The Ask

"Do we have a problem with inter-team collaboration and knowledge sharing?" 
— VP of Design, NASDAQ (to me)

Chris assigned the project to me, the newest member of the team, and asked me to utilize my user research skills to find some answers and propose a solution. I was a little scared (honestly) but excited to take on the challenge. 

My Role

As Project Lead, I was in charge of organizing and leading the research effort, distilling insights, and presenting findings and proposed solutions to the team. Another Product Designer, Erin Newby, helped me with every stage of this project and was immensely helpful.  

"How can a design team that already has a pattern library, style guide, and lots of meetings learn to collaborate more?"

Assumptions

Erin and I started by listing assumptions we had about the team and next we formulated open-ended questions meant to prove or disprove those assumptions.

Interviews

We interviewed 11 team members for 30 mins each and asked questions about feedback, collaboration, and process. We were trying to understand and identify any patterns in their underlying reasons for liking or disliking certain working scenarios. 

Sample Questions:
What's an obstacle that prevents you from sharing work with team members?
Can you describe a time when you had a great team collaboration on a project?
Can you recall a time when you had a not-so-good team collaboration?
Is there anything else you'd like to share with me or that you hope we could help with?

The last question ended up being the most crucial in understanding each person's biggest pain point. 

Synthesis

After all our interviews were completed, I had the task of extracting the key insights. There are several methods I've used to synthesize data, but for this project I chose to create a digital affinity map. 

Affinity Map sorted by Person

Affinity Map sorted by Insight

Findings

9/11 product designers believe: 
One of the biggest problems I have on this team is not getting enough info from Product Management 

•“I can't get accurate feedback if I don't have accurate requirements”
•“I believe our biggest collaboration issues revolve around how we work with PM”
•“Sometimes I feel like I need like I need to reign in my PM and manage them... PM isn't always clear about what needs to be delivered”
•“For the past couple of years I've noticed a lack of product ownership and organization for us to use to make the best designs”

5/11 people mentioned:
I only share my work if I have to

• “I’m sometimes hesitant to share something that I haven't thought through enough, that I'm not confident in it yet” 
• “I feel uncomfortable since we rarely share as a group, so when we actually do it's always such a big "show and tell" thing” 
• “I’ve never gotten feedback from people outside of my regular team” 
• “I think I work alone a lot” 
• “At this point I'm not getting feedback from anyone outside of product team - or rarely if I'm working directly with another designer”

7/11 (mostly other) people mentioned: 
I’m mostly getting the feedback I need in the form of conversations on slack, webex, or in-person

• “Slack helps a lot with collaboration, and most of my current projects I have good collaboration with our team” 
• “Sharing internally on slack is going pretty well on our channel - people are posting a lot” • • “Xyz is always very responsive when I need feedback from them and I can always get it when I need it.” 
• “I don't really think technology is an obstacle in getting feedback because I use Slack”
(this group was mostly different than the group above that wasn't sharing much)

7/11 people mentioned: 
I would like to have frequent, quick, sharing meetings with the whole team

“We definitely need a weekly check-in: everyone who has something new that hasn't been seen could share” 
“I feel uncomfortable since we rarely share as a group, so when we actually do it's always such a big "show and tell" thing” 
“I wish that 5-10% of our week was dedicated to reviewing other peoples stuff and being educated on what is going on with the team” 
“There are walls up between us and I would like to provide inspiration to other team members if they'd like it but I feel pretty removed from it”
Proposed Solution #1 : Creative Morning Meeting 

Addressing these findings:     
• “I only share my work if I have to”     
• “I would like to have frequent, quick, sharing meetings with the whole team”

Goal:
• Share ideas, your work, some inspiration or your process. 
• Promote conversation about ideas. 
• Build culture of sharing. 
• Build trust and comfort in sharing. 
• Have fun. Feel creative energy. Solve problems.

Format #1: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Tues of each month:
Morning: 30 mins 
3 people each have 8 mins share/discuss something of their choice 
Necessary: Meeting Facilitator and Timekeeper

Format #2: 4th Tues of each month:
Morning: 1 hour 
Design Challenge or Team Building Exercise 
20 mins for exercise 20 mins for sharing 
Necessary: Meeting Facilitator and Timekeeper

This solution was a no-brainer, we just needed to facilitate it well in order to keep the time under 30 minutes. These meetings would help to include the 5 out of 11 people who were not sharing or collaborating much. 
Proposed Solution #2 : Workshop with Design and Product Management

Our most obvious team problem was the dis-connect between Design and Product Management. Previously, all communication about process was done by 2 managers. This was really not working, so we decided to bring everyone on board and design a process together that works for both teams. 
This idea was debated by 1 Manager, but luckily it had enough support from other team members that we were able to proceed. 
(More details on the workshop coming soon). 
Proposed Solution #3: How-We-Work Meetings 

This solution doesn't directly address any research insights but instead, we created it to prevent any further problems from popping up down the road. 

Goal:
• Share your pain points, frustrations, and ideas with your team on how we can work better together. 
• Gain trust. 
• Promote empowerment for changing your own experience. 
• Give voice to junior employees.

Agenda:
1. What are some complaints regarding how we work together?
[Notetaker Whiteboards the input] 
2. What are some ideas for how to improve how we work together? 
[Notetaker Whiteboards] 
3. Everyone votes on ideas: 1-5, and facilitator tallies results 
4. Ideas are then sorted by number of votes 
5. Facilitator asks, one idea at a time, for volunteers to own them 
6. Ideas become cards on a Trello board to track the progress 
7. Next meeting, the first 15 mins will be to go through old tickets to understand status
Presentation and Feedback

We presented these findings and ideas to the team and they were mostly well received. The first 2 ideas had the most positive responses, and there was interest in the 3rd, but concern about time. First 2 ideas we've implemented and are noticing a slight improvement in morale and communication. We're closely monitoring things to see if any iterations and adjustments are needed and I'll update the case study accordingly. 
Pains and Gains

It was very challenging to conduct a research project on a group that I'm so closely involved in. It was difficult at times to keep my spirits up while hearing the frustrations of my colleagues, which is why it was absolutely necessary that I had the help of my teammate. I'm very proud of the work we did on this project.
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