. It's a super interesting and complex space and it's a space where collaboration is fundamentally required and when I say collaboration and this is something that I'd like to talk about today is I want to talk about, not just how do we get people in a room and kind of try to get alignment or get people on our side. But by collaboration, what I want to look at are what are the ways that we can powerfully and meaningfully bring people into our process so that they can help us really do the best work that we can and solve problems that maybe we couldn't or maybe not in the innovative ways that would be possible if we had more diverse thought in the room. So, I should start off by acknowledging that this is the way that I work this is the process and as a couple of the techniques that I like to leverage it does not mean that this is going to work for everybody. It's not going to be the best new thing that's going to be across the industry. So, it may not be product UX different people may adopt parts of it but maybe not the whole thing and that's what I really wanted to kind of get to is this idea that when I'm kind of sharing these things my hope is that you actually kind of take pieces of it. Figure out what pieces of it really you can leverage and add into your practice is an additional salt or additional spice. It's really going to be able to take your projects a bit further even if someone was to largely adopt what I'm kind of suggesting whole cloth and like really try to bring as much as possible into their process, my hope is that you'll augment it a little bit so that, that way you can get the best out of it and like really kind of make it fit your environment or the project you're working on, or even you as a person to really make that kind of match happen. And that might mean a little bit of editing, trimming even if a lot of it makes sense for you. What I hope that everyone takes away from this is or anyone that's watching this everyone's not going to watch it but anyone that's watching this, I hope there's four things that you kind of take away is one, I just really want to kind of stress put emphasis on the point of why is it so important to have a diverse group of people in the room so that, that way we are leveraging the best knowledge possible. I want to talk a little bit about what does it mean to really collaborated. I started talking about it a little bit earlier, but really I want to talk about why is it important and how do you do it? What do you need to do as an individual to make this happen? And lastly, I would like to walk through a couple of techniques that I believe really can be leveraged to bring people into the process and make it a collaborative environment where you can get the most from this diverse group that's really learning to collaborate together like you can get the most out of it. The place I would like to start is with this concept called Shared Knowledge. With shared knowledge it's this idea that the knowledge in the room that is most likely to be talked about, the most likely to be shared and even really be agreed upon is the knowledge that's already shared by the group as a whole. And so, what that means is when you have four people in the room, they're holding a little bit back and the knowledge is kind of out there and being discussed and kind of brought up and people would that they feel they can contribute to is the safe knowledge that everybody kind of holds and is it's kind of great to have. It feels good and it's probably the most comfortable and it feels at the time the logical way to go. The problem with it is when you have for people in the room, you're sharing one set of knowledge and that's the same knowledge that you'd be sharing if you have three people in the room and if you're really keeping it down to just what's kind of common, it would be the same as with just two people in the room or even that one person in the room. They already have the knowledge that if it's only the shared knowledge, so really wouldn't by adding people to the room, we're not bringing anything at all to the table that's what we're focusing on. So, what we have to do is as individuals, when we kind of enter a room and we're looking to collaborate kind of starting with the individual and kind of working out you really need to think about your unique contributions. What are the things from your discipline that are an interesting perspective that the group's going to gain from? What are the things from the discipline that are valuable for everyone to bounce ideas off of or challenge and try to augment with the knowledge they have? Is it your discipline? Is it your education background, your life experiences? Maybe it's just other interests that you have that you can bring to the table that are new information that the team can leverage to kind of get new insights. If you have those thoughts that are in the back of your mind or you hear that voice, ask that question ask raise it in a room so that, that way the group can try to digest it and wrestle with it a little bit. Now, bringing that information to the knowledge, what would that begins to do is when you're bringing that perspective to the room, we literally, we see two things. One, we see the knowledge grow. So, each person that we're bringing into the room, we're seeing the group as a whole has more knowledge. I do believe that there's also a compounding effect that when you bring two people with different experiences and different perspectives into the room and they're both adding knowledge to the table what happens is that people are able to have a stronger understanding or they're able to maybe arrange the thoughts in a way that they wouldn't have been able to on their own because they're not playing different pieces. If