Springer Nature

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Growing and supporting the User Experience Department

  • Client
  • Objective
    • Supporting the Global Head of UX to provide ways to support and grow the burgeoning User Experience Design department within Springer Nature
  • Work type
    • UX, Management, local, international
  • Timeline
    • October 2016 to October 2018
  • Team
    • Global Head of UX (London)
    • Team of 5-6 UX Leads (including myself, London)

Introduction

Having previously worked as a Senior UX Designer for Springer on their Springer Materials and Nature Nano products, I was asked in October 2018 to become a Lead User Experience Designer, in order to help assist the Global Head of UX in expanding the User Experience Design department. Following a merger with Nature, another leader in the scientific publishing field, the demand for User Experience Design support had grown, and we therefore had to grow the department in order to meