Do You Dare To Care? - The Future Of Leadership In UX

Knowledge / Inspiration

Do You Dare To Care? - The Future Of Leadership In UX

Enabling the Team
UXDX Europe 2019

Success is the ability and willingness to change. Everything starts and ends with people, so show that you care. Your product team members need to feel and act like they are partners in crime. Dare to adapt your leadership style based on team needs and their maturity. Sometimes you will need to lead or guide them, and sometimes it will be better to just leave them alone. Organisational design is more important than you think. Choose the model that will allow you to deliver a holistic user experience @ scale. Only by optimising for both value and delivery, you will be able to minimise the waste and deliver the RIGHT thing FAST.

Better, faster, cheaper and why not also happier. That is what we all desire and how is it possible that two thirds of our effort does not really bring value? I was actually shocked when I saw the website of the conference when Microsoft Research stated that 66% of our time, of our effort, and hard work goes to waste. So how is this possible? We have our team's development and design teams as professional as ever, like we really have great people. They have a good education. They are well paid. They're motivated and highly engaged. Our offices look like they are really amazing. They're coming from the field of Pinterest almost and still, nothing really works like 66% is a waste. So how is that possible and most importantly, what can we do about it?

I'm Sonja Radenkovic. I am head of UX designer TomTom and my job is to get millions of people around the world to their destination in a safe and efficient way and when I say efficient, I mean, I really want them to spend the less time in traffic and I would be really happy if you can eliminate traffic altogether so that our environment get better and a mission goes down. So today, I will share with you what I learned from my nine years at TomTom.

I had a lot of opportunities to experiment, I had a lot of opportunities to try, fail and sometimes succeed. Same as TomTom. So TomTom has always been about helping people to go from A to B, on wheels. In a safe, fast and easy way. We became successful thanks to our navigation devices, which your parents probably used. Or if you're old enough as me, you also tried it. But then everything changed, the mobile phone arrived and all these single purpose devices were not needed anymore. We had our phones, we didn't need other stuff. So let's just take your wristwatch, as an example. So many of you are still using the wristwatch, not Apple Watch and how many of you are actually using it to check the time. Now not much. So TomTom needed to pivot and reinvent itself and from the product company, we became a Software** **Company, but we stayed close to our roots.

We have a close relationship with our drivers that with drivers around the world because they were our source of innovation and inspiration for innovation. We have enormous treasure. We know drivers better than anyone, almost better than anyone because we have driven trillion kilometers together and if you think what is trillion, is it too much? Is it too small? I don't know what trillion is. Trillion is the amount of kilometers you need to go to Neptune and back 40 times. It's kind of an impressive number. So today, we are location, technology experts and our easy to use navigation is part of many car brands. Together, we are actually exploring and trying to make autonomous driving a future, a reality. So I'm happy to present you with a trillion. This is our own autonomous car, which we drive today on the streets of Berlin, and help us to test our high definition maps. High Definition maps are important and necessary for autonomous driving. Actually, there are two dots, two lines of dots. You have a Tesla dot, which actually says you know, you don't need the map. It's enough to have sensors. If the sensors are big enough and good enough, you will be fine. We don't really believe in that because we think that you really need the map in order to drive safely. So TomTom is one of the three map companies in the world. They are creating maps for autonomous driving. One of them is here. One of them is Google and TomTom then.

So, in our opinion, prerogative autonomous driving is to have high definition 3d maps and just to illustrate what I mean by that, and why it's important, there is a small illustration which is, one of the campaigns, which actually explained that you really need a map because with your sensors do not see around the corner and that is important. So in order to get the safe and enjoyable drive next to the maps, you will need the real time services like traffic or weather and only then can we actually really make autonomous driving a future, a reality. So I truly believe that success is the ability to change, but truly change, to change your leadership style, to change your organization models, and your processes and you need to change all three together, otherwise, we will not work. You cannot buy or copy somebody else's success, we can learn from each other. But each of our companies are different and we need to find a way which works for us, what works for me does not necessarily work for you. So if I can condense everything I learned in only two words, which I would like to share with you today, it will be care and dare.

Care about your people. It's obvious but really important. So know their passions, know their fears, find a way to support and build them and develop them over the time. But that is not enough. You need to be around them. As some of you in the end of your career will sometimes get the opportunity to get one of those executive offices which are really great. But say no to them. That is what I did say no to them, because the glass doors and open doors will not make you approachable and there are two reasons why you should say no to this nice executive office. One is more obvious, like of course, you know, you will be in the middle of the peak of the group, you will be able to quickly check, steer and guide [Phonetic] exchange knowledge, exchange ideas, build friendship, and you don't need to book a one hour meeting every time for such a thing. But the other one is a little bit less obvious, very important for your success, is that you will have a longer career, there will not be many people hunting you down just because they want your office so say no to their office. Another one is you assume you'll get great people, you did your best to hire them. But you need to choose a couple of them that you can actually rely on because your product depends on them but also your career. So you really need to trust them and you need to get help and not look back. So how you choose your stars.
When I became a manager for the first time, I asked my more experienced colleague, who was my manager at that time software, Senior VP of a product and I asked him. OK, how do I choose who to develop? How do I choose to be promoted? Who is there to put my career in hands? And he answered with a question and I really remember it and actually guided me all the way from that day and I want to share it with you. His question was, if your life will depend on it, who will you invite on both together with you and you know it. Believe me it's in your guts, you really know who you want on that boat and these are your stars. These are your people that you can trust your career with and your product with.