you can kind of think about maybe that like a musical group or and orchestra, or even a rock band. The members of the group that you bring to the table, the instruments that are played are really going to change the sound because with each person that comes in they can begin to play with each other and play off each other. And. If you have a piano, you may have one direction but what if it just guitar and bass you'll have a new direction. So, each of those are going to kind of create a new space and that's what we want is in addition to like bringing your knowledge, we want to be able to leverage each other's the combination of knowledge. Now, what's important in the next step is this is great that we're bringing our knowledge and I really want to emphasis that. I want you to bringing that knowledge because that's going to be the first step to make collaboration valuable. The next thing that we have to do is really become detached or kind of let go of our ideas a little bit and allow them to become the group's ideas, really kind of try to put them on the table to be evaluated and used by the group. The reason that this is important is when you hold your ideas too closely and when you try to protect them and really keep them safe for yourself, what you end up doing is you make it so that nobody can challenge the idea to test it out. Nobody can try to critique it to see if there's value in changing and adjusting it. They can't add to it and ultimately, they can't own it. And if they're not owning the ideas, what that's happening is really your just kind of protecting your ideas. And you're really kind of pushing your ideas forward into the group. And we get ourselves into the same situation of if we didn't invite people into their room, our idea would be the lead. So, really, it's kind of the same situation. So, we got to move from having everybody's ideas held on their own and really trying to like move them to a group knowledge. So, these are the two kinds of background spaces that I want. So, like now, we're in a space where we are individually bringing our own knowledge like we're bringing what we can add. We're bringing the value that we can bring as an individual. We're also being detached so it becomes the group's idea is we're letting all of these ideas kind of mingled together and be together and one of the other reasons that this is important is when you hold an idea too closely and what may happen is when your kind of sharing these ideas, the collective knowledge of the group may decide to go in a way that doesn't fully support your idea. And I think we have a tendency to really try to protect our idea and say, "You know what? I know I'm right. I think I'm going in the right direction." But I want to challenge that and what I want you to actually start thinking about is how do you hold both things in your mind at the same time? How do you still love and hold your idea your precious baby, your precious thing at the same time, how do you wholeheartedly support the idea that the collective has got behind and the reason it becomes important is that sometimes these ideas don't work out and sometimes they don't work out because they weren't meant to and it just wasn't timing or whatever it might be. The challenge is it's hard to know if it is because the idea wasn't solid or like timed well, or if it wasn't fully supported or someone was kind of undermining it and I don't know of any group that I've ever worked with that has gone with the direction of, "You know what we just had a bad idea." If there's a lack of alignment. I think there's always the suggestion of, "Well, we just didn't have enough alignment." So, it's difficult but I want to encourage you to take the next step of like supporting ideas, not just, I think this is what it means to collaborate when the group comes together and really agrees that this is the thing that we're going to do is that's what you move forward with and you try to make it successful, own it and make it feel like it's something that you want as a group to be successful. It doesn't degrade your idea anyway. Your idea can still be wonderful and radiant and valuable but you don't have to worry about it being something that's going to be discarded or something like that, it can keep its life. And if the first group's idea doesn't work out, you always have it to fall back that you can come back and say, "Hey, can we reconsider this." So, we've kind of set the stage for the environment and I also want to acknowledge that outside of the collaborative space, it's so important to be building the relationships and really leveraging your soft skills to build those things and understand where people are coming from. That's a little bit sighted out of this talk. This is much more like strictly in the collaboration space but that's definitely a space to be working on. And there's some talks about that. So, I really look at that, leveraging that so that you're getting people in the right mindset when they're coming in the door. So, now let's talk a little bit about the idea. So, like now that you have everybody in the right space and then the mental space that you want them in, how do we transition them to the point where we can start generating new ideas. So, I want you to imagine that. So, it's like researchers favorites words. I want you to imagine that you're in a room and on one side of the room, there are three light switches and way over on the other side of the room there's a door. Outside that door there's a light and here's your challenge. What I want you to do is try to understand which switches control which lights. Now, there's some restrictions. You can't see the lights from inside the door, inside the room with the door closed you can't see it and you only get to