A conversation with Jeff Gothelf

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A conversation with Jeff Gothelf

Jeff: [00:00:00] I, I can't recall the last time I was in a, in a client meeting where the designer should have, it's like, here's why the design is working. Here's the data. Right.

[00:00:10]Steven: [00:00:10] so by the way, I started recording so we can, so we can, transcribe this and turn this into blog posts.

[00:00:15] Jeff: [00:00:15] Sure.

[00:00:16]Steven: [00:00:16] so, so let's expand on that.

[00:00:19]so, so. What's your, what's your typical week when you, when you have kind of prior to prioritization or, or roadmap participation, discussion meeting, how's that typically in your experience, how does that typically go with regards to how decisions are made?

[00:00:41] Jeff: [00:00:41] Ask the question again.

[00:00:44] Steven: [00:00:44] When you had described product prioritization, meaning typical product prioritization with regards to you just said, designers rarely show up with data. Yeah. Okay. they certainly have opinions, based on intuition and their gut, maybe some user research videos. but so how do those. How do those decisions get made typically, you know, what's the, kind of the typical in your experience process in how product participation meetings happen in an agile world?

[00:01:22] Jeff: [00:01:22] Yes. So, hippo right? Highest paid person's opinion is probably one of the most common, probably the most common prioritization framework is the HIPPO. Method, right. Highest paid person's opinion. So somebody is shouting at them and they're saying, build me X, build me. Y make it blue, get it done by Friday. That's number one. That's by far the most-  I would guess that that's the most prominent prioritization method that most people will or will not admit to, but is absolutely true.

[00:01:57] Steven: [00:01:57] Right.

[00:01:57]Jeff: [00:01:57] I think that's number one. I think number two is the tech leads opinion. Right. So I think that in a lot of scrum teams, the tech leads will, will kind of take over prioritization and say, well, this is easy. This is hard. This is a little bit of work. This is a lot of work. So let's knock this out before we do this, or this is dependent on that.

[00:02:18] And so there's, there's a lot of deference often given to the, the tech lead to do that prioritization. So that's my, if I was to take a guess, I'd say it's probably the second, most prominent way the product prioritization decisions get made. I think the, probably the third, most prominent is some kind of product management product manager decision.

[00:02:43] So the product manager is empowered with the decision to make that, prioritization call and based on. Anything from what they've told their boss they're going to do, or their stakeholder they're going to do to, what they feel is the best, next thing to some data that they've collected, or that they've looked at, or somebody, somebody sent them, the product manager makes that call.

[00:03:08] And then I think in the, and beyond that, I think the most enlightened. Teams and the least common teams are the ones that use objectives and key results. Right? So key results being outcomes, right? So we're talking about here is the behavior of customers. and they're the ones who say, look, our goal is to increase retention and we believe that these five things in this order will help us drive retention and these other five things, well, they're not really retention features -there's something else. So we're not going to do them for now. and that is. That's problem. That's my guess about how things break down.

[00:03:46] Steven: [00:03:46] Right. And, and, noticeably absent from that is, the UX designer product designer.

[00:03:54] Jeff: [00:03:54] Yeah. No.

[00:03:55] Steven: [00:03:55] Do you, do you find that they, that there, what type of role do you typically see the product designer has in prioritization and prioritization?

[00:04:06]Jeff: [00:04:06] advisory. Right. So they're, they are, you know, they, they, they advise the product manager, maybe the tech lead, maybe the team. Generally speaking with what they, what they've seen, what they've heard, what they believe should be done next, but it's, it's an advisory role. Rarely are they in any kind of decision-making capacity?  Unless, unless the designer is very senior, I have been in positions as a senior designer to where I've had significant influence on the prioritization of the work. And I've seen very senior designers do the same. I think it's rare. I think it's rare that that happens. it really depends on the, on the organization culture and then ultimately the culture of the specific team, but I'd say nine times out of 10, it's some kind of an advisory role.

[00:04:55] Steven: [00:04:55] Let's dig into that one. Why do you think it's rare? What, what, what do you think, why do you think that the person, let's take the example of like the chef, right? You could argue that the designer is the chef. imagine a scenario where the chef doesn't doesn't have any decisioning on the menu. what, what ingredients are ordered, you know, what's the theme of the restaurant like what's, what's, you know, what's the most part popular items doesn't have any data  it just here cook this, right. But it doesn't make sense, right? No, no one cooked that in that no one would treat a chef that way they should a line cook that way.

[00:05:43] Jeff: [00:05:43] Yeah. A line cook. Right, right. And so I think, I think that's, it's the perception of the value that the position brings. Right. And I still think, I still think the majority of organizations see designers as the people who make things pretty, make things look good.

[00:06:01] Right. And when it comes to making them work, I mean, I see what my client right now and the client that I'm dealing with right now. and we can't mention their name and we can't mention what country they're in. When you mentioned, if you want, you can mention their telco, but beyond that, right. maybe this maybe even that's too much, but, the point is that we don't need to mention telco.

[00:06:21] It doesn't matter if it's telco in India, right. They have 10,000 employees. They hire designers. They've got dozens of designers on staff, and the designers are regularly treated as make this good. All right. That's it. That's it. and so I think that that's, that's, it's the perception of the value that the position brings.

[00:06:48] I think that if there is, if there's a way to improve the perception, Of the overall value that design brings to a team, then you begin to increase the influence of the designer on that team. Right? Because with engineers, it's obvious to everybody, like they build it. Right. And so we've got to listen to what they say because they know how to build it.

[00:07:16] Right. But there's a, it's a as a Jeff Patton ism where he says, you know, if, if you don't have engineers, Right. You're not going to get a product, but if you, if you don't have designers, you're still going to get design. Right. It's just not going to be done by designers. So, so there's, there's, I think there's a hierarchy, in people's minds about the value of the various positions.

[00:07:47] And I think it's, it's unspoken in most organizations. But it's evident in the hiring ratios and the influence that the positions have on the, on the work. Generally speaking, we hire more engineers. We listen to them more. They have a lot more influence on the work product managers next, designers last. I will caveat that by saying that I have worked organizations where the engineers have felt helpless, which I found really interesting.

[00:08:17] And, and different, and it's rare, but I have worked in organizations where the engineers are like, we just get told what to do. We don't have any say about it as well, but it's not the designers that are telling them what to do, even in that situation.

[00:08:32] Steven: [00:08:32] Basic question. so I wanna keep going. Why, why, why is that? Why are they perceived as. Simply someone who, is just, you know, because we know if we know for a fact that code does not make a great product, right? Like there's a lot of stuff that's coded properly is not buggy. It works exactly as, as you know, designed, in an industry with. Where there's clearly a problem that they're solving, but it just doesn't that product loses it doesn't actually gain traction or whatever it is.

[00:09:19] Right. so, so we know the importance of retention and, user experience has on retention. and, But, yeah, so I I've always been struggled. I've always struggled with how people don't fully understand. Why, why do they not understand the importance of, of design and, and why does design that have a bigger voice in, in, in, in prioritization, in, in figuring out what what's important for the product

[00:09:56] Jeff: [00:09:56] I think rarely are there designers in positions of leadership or positions of influence? I think it's partially due to the makeup of, of the leadership of an organization, right? There are very few design leadership roles, generally speaking Mike into a VP of design role. And that's still pretty rare. Can you do a chief design officer role?

[00:10:15] It's super rare. Most organizations don't invest in it, right. They just, it's not a value. It's not something that they see as a, as a, as a, as a core. Hmm, unique value proposition in the marketplace. They'll say stuff like, we want to be the Apple of real estate. We want to be the Netflix of healthcare or whatever, but they don't really understand what that means.

[00:10:37] Right. When you look at those organizations, those organizations have made explicit decisions to be design-driven right. Airbnb is a good example of that right into it is a good example of that. Apple, Netflix. Nest, ha are good examples of that. and when you're design driven, you have designers in leadership roles now why?

[00:11:04] And so, yeah, I think a lot, a lot of organizations, which is what does someone just hire the branding? Yeah. They'll take care of it for us. Right. That type of thing. and so I think that's part of it. Right. I think it's just generally speaking, there's always a chief technical officer. Right. There's always the chief marketing officer.

[00:11:21] Right. But, but design and leadership, isn't usually there, which diminishes the value. I usually design works under CTO, chief product officer, chief marketing officer, or something like that.

[00:11:36] Steven: [00:11:36] Right. Let's talk about w how would you change that? Let's say you're a head of design at a company and you want. Or does the earlier designer, maybe there's no head of design. and you want to change your influence in the organization. How would you go about it?

[00:12:02] Jeff: [00:12:02] I think there's a couple of things. I think you need business literacy. So you need to be able to speak to the work holistically and maybe that's unfair, right. Do engineers need to do that? Probably not product managers do. Right. But it doesn't matter. Right. I think if you're looking to change the dynamic, I think you need to, you need to be business literate, number one.

[00:12:28]I think, you, then you really need to have. Your data down, Pat, like you really have to be able to speak to the numbers as they relate to the business. Right? So you, you need to be the person, if you truly want to have that influence. Right. You've got to move the conversation, away from what I made it red and I like red, and this is where it goes to the choices that we made were based on this customer feedback and this.

[00:12:57] Behavior pattern that we're seeing. And we tested it in these particular ways. When we ran these experiments, we saw these changes in the behavior of customers. And we know that those are leading indicators of putting more stuff in their cart, which leads to more sales, which leads to your bonus being.

[00:13:13] Actually paid this year. Right? So it's a, it's a combination of understanding the product intimately and what's happening with the users of the product, with the data and then translating it through business literacy and to the impact of the whole you're right. exactly. Yeah. I mean, I think there's a couple of things that can change.

[00:13:36] Steven: [00:13:36] You know that, industry dynamics on pack, like this kind of widely accepted principles on how you gain power and influence, information is one, right? If you have information, you know, that there's, there's there's power there. Right. and, and I think that that's, you know, a big part of it.

[00:13:55] What would you, how would you describe, like best practices? I think you were touching on this earlier, you kind of mentioned this and I wanted to go back a little bit, like, like, imagine the scenario of like what, like the dream scenario where you ux is involved heavily from the beginning, what would that look like?

[00:14:16] Jeff: [00:14:16] The dream scenario for what?

[00:14:18] Steven: [00:14:18] How UX is involved in the PR in product prioritization and, you know, prioritization.

[00:14:28] Jeff: [00:14:28] I think the dream scenario is that, the team is run with a, a mutually respected trio of product lead engineering, lead and design lead. those folks are versed in the, they're versed in the business. They're versed in the products and they're versed in the usage of the product or the feature that they're actually working on.

[00:14:55] And there is a, kind of, A construct, a healthy and constructive collaboration between those three individuals. To me, that's that's when I've had that kind of collaboration, those teams have been the most successful, teams I've been on because they, they work well together. There is equal representation.

[00:15:20] There's mutual respect. For the disciplines. Right. So, and, and to get there, by the way, there needs to be an understanding of what everybody does, right? So there needs to be a clear understanding of, of what engineers do if a product managers do and what designers do by everybody else on the team as well.

[00:15:37] And, and again, that comes from working together that comes with sitting next to each other, that comes from looking over each other's screens. and it comes with time, but. That kind of maturity and trust on a team gives the designer equal influence as the product manager. Sure. And the, the engineer.

[00:16:02] And plus when you're presenting up an out, it's not, well, here's what I did as product owner or product, a manager or tech leaders. Here's what we, the leadership team of the team have decided on. Right. And it's, and it's always based on, kind of this cross functional point of view. But again, I, I don't like that can also devolve very quickly, right.

[00:16:24] Without a, a clear alignment from those three folks. Right. So alignment towards a specific goal and the ability to speak knowledgeably. About how the work that we're doing is not only impacting the user experience, but it's impacting the business as well

[00:16:50] Steven: [00:16:50] and connecting the project's goals to the impact of the business.

[00:16:55] Jeff: [00:16:55] Yeah. Yes. And we're choosing to do this because based on what we know. Strategically like overall and the goal for this initiative, that this seems to make the most sense now, right. As opposed to, well, these are low hanging fruits, right. Or this is a better design because I like it better or right.

[00:17:19] This is, this is, these are easy stories. So, et cetera, right.

[00:17:27] Steven: [00:17:27] And sales is pushing me for this one store.

[00:17:29] Jeff: [00:17:29] Exactly. Sales is pushing me to do that as well.