Have a partner in crime. The partners in crime are not only your team members, in my case, that will be designers but that does not bring a product out. Your partners in crime are your developers, your product managers, your product owners, your marketers, everyone in that group and for them to feel like they are partners in crime. They need to share the same vision as you, they need to see the same goal and then the magic will happen. Especially in the times where things are rough, or it's difficult. Those people would just go ahead if they feel like they're partners in crime.

So to summarise, care, care about your people, develop them, stay around them, have fun with them. That is a very important aspect. Don't just kind of do the job and have all hands once in a month, try to organise breakfast, try to go for lunch, these fun moments or have cooking classes, whatever works for you drinks, these moments do matter. Identify your stars, these are the people who will be examples for everyone else and they will actually make things happen and treat everyone on the product team as your partners in crime.

Dare to constantly challenge your leadership style, and change it and what is the right leadership style, you would ask? We know that definitely is not commanded control, we left all that behind us. We all now support people, we're giving them autonomy and we know that autonomy is needed there in order to master to get mastery to flourish. But not all teams are actually equally fitted to be autonomous. Autonomy needs to be deserved. So some of your people will be totally polarised, if we will give them 100% of autonomy, if they're young, if they're new on the projects. If they're just changing, if they're forming as a team, they will need a little bit more guidance. So the right leadership style is actually adaptive leadership style lead. Lead, show way or just get out of the way depends on what your team needs.

Sometimes, doesn't matter how much effort, passion, hours, work, you put in something, it just does not work and when that happens, it's time for radical measures and one of the radical measures I have in mind is kind of admitting that you don't know all, that you need help allowing yourself to be vulnerable. So I will share one of my failures with you today. So I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago. That is where the TomTom was transforming so being the consumer product company to the software company and I was really supportive of this I kind of saw the light I knew that that is what we need to do and I was working really hard to get make that transition happen and somehow my team really didn't buy it, there were all kinds of people with you know not really motivated going around leaving the company, having the chats around the coffee machine and then the we have the yearly I don't know if you guys have it, but we have a yearly pool like when you ask people how happy they are, and how engaged they are and my team score worse ever. Like we were really on the bottom of the happiness ladder of TomTom so that was really time for radical measures. I thought about what I should be doing now.

OK, so I asked one external coach, a woman named Gloria . I asked, OK, what I should be doing now. Really I cannot put in more hours, I cannot put more energy into why they're not seeing it and she proposed a little bit orthodox model. She said you know, let's try this. Let's ask everyone literally face to face to rate you and all your managers on the scale from 1 to 10 and not just not rate you and get away with it though they also kind of need to do a little bit of homework and think about things that you can do better and the things that you do already good so you don't forget about those also. So it's a little bit orthodox model and there were a couple of things that could go wrong with this. So one of them was I could just lose my job because we also promised them you know, it will be totally transparent. So we will tell everyone what the results are and you don't need to fear because it will be 100%, we will not share with anybody who says what so it will be anonymous. You can totally say what you want. So, that is what we did and I'm going to follow that promise. So I said, we are going to show results to anyone and everyone.

So without further ado, these are my results. Is it good? Is it bad? I don't know because what I heard is that other people may not do such a thing and even if they do, they don't really share it. So we don't know what is the normal score for a manager, like, when you are a good manager, when you are a bad manager. But there are a couple of things that I could learn and that I learned from this. So if you can see, like, in the middle part, the majority thinks like, OK, so, she can do something, but you know, I'm not sure if it's really great. There are a couple people who are actually big rope who realize, OK, she's actually you're really trying her best and some things are really good. So they're acknowledging that effort and a couple people were just saying, like, she doesn't know what she’s doing.

So your first thing, this is the guest to actually go and fix the red ones because we don't want red. So just go attack these two people and find out you know, what you can do and what you can change to make to make them suddenly see the light, which is totally wrong because the amount of effort you will need to put to have these two people from the left to the right is huge, probably never going to make it anyway, they made up their mind. But the amount of effort you need to put to get people in the middle from the middle to the right. It's actually minor. As long as you get the good feedback, you'll find and you act on it, it's probably going to happen. So what we did was that this radical openness was rewarded like they didn't, was not about, they shared their opinions before it's not about that. But just being vulnerable and daring to expose was appreciated. So what we did, we collected all input, like all things which bothered us make the long list, prioritise it and then ask everybody, if you feel like, there is clear that the list is long, there is no way that your manager can fix it for you. So if you feel like and you're passionate about any of those topics, just pick it, pick it to make it happen and that is what they did. So they really start running with it. Whoever wanted to volunteer, who didn't want us didn't push. But what happened is the majority of people actually want to volunteer and what is happening today is that the list is still long, we fix a lot of things and we still have a long way to go and the list will probably never get empty because the second we fix something, something else comes up. But there is this shared ownership and we all make it together and that is really important and the last thing I believe you should hear is to change, choose or adopt your organisational design model.

The company structure has a bigger influence on your design and product that you think where you are in the food chain really influences how much you know what you can do and having the right organizational model which works for your team and your organization is important. So Ben Horowitz wrote, “The first rule of organisational design is they're not those, organisation designs are bad” And that is true because you're just optimized for one aspect and you then mitigate for others.

So today I hear a lot that we optimise for speed, which is great. But we optimise for speed sometimes we optimise for speed only and optimizing for speed is great because we can get these things out like our designs or our products to the hands of the users that can try it, we can learn, we can test, we can give it back and we can improve it. So getting stuff done fast is great. But the problem is that it seems like the 66% of that thing is kind of not bringing value. So we are getting the wrong thing fast out. So we have a choice if we must choose one then we need to choose between optimising** for value or optimising for **delivery and optimising for value means basically improving hypotheses. So that is where the design thinking or user centered design plays a role. So you think before you jump, optimising for speed we already talked about this. The problem with optimising for speed also, as you can recognize it when your designers start to feel like they're servants to development teams, or your user stories are broken in such small chunks, which is fine by default. But nobody sees the bigger picture, then you're just really optimizing for wrong things and the user experience suffers. So in my opinion, it is not about value versus delivery, its value and delivery. So we need to optimise for both value and delivery in this way, so we will maybe get the right thing fast.

I will share the organisational model that we have in TomTom when it comes to the user experience. So it's centralized partnership, it's one of the three models. You probably know, you have the centralised UX, which is old-fashioned, everybody left it behind, you have embedded which a lot of people do have, and that does work in smaller teams. Again, that is when it depends on what works for you. But the larger and bigger organisation is, the more embedded your designers are, the more your coherent experience, product experience will suffer because there are dependencies. So for this user-centered design to flourish, we keep our designers close to each other, they collaborate as much as they can and then they also collaborate vertically with the development team. So wherever they can sit next to them, but not all the time. So they are fledged as they go in and out wherever works for them in whatever stage of the design that works.

This is my team, I have 40 designers, for some companies, that is a lot for some companies is peanuts, I know that Google has 200. I would say we are very rich because we have 22 nationalities in a team, which means that every second person has a different nationality and we are based in eight locations. But more importantly, we are based on four continents, which makes it really difficult to create a coherent user experience because there is not an hour in a day that everybody is awake, or can work together or in the office. So how we compromise that, how do we work to mitigate it. So we have a focused team. We divided them in eight, they are known as painters and a level of autonomy varies between those teams. Some of them are totally autonomous, and some of them have co-dependency between them because they work on the same products, so they work more collaboratively and again, we have a couple of mechanisms to safeguard the holistic user experience because we all know the devil is in the details.

So there are a couple of them that three here. We have designed critique, it's one of the systems of one of the methods, which happens only within a group. So each group individually without managers without the hypoes actually managed to have this conversation, they come two times a week. They look at each other's designs, they comment on them, they try to help each other, they help junior designers to grow. They help new people to get the knowledge they need to know about the space they're working with and they're just doing their best to get to move away the most obvious problems that one each design potentially could have. They're there to make the designers stronger and improve the design also.

Then the second one is Design Review. Design review happens only with the smaller groups of products. So we just invite people who are working on the product, but next to the designers that are directly responsible for that part. We also invite a head of the UX design, which is we in this case, and chief product officer and he really dedicates his time like he spends all of each of every Monday, all day in those meetings one after another. We go through those products and we invite product managers, because that is the moment where we can look at ambition, on the level we want it to be? We trust that designs will be fine and they're probably achievable because designers worked in the meantime together with developers and product owners and engineering and architects to figure out what they can make. We didn't have time. But we challenge ambition and then we see that all these different products sometimes are not necessarily aligned, but actually often are not aligned. So at least we can pinpoint that.

And the third one, which happens only when needed, but is really the one which is important is the one we call Hot topics and we invite there wherever there is a misalignment, difference in opinion, which you could imagine happen sometimes, we invite people who are a part of that product that could be like any one of them, anyone of that product could be a product marketing manager could be a product manager, the designer, architect, developer, like all people who are making that particular thing happen and then what is the purpose of that make meeting is at least to understand what are the tradeoffs that we are making, and instead of each other, hopefully, sometimes we actually make some decisions. But the main purpose is really to understand all parts of the game so that we can act upon it.

So to summarise, dare. Dare to change your leadership style, lead guide, or just get out of the way. They're to be radically open and vulnerable and say that you don't know anything and people will help you and take care about your organisational design because how you're organized does influence your product and it does matter. So if you optimise for both value and speed, this will be the past hopefully the parts of the past.

I cannot promise you that we will have 0% waste but efforts are not going to be two thirds. So I'm eager to hear what your stories are and what works for you in your company. So please share and let's keep in touch. Thank you very much.