open the door once. And once you go out, you can't make any changes. So, I would like you to take three minutes to kind of solve this problem and my hope is that you actually take time, grab your piece of paper, think this through and you pause. Now, for those that may not have or even those who did welcome back and they're kind of moving on, my hope is what you're doing is that you're thinking about the tools that are available to you and when we're thinking about the tools that are available to us, the first thing we can think of is that we have those three light switches. In addition to them, we have the door and we have the lights. This is it. Nothing else, no windows, nothing. This is all that we have and this is where a lot of problems come to us. And some even people try to problem solve right here. They just look at this and they try to put the pieces together and this is where I think a lot of us find our products. And in the experiences, we're trying to design and build just at this level and what I'd like us to do is actually take a moment to break it apart and say, "Well, we actually have a little more of this. If we just think about the pieces that we have for instance, the light switches have two states. They have an on state and an off state. In addition to that, the door has two states. It has opened and closed and then the lights have two states on and off. So, right now, we've already multiplied, we've doubled the amount of tools that we actually have available. It's just by thinking it through it a little bit and giving things a little more definition, breaking it apart. And it doesn't mean that they're all useful to us. They may not be, they may not be all valuable but they can be. We also have a little bit more than that. If we continue to think about what we have in the lights themselves is what they do is they disperse energy. So, one of the things that we're going to have is the light. So, that's something that we could potentially use and I'd like to take a dramatic pause because I think I've may have led you some up to the point where your kind of understanding or maybe some of you are beginning to make the next leap but this is an example of really taking a look at things and really breaking it apart to say, "Okay, what's here? What do we have?" Because the other piece that we're missing that we have available to us is heat. Heat is a disbursement of energy. Now, if these are LED bulbs or if you've only known LED bulbs. My example may kind of break down a little bit but I hope you follow it through that we have these pieces and we could continue. We could begin to break down the door itself and think that it's wood as a knob, it has a key hole and like all these kinds of pieces. There's a threshold here where as you begin to break things down that you may begin to say, "Okay, I think we may have enough. We've gone a little bit deeper by actually taking it apart and just say, actually, what does this have in it? The other thing I meant to mention, we also have the relationship between the switches and the lights themselves. That's a relationship as we began to break it down. That's something else we can think about it but you can see, we break these down and we begin to think about them in parts and we can use these now to think of things in a new way and we don't have to go all the way. So, I would suggest we do is what we can do is we can leave the switch on. Let's go with the left, the left switch. Let's go with the left switch and leave it on for 10 minutes and after those 10 minutes let's go to the right one the far right one and turn it on and right away, right on, right away, go out the door and what we will see is the one with the light on. Let's imagine it's the one on the left that's controlled by the right switch. We know that because it has a light admitting to it and not to the one that on, we know it. The next thing that we can do is we can reach out and we can touch the bulb. If that bulb is warm Then what we know is that that one is controlled by the left because it is still radiating the heat from being left on. So, now we know it's left leaving that cold dark switch for the middle one and we've kind of really broken it down because not only do we break down the problem to understand the tools that we have available we also began to think about the relationship between these things. And we got to the core question because some of you may have been trying to think about which one can you see which light is on and that's almost a right question. And sometimes we do try to solve the easier question but what we wanted to understand is we wanted an understanding of which switch controlled which we didn't have to see it was on, that was just a trick that we play on ourselves when we're trying to solve the problem quickly and easily. In this case we found more tools available to us and we solved the question that we actually wanted to question, not one that's adjacent to it and similar enough to work. So, this is called the generic parts technique, and it's a systematic approach that was developed by Tony McCaffrey and it is about breaking things down into their component parts. And as you begin to break them apart, you get a new view and you begin to see the problem quite a bit differently and this is a way that we can both think about the problems that are coming at us but they also can help us in our process. So, if we were to try to apply this to a real case scenario, we can imagine that we're working at a large ticket seller. And the challenge has come to us is that we're being assigned to build an algorithm that's going to help find people the best seats. And as we do that we might begin to break down. "Okay, well, bus seats." Well, what does that really mean? What does the view mean for people and what does proximity mean for people? What does viewing angle mean? What does the difference between $90 and $70? As we break down these questions? I mean, we break it down into these questions, we really come up with a solid set of questions that we can try to solve for the research itself. And some of these questions might become actually interview questions and, in the process, but what we may do is we may identify within the collaboration group points of difference. We may find that one person believes that the viewing angle is not as important in proximity and someone else may say, "Well, I actually think that I would give up some viewing angle for a greater proximity. And as long as you can agree very specifically on the point on which you disagree, you believe that there's a tradeoff that one of these is more important than the other but what you don't know is which one's more important or how much more important is one in case of the money how much more important is something. So, this is a great way to get people aligned on their disagreements is you've broken down. You kind of know specifically where people don't agree. You may even be thinking you're talking to each other the same way but you know why you have a different point of view and you can bring this into the research and you can begin to ask the questions that you need of users and customers to really be able to kind of solve this puzzle. And then there's the kind of process of what you do after. And that's where I'd like to kind of introduce this idea of Grounded Theory. So, you have these questions, you go out and you do research. And now what are you going to do with his information? Grounded theory is a process. It was started by Glasser and Strauss in the 60 and it's really very similar. Some of you may know affinity mapping or cluster diagramming. I use both of those as part of my process but those are very similar and in my bastardized version of grounded theory, there are mechanisms that I use during it. So, with grounded theory is what you do is you go out into the world and you collect data. And because this is like social science, it's really looking at focusing on the qualitative even though you can still do this process with quantitative and even like lit reviews. Whatever's needed for you to gather the data you need but you go out to the world and you collect data and you have the data you need for your research. And you have your notes, your documentations, maybe it's cameras, maybe it's photos, whatever it might be. And then in grounded theory, what you do is you start beginning to connect these dots and you beginning coding them. So, that way you have some kind of understanding of what things begin to group together or what things have a relationship to each other. This might sound familiar to you because this is often what we do when we're doing affinity mapping. So, we come into a room and we have all of our post-it notes or index cards and we begin to lay them out and begin to work with them to say, "Okay, these ideas are kind of similar. These things have a relationship to each other and we begin to put them into under a label or into buckets or even like clusters because it's sometimes referred to as clustering and kind of create those. And when we have those, we can get a clear idea of "Okay, this is what's going on." And something I like to add to it, which is in some ways a cluster diagram is I might take some ideas and begin to if they have a relationship to each other, try to understand what that is. Is there a hierarchy or there are the two parts of it? It's going back to that generic parts technique. Can I break them apart? It's the two aspects of it and really just think through the pieces of it and in grounded theory, which great is what they suggest to is writing a memo. And sometimes they just do this in a couple of paragraphs or a couple sentences not paragraphs. I look at all my notes and when you look at those notes, you and your team may really understand them because you've been in the room but it's valuable to kind of maybe write that out. You have these facts of things you saw, you kind of put them together and knowledge, and then if you begin to write them into a sentence, they can become an insight where they can become something more that other people can understand and begin to consume and with grounded theory, one of the things are valuable is as this idea of being able to its generating knowledge from the ground up instead of like proving or disproving a hypothesis. It's generating it from the ground up, which also means if you go out and do additional research, you can begin to add things to it. And maybe it is just a social content for the piece that you already have, but you may also begin to break down a piece out of it to say, "Aha, now that I have some more insight on this these couple of things here, they were actually something else. They weren't quite the same thing." So, you can kind of rake them apart a little bit and what I really like about this as when you do this, you can also really transfer these into slides pretty well maybe they become just a couple of sentence summary and like an image of some sort or a diagram of some sort and the additional value there is when you go into a room and you're presenting and questions come up or people kind of challenge and like want to know more, you've already written about it. You've already really digested what it means. So, you can comfortably and reliably be able to respond to those questions and let people know why you came to the conclusions that you did. And it's not just coming off as this like anecdotal kind of thing that you're reaching for. You can really speak to because you've written it