[00:17:31] Steven: [00:17:31] Right, right. And so, yeah, I mean, so having designed outcomes be your North star, is that a good way to kind of like, you know, you kind of like that guiding principle of like, this is our goal.

[00:17:48]these are the metrics we we've decided we want to achieve. Does and then backing into, does this, does this stuff, how does this next thing on the list impact these metrics? Right? or is it just something else? Because it's easy. Sales is bugging me. Marketing's bugging me, et cetera. Is that a fair way to summarize?

[00:18:11] Jeff: [00:18:11] Yeah. Yeah. But look, it's, it's about the, the goal here is objectivity, right? You want to make evidence-based decisions and. You want to make them in service of a goal? So I was working with, I was working with my, with my client this week and they asked me the other day, somebody, somebody else in the company who was asking me about this one project and it, Hey, how's that team doing?

[00:18:36] How's that product doing? Is it moving forward? And my answer to them was, well, they're improving the product. In a sense that they're fixing bugs and they're making it more stable, but for it to be moving forward, it needs a direction to go and it needs a destination. It needs a goal and the product doesn't have one.

[00:19:03] And so it's impossible to save the product moving forward. Because it's unclear who we're serving, what problem we're solving and how, how we're measuring success. And so I think that that alignment is critical to then be able to use the metrics, analytics, usage metrics, et cetera, to determine whether or not we're moving forward, because forward requires a destination and a direction.

[00:19:34] Steven: [00:19:34] And without that, You're just spinning your wheels. Right? perfect. Awesome. Hannah, jump in here. Any questions that I missed? Any things that you want to dig in deeper on?

[00:19:53] Hannah: [00:19:53] Yeah. Thanks Steven. I think we touched on, you know, a lot and talked about kind of the ideal scenarios. And, you know, as there also ever been cases of where perhaps, people have tried to include design over you, more design driven, where it's not gone well, that you'd seen in your experience.

[00:20:21] Jeff: [00:20:21] Yeah. Yeah. In my personal experience, it's happened. I made the mistake years ago of hiring a creative director from the agency world into, into a product team. And if you've ever worked in an agency, you know, that creative directors and agencies are God, they are untouchable. They, their opinion is what happens.Right. And I made the mistake of bringing on a highly opinionated, very experienced creative director onto my product team, my product design team. And it was extremely difficult to convince him to work with metrics. Or analytics or user feedback or engineers or product managers or anybody else? He worked well with our business stakeholders.

[00:21:21] Cause he was used to it. It was used to treating them as clients and then they would ask for something and then he would say, okay here, we'll make it green. And this is what it'll look like, it'll be done. Right. And so, and that was it like, and that, that, that was the extent of his process was like, I'll design it.

[00:21:41] Right. And then I've got some production artists to cut it up and make it web ready or app ready or whatever it was. it was a disaster. It really was a disaster. It was a total mismatch for a, for a product design team, because there was no humility. There, there was no expectation that his opinion would be challenged.

[00:21:59] There was no, deference to the user. There was only, I know what's best. Based on my aesthetic and based on my experience and that's what we're going to ship. Yeah. So it's really important to know who you're hiring and how they might mesh into the team. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. And, and it's, and it's good to, you know, it's good to understand their expectations as well and the world that they're coming from.

[00:22:25] Right. Because if, if you've got designers who come from an environment where. They're the boss and it does happen in creative agencies. It absolutely happens. that's going to be a fairly brutal blow when you're sort of democratizing or opening up the design process. First of all, to non-designers and second about the data.

[00:22:50] Hannah: [00:22:50] yeah. And kind of digging in a little bit more to the data piece. And I know Steven brought up like an ideal dream world. Like what is the planning process look like? How do you have engineering design and product, like really working harmoniously together? So kind of in that scenario, you know, if teams have a lot of data and I think we touched on this a little bit, last time we connected. But, you know, what's, what's the best way for them to think through prioritization when they have all this data? Like, what are some of the most important metrics like a designer should be thinking about? Is there general ones? Is it more specific to products?

[00:23:28] Jeff: [00:23:28] No, there's no, there's no, there's no like. Watch out for these two things. It's super context specific and it's based on the goal. Right? So again, I'll come back to OKR specifically to KRS the key results being outcomes, and being used as alignment for the team. Right? So what's the measure of success for our efforts? Is it, is it acquisition? Is it activation?

[00:23:51] Is it retention? Is it revenue? Is it referral? Is it whatever right time on site, average order value. Whatever, whatever the goal is for the team, right? That's the alignment. And then the team needs to understand what customer behaviors are, the leading indicators of that goal. And then you work towards those metrics right towards those outcomes. So it's super context specific and it's heavily dependent. On the declared goal for the project and the problem where the, where this becomes a problem is when the project doesn't have that declared goal. When the project is just build me this video conferencing system.

[00:24:36] Hannah: [00:24:36] Yeah. What would you recommend to teams and. You know, as, as like, Steven said, like Target's more small, medium business, but you know, let's say you're a new hire you're brought on. And like, everyone's kind of just trying to figure things out. If there's not a set goal. Like if you're coming in to this kind of scenario, what can you do to help reset, align and set up those goals? So you can actually be successful.

[00:25:06] Jeff: [00:25:06] I mean, so this, it always comes back to the stuff that I talked about, lean UX, right? So come back to them and say, build me a video conferencing system. What problem are we trying to solve? Who are we trying to solve that problem for? How will we know we have solved the problem? This is the conversation that that team needs to have.

[00:25:26] The designer certainly can start that conversation. Hey, you're asking me to build and design the system. I don't know who I'm designing for. I dunno why they can't just use zoom, right? What are we trying to do differently than zoom? but it's, it's about reframing the work as a problem to solve rather than solution to implement and reframing success from output to outcomes, to, to, you know, changing behavior.

[00:25:53] That's the way this conversation takes place. And that's the way the influence. Of anybody on the team is including the designer goes up because if we have an objective measure of success and outcome, and we have access to data and we can clearly say that this is not helping, right, we shipped that thing and customer behaviors headed in the opposite direction.

[00:26:16] Then we wanted to, well, that gives us a sense of what needs to be redesigned or prioritized or, rolled back deactivated, whatever.

[00:26:30] Hannah: [00:26:30] Have you ever seen teams do like bad objective measures? Like they could go through this process and then they're totally off. Like, have you ever seen like it go awry or how can it go awry?

[00:26:44] Jeff: [00:26:44] So, yeah, I mean, you can pick the wrong metrics, right? You can, you can pick, it's just basically you're picking behaviors that don't actually tell you whether or not you're succeeding, a lot of teams stop at vanity metrics. So very popular lean startup concept, right? Like things like downloads, page views, sign ups, that type of thing. Those are great. Those are kind of the good sort of acquisition metrics. But beyond that, like, Did people actually use the app?

[00:27:12] Did they use it more than once? Do they use it regularly? Like do they buy stuff from you? Do they buy stuff from you regularly? Right. And so vanity metrics are, are a, an Andy pattern here. just simply choosing the wrong metric is an anti-pattern here. Sometimes you choose a metric that technically is a metric, but it is not an outcome.

[00:27:32] So for example, I was working with a big European retailer. And their overall strategic goal for the year was increasing year over year sales year, over year, same store sales, right? So every store is the increase by a certain percentage over the course of the year. And that was the strategic goal for the year.

[00:27:55] And then the teams came up, wanting, came up with a, a, what they believed with that was an outcome, which was, the percentage of products that are on the shelf. That are our brand versus a third-party brand, an external vendor brand. Right? It feels like a metric. It is a metric. It's not an outcome. It's not a measure of customer behavior.

[00:28:21] In fact, it's a product strategy, right? It's a feature of the store, if you will. Right. The feature of our store is that 80% of the products I've got health brand products. Right. Or 20% of our products are God health brand products. Right? That is, that's another anti-pattern there is that people will, will use what is a metric, right? It is a metric. It measures the percentage  percentage of products that are our brand or the other brand, but it's not an outcome. It's a, it's a product choice. It's a, it's a feature choice for the store.

[00:29:01]Steven: [00:29:01] I want to make clear distinction here because I think it's, it's interesting as I'm hearing you speak the visualization of what you're saying is, if you go to like, like military training or something like that, and you do like, you do like target practice. And, or you're just learning to buy a gun and, you know, you want to learn target practice if you're, if you miss the center bullseye, but all of your shots are in one in the top right corner. Or the other person also misses the bullseye, but all of their shots are kind of all over the place. Yeah. Right.

[00:29:44] The instructor would always rather have person a than person B because you're, you're, you're centered. You're just on the wrong fricking center. So now I just gotta move you and make a, make an adjustment to move you from the top right corner. Keep that bunching right. And move it down. And to me, that's kind of what versus the person who's kind of all over the place, right? There's no kind of rhyme or reason to where their shots go. to me, that's, that's an analogy for what you're describing for someone. If you have an organization that's at least aligned, they have an objective, they pick a key result, they're aligned together and they work towards that key result. They achieve that key result, but it was the wrong fricking key result.

[00:30:29] They just picked the wrong one. Okay. I can work with that, right? Like we can now have a workshop or talk through, or have some training on what is a good key result. What's not a good key result and maybe have some sort of process of how to put every, every idea, every idea for key results through and figure out which one is the best one.

[00:30:50] Right. to me, that's one problem. The bigger problem. And a lot of cases that I see is, is that they're mostly the second. Shooter, right. The person who their target is as bullets riddled all over the place. It's not bunched. Yeah. they're not hitting the target and it's just, and just to be clear, I'm not a, I'm not a gun advocate by any stretch.

[00:31:16] So it's, it's a crude analogy. But to me, it's just, you know, you could use it for the bow and arrow. It doesn't matter. The point is that. The struggle I see in a lot of cases is, is they don't even know where to, they're not even asking the right questions to, to say, how do we get alignment on what we want to do?

[00:31:39] Whether we pick the wrong thing to get alignment behind, we can learn and hopefully have the right culture. And it, but the hard part is if you know, where do you start? If you're the designer and there's no, when you get the spec. Right from product. there's nothing that connects that spec to an objective or a key result or a measure of success.

[00:32:06] Jeff: [00:32:06] So your analogy works, right? I think, I think, right. There's the spray and pray model, right. Maybe I'll hit the target. Right. And you really, really need to build discipline and technique into that team. But if you've got a team. That is consistently hitting a target is the wrong target, but they're hitting it.

[00:32:28] That's much more easily corrected. Yeah, I bought, I buy that at noon. Yeah. So.

[00:32:35] Steven: [00:32:35] So, okay. Well, I think I wasn't trying to win an argument when I was trying to do is, just create a distinction that we can create content around. Right? Cause there's, there's, there's two types of, for teams that are not are missing the Mark.

[00:32:50] There are two, there are two, you know, types, right? One is just, they're in alignment. They're together. They're just missed. They're just not picking the right ways to measure success. That's an easily solvable problem. The other is, is the group that is just not aligned. Right. And what are some of the patterns you see from those, from those it's it's hippo, right?

[00:33:18]Jeff: [00:33:18] let's, let's be very clear, right? So hippo is, is alignment, right? If you think about a two by two matrix of alignment and autonomy, right? So if you have, Autonomy without alignment is chaos, right? Alignment without autonomy is a dictatorship. That's the HIPAA, right? there is absolutely alignment with the hippo prioritize. We do what Steven says, right. More line, right? Like there's no, there's no confusion in that situation.

[00:33:58] Steven: [00:33:58] Right. Yeah. okay. we have five last five minutes.

Hannah, anything else you want to beef up or focus on? any topic areas that we covered, but maybe, you know, one more question would help.

Hannah: Yeah, let think

Steven: Thanks again, buddy. I think this is all very good stuff. Good.

Jeff: My, my pleasure, my pleasure. just ping me when you've got drafts and I'm happy to provide, feedback. And again, give me a sense of like, who's the voice here. Stephen's voice. If it's Hannah's voice, it's my voice . Like if you're, or if you're explicitly quoting me, you can. It'll be obvious.

Hannah: [00:34:41] Yes. So, I can't think of any other questions. So Steven, you know, but, what we've been going for is, it's a, it's a mix of mine and Steven's point. So we'll add a little sprinkles in there, Steven, but we're saying everything is based on a conversation with you.

And then obviously if there's any direct quotes you pick out from here, we speak in the articles and I think I've been adding that into the drafts already that I've shared with you as well.

[00:35:06] Jeff: [00:35:06] Awesome. Cool. Well, enjoy your day. All right.

Steven: [00:35:15] We'll we'll talk soon. Okay.

Jeff Gothelf