How Designers & Developers Can Work Better Together

BY TREMIS SKEETE ON JANUARY 20, 2017

Jason Fleitz is Director of Web Operations at LivePerson, where they develop products such as LiveEngage- a platform that gives companies the ability to engage with their customers anytime on web sites, mobile and social networks.

In this presentation at ProductTank NYC, he explains about how designers and developers can work better together on software projects, by adopting some simple tactics and strategies for better collaboration.

Establish Understanding of the Product Vision

Jason starts by recommending that when you are about to begin work on any project with others, the whole team should understand the project vision, goals and objectives. Overlooking these steps happens more often than we realize, which leads to moments where different individuals on the same team are working towards different goals.

By having a shared understanding of the product vision, teams will have a clear perspective on when and how feature decisions are made. By sharing the prioritization process, teams also mature in their knowledge of how the product is designed and how it will benefit the customer.

Get to Know Your Users

Jason explains that the most valuable feedback that a product designer can get always comes directly from users, so it is crucial for product teams to have a deep understanding of the customer. In fact, regardless of your role, the responsibility of user research and testing should be shared across the whole team. Keeping the team in the research/feedback loop can ensure that team has access to data, ensuring a faster turnaround when making design and/or code changes.

Building Relationships, Trust, and Transparency

Jason shared tactics you can use to build trust and transparency within any team. He emphasizes the importance of getting as much face time as possible, especially within a world where we have many other modes of communication such email and mobile devices (which are prone to distractions in ways that face to face conversations are not).

In short, face-to-face conversations, or video conferencing where having remote team members is unavoidable, are a powerful way of building empathy. That empathy leads to trust, which in turn leads to a team that is able to work more effectively together.

Working in Public

Email is still a standard medium for team communication, but Jason posits that email is an unnecessarily private way to share most information, and thus not ideal for building relationships and trust among teammates. More modern tools (such as Slack, bug trackers, or version control) allowing teams to communicate in a more open way, often with a traceable history. These tools allow teams to maximise context, build trust & accountability, and make it easier for new people to get involved or understand what your team is working on.

Uncover Motivation

As a product person, finding out what gets your teammates excited about working on a project can come in handy. By tuning into what motivates them, you can develop ways to create opportunities for teammates to excel while also moving the project forward.

The concept of motivation in the workplace has been explored and modelled by theorists in many different ways, such as Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory which suggests that there are two kinds of factors affecting motivation in different ways:

  1. Hygiene factors – These factors are things that, when taken away, cause people to become dissatisfied and want them back. Examples include: decent working conditions, security, pay, benefits, company policies, interpersonal relationships.
  2. Motivation Factors – These are factors whose presence actively motivate people. Their absence does not cause any particular dissatisfaction, it just fails to motivate. Examples include: challenging work, recognition, relationships, and growth potential.

It’s important to understand what motivates your team because team motivation drives team learning. By working to understand your colleagues, you can better identify tasks that generate excitement and bring out the best in your team.

A Generous Team Member is A Good Team Player

Generosity, according to Jason, can diffuse tension within a team, so start with being generous with your perception of your fellow team members. Being generous (and smart) with your time includes finding positive, constructive and encouraging ways to share feedback. Being generous with feedback can improve team synergy by giving team members the opportunity to build relationships with each other. This approach ultimately supports the team in achieving goals and milestones.

Identify and talk through implementation trade-offs

When it comes to keeping development costs low (especially at startups), being able to work together to identify features that are too expensive to develop and/or release in a particular sprint is essential. To that end, designers should understand the principles of code, and engineers should be involved in the design process. Crucially, this cross-functional collaboration should happen early in the development process. The more you can identify issues earlier on, the more successful your sprints will be, which can lead to a successful product launch. Don’t forget that throughout this process, it’s essential to have the team test, test, and test again, and that the responsibility of testing should be shared.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you are working on a product team and you notice behaviours that indicate the team is experiencing challenges related to communication and collaboration, make the commitment to approach these challenges with the willingness to understand the overall product goals. Remember, being motivated, generous, empathetic, and always willing to have conversations in person will lead to a more connected, effective team that understands how to design great products, together.

Tremis Skeete

About TREMIS SKEETE

Tremis is a Technical Product Manager at NexTier Innovations, a management consultancy specializing in Multi-Dimensional Analytics, Project Portfolio Intelligence, and Enterprise Cyber and Infrastructure Security. He comes from a Computer Science background and has 15+ years of experience working with design teams building web sites, applications, intranets, and graphic communications across multiple platforms. Tremis is also a co-organizer and microsite manager for ProductTank NYC. To find out more, visit http://producttank.nyc.

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