Case study: ‘Team-a-Day’ design studios for craft maturity

As UX lead on a fully remote program of 100 cross-functional consultants, including Product, Engineering, and UX, I led and managed a team of 15 senior UX designers, with 7 reporting directly to me. I was responsible for product strategy, practice, program, and organizational direction, client relationship, and designer hiring, experience and growth.

These thoughts are mine alone, I do not speak on behalf of any organization.

Maturity of business and craft mapping

When I joined the program, I was well-informed about the inherent challenges—both internally and externally—that this role would entail. Upon arrival, I immediately scheduled 1-on-1s with every designer, as well as the Product and Engineering leads, to gain a better understanding of the vision, culture, and processes cross-practice and cross-program. Additionally, I worked to build relationships with the designers and get a better sense of their individual skills, expertise, and career goals. During these chats, it became evident that there were varying levels of maturity in design thinking and craft. Folks were operating under different ‘blue skies.’ This manifested in inconsistency and fragmented coordination between products, teams, and stakeholders.

Background

Along with the other UX leads, I worked to setup a leads ‘scrum’ board, tagged by type eg. design approval process, culture, onboarding, etc, to bring visibility to the initiatives we, as leads, were working on. To address some of these issues, I conceptualized the ‘Team-a-Day’ Design Studio initiative.

 

Epics addressed:

  • Get workload into humane territory.  
  • Increase knowledge-sharing for more holistic service design across teams.
  • Unite in our strategic approach to human-centered design, accessibility, client-management, etc. 
  • Increase opportunity for internal review. 
  • Build stakeholder trust through consistency in strategic thinking, design quality, and process across teams. 
  • Increase design leads’ efficiency in product direction and designer support.
decorative image of a large industrial studio with designers sitting, skateboarding, dancing

Goals

Design studios are essentially design critiques with priority placed on knowledge-sharing and ‘sandbox’ time together as a design team. While it was crucial that each product team remain nimble and agile, we recognized the importance of working towards a shared ‘North Star,’ consistent culture, and unified approach to client management as a UX practice. We also placed value on strengthening our design feedback (both giving and receiving) chops. To maximize the time and availability of UX leads, we allocated specific days for each product, ensuring efficient scheduling while taking into account recurring stakeholder meetings. This consistent cadence also helped support greater team awareness of the theme for each studio session.

Within studio, we dedicated time for: 

  • Thought experiments.
  • Giving and receiving feedback.
  • Developing presentation and persuasion strategies.
  • Preparing for stakeholder reviews.
  • Enhancing cross-team and cross-product visibility.
Image of Team-a-day schedule and text "sessions open to all" Dené 12:00-1:00 ET Monday: Enroll Tuesday: Accounts Wednesday: Apply Thursday: Connect Scott 2:00-3:00 ET Monday: Educate Tuesday: Learn Wednesday: Experience Thursday: Accessibility

Results

The feedback loop is ongoing as studios continue to evolve. Overall, we have observed significant progress in achieving shared craft alignment and cross-product awareness. Studios have opened up communication channels, given us a greater sense of our delivery quality, and helped us identify where we have opportunities to grow. Outside of the UX practice, we have received positive feedback on improved consistency, accessibility, and presentation of our design deliverables.

Screenshot from a designer I managed that reads: Hey Dene, likewise! First of all, I was super bummed when I read upon your post this morning, super super sad to see you go. I really appreciated the opportunity to get to work with you and same here, I have enjoyed our working sessions and really appreciate your thorough feedback in my Medicare Accounts work and your great ideas. Aw, thank you for your kind works, your encouragement and support helps me get going and continue to become a better designer. I've learned so much from you during our collaborations that I wish we would have worked together longer. I admire you and looking forward to see your next adventure and your continued amazing work on Linkedin! Thanks for sharing your email! Yes I would love to say in touch, Dene, thank you so much for everything your did for us on the WDS team, especially setting up the design studio - that's my favorite one and the key piece to deliver great work 😉 and your support for the Accounts for both Marketplace and Medicare. Will definitely ponder what we'll need your support in the next coming days and I'll talk to you more when I see you on Monday.

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