out. You can speak to why you understand what you do and then what we can do is I've offered a grounded theory and generic parts technique. What we can do is we can actually begin to bring them together into a way that creates something more powerful and new. So, you might remember that I was saying this idea of insight knowledge and facts and stuff. So, when we think of some knowledge that we might have, it might be of a particular type but if we kind of begin to use, apply this kind of group of knowledge that we have. If we begin to apply the generic parts technique, we might be able to take a little bit closer and say, "Okay, these are all kind of under the same cluster. But let's take a look at them again and see what's actually in here." And often what we kind of find is we have this other little nugget that was hiding right in plain sight. It just took a part of a separating a little bit. Maybe it was a little bit similar. Like it was definitely similar but it was hiding in plain sight. It was something that we just needed to tease out and break apart. To make it easier. Let me give a practical example. Imagine that you and your team are getting to do a new checkout flow. This is going to be a game changer. This is finally your team's bringing their vision into fruition. You have everybody behind you and you're ready to do it. So, you begin to build it and you start doing some testing with users and what you find is people are just chuckling along as you're doing your research and everything's going really well. And then there's a moment when people just seem to hit a wall. You know everyone seems to have this one wall where there's just like tons of frictions and anxiety and all these things but your team because you've been practicing these things is on point and they just deliver, they're executing, they're taking notes, they're thinking about this and pulling it all together to really understand what this problem is. You now have this captured information and you really turned it into knowledge and you said, okay, here's all the things we've had. And you've really kind of clustered them around the problem that you kind of identified to kind of create like a body of knowledge and we're looking at a single issue, you may think that here are all the things that are causing the problem but you can also think about like what makes up a problem, what are the aspects of this? And part of it that you might notice is it's not just that they're hitting a wall. The reality is there were some issues with the UI. There were things that maybe it's the signifiers or some affordances just weren't delivering as we wanted. And even if we split these up a little bit, there's a little bit of it that's actually content. There's some of the content that was on unclear but these other things. These other things were emotional reactions. We had people talking about uncertainty which is one thing. We had people talking about fear which is another thing. And we can begin to understand all these different parts. We have these feelings, thoughts what they're seeing, what they're doing and sometimes and not always these begin to become a very familiar tool. And we begin to understand that their thoughts, their feelings can be really broken down like what we thought was one problem, they're hitting the wall in this one spot. We can see that it's these different parts. Now, using these together, you're not always going to be able to get something like an empathy map. But you can see how you can take insights and then you can kind of break them into other ways and begin to understand that, "Oh, if we think about these different what are the mechanical or like surface level things that maybe we can address in one way but then what are these other emotional or like these other kinds of pieces that need to be addressed in a different way. At the end of the day, I think that ideas alone are kind of a dime a dozen and even at that some people come up with really good ideas, but I've never seen an idea come out fully polished and ready to go. We're in an industry that thrives on continually learning and revamping and acting on the things that we learned and just trying to iterate and make a better kind of output on a regular basis and if our best progress is the kind of come alive, we have to kind of be progressing together. We have to find ways where these changes and these chances that are going to be part of the process, we're kind of doing it together and we're leveraging each other's strengths to hold us up and kind of move us forward. So, that each little step we take, we're doing it together and those little steps really when they combine, they become leaps and that's how we're going to move forward is breaking those problems out like this is a very real way to zoom in and zoom out but you're doing it as a group and you're kind of being systematic about it. And it doesn't mean everybody's doing it at the same point but if everyone else is thinking the same way, they can be doing it at different points and you almost get this kind of breathing effect of in and out, and you don't just have one person in the room and say, "I'd like to take a step back. I've said it, everyone says it." But it's one of those things that you don't necessarily have to do. You can do it in really digestible and practical ways. Breaking it down and summing it up. Hopefully you've enjoyed this, I enjoy putting this together and I wish I could be in a room and actually sharing it with you live and in person because it's something I really enjoy. If you're interested in picking up the conversation and having more of it, please get in. Talk to me. Until then I hope you have a nice day. Take care. Bye.

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