Design is about people, perspective and process. As UX designers it’s our mission to understand what the user needs. There are a handful of process driven concepts to help design leaders and their teams simplify the complex and deliver the right experience.

01. Form multifaceted, multifunctional teams

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman wrote about the stages of group development. Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. The way we as design leaders organize our teams effects output, pace and level of collaboration. The best teams are well rounded and should include a range of intelligences and disciplines.

By exposing open frameworks during the brainstorm, My team was able to internalize and shape the process themselves.

Consider the following team model: Design ops, Researchers, UX and UI designers. This range of disciplines will help teams be autonomous and allow them to go deep into the user/product development journey. In matrixed organizations, Directors should consider establishing a horizontal team to work across product verticals. This connective tissue will help align teams with each other and to the business model.

02. Go beyond Design Principles with Team Principles

Design principles are essential. They provide a framework for our design approach and set expectations for the final outcome of a design. They help ensure products address the needs of the end user. But have you considered establishing a set of Team Principles? By setting a standard around interpersonal, operational and human values, teams can move past politics and focus on the good stuff.

Below – example of team principles.

  • Harness the team’s range of abilities
  • Collaborate, share, learn, grow
  • Raise awareness and create transparency
  • Move steadily and methodically
  • Be flexible, resourceful and seize the moment
  • Test and Experiment
  • Respond, follow up, follow through

As design leaders we have the responsibility to identify, define and provide practical examples in practice. Let’s take “Raise awareness and create transparency” for example. In support of this principle, design leaders should hold and encourage meetings that expose designers to work across verticals. They will soon find the team beginning to organically identify opportunities for collaboration, prioritization and alignment.

03. Find Your Rhythm

Thinking about Design Thinking? Thats a good start. No two teams are alike. Design Team A working with Robots might have a different function than Design Team B who makes marketing collateral. The underlying similarity however is a design approach. While Team A and B might have a different approach, at least they have one! Without this step you are bound to have slip ups, miscommunication and angry customers. My teams have found success in the iterative design thinking cycles of Discover, Define, Test, Deploy, with room for cyclical testing and definition (see diagram below). Not all design sprints allow for testing though. Sometimes you just need tighter cycles and as Tripadvisor’s CEO Stephen Kaufer’s mantra goes, Sometimes… “speed wins”.

Wait, there’s more! Don’t just copy Google. An important part of establishing the approach is knowing your market and unique business needs. It’s also absolutely critical to have a shared understanding of what the intent, actions and expected deliverables are for each phase. For example, if you have UI designers partnering with UX designers later in a sprint, The UI team might expect that UX designers, in the Discovery phase, have aligned on a set of prioritized user tasks, use cases and edge cases. Keep the work lo-fidelity early on and meet often. The first line of defense against a failed project is communication and collaboration!

04. Define Deliverables and responsibilities across the project timeline

UX, and UI designers are now industry titles but did you know we used to have people called Information Architects and Interaction or Usability Designers? I’ve always felt those titles did a better job setting expectations for what a certain job function is accountable for. What is critical though, and helpful for design teams regardless of titles is a shared understanding of who does what when.

At first glance the diagram above might seem to be about deliverables by discipline. The true value in this framework happens when you apply it to the UX and UI phases of a project. UX needs to solve one set of problems before UI can craft the pixels to support the user needs. Designers should find what works best for them and their teammates. The best part is where phases overlap. These “Magic Moments” are areas where designers can meet in the middle and work collaboratively side by side. UX/UI should be a partnership with regular meetings along the sprint and as UX directors we can help provide structure there to catalyze for collaboration.

05. Catalyze for Collaboration

There is no substitute for open regular communication. Short of any defined process, two meetings a week can do wonders for process and output. Transparency and openness are the key ingredient here. It’s about bringing people along with you and sharing in the journey.

99% of my day managing a design team is spent in meetings. I’ve found it helpful to get teams aligned on what and who needs to be at each meeting. As UX leaders we can help crystalize some of these magic moments for our team by standardizing meeting names across parallel design teams and defining goals for each type of meeting.

My team’s collaborative meetings that help find harmony:

  • Discovery Brainstorms – Sketching, card sorting, cross team investigations. This is a highly collaborative phase early in the sprint. All key stakeholders, UX/UI/Copy/Animation/Product/Dev partners converge to kick it off.
  • Co-Design Sessions – Designers can co-design or work independently with frequent check-ins to realize design solutions and prepare for user testing.
  • Research Planning – UX/UI work with Research to establish learning goals, create prototypes, observe research, act on user data, and participate in read out sessions.
  • Design Reviews – Present work in progress – Share project overview, design goals, user scenarios, and a design walk through. Design Team Review is held every Thursday. product pods may also hold their own reviews.
  • Stand-ups – UX/UI to attend as many product pod standups together as possible. The Design team holds its own Standup on Mondays. Come prepared with bulleted items, what you are working on, and any important information to share.
  • Handoffs – Handoff meetings should be the last of a series of meetings with the development team in a sprint. The design specs should cover all use cases/edge cases and provide guidance on UI patterns and interactions.
  • Backlog Grooming – Product Pods decide how frequently they run Backlog meetings. UX/UI should have jira tickets written ahead of the meetings, so the product manager can help prioritize and scope tasks along the roadmap.
  • Retrospectives – give us the opportunity to address what’s working, and what we need to improve in our process or approach. They help inform and identify follow up items for the next project or sprint. Stepping back as a team provides the opportunity to align and be proactive together.
  • Sprint Planning – Jira tickets should be scoped and well defined. A cross functional team reviews the tickets for the upcoming sprint. By attending together, UX/UI designers will establish a shared awareness for sprint priorities and product direction.

It is my hope these five simple steps for collaboration will help your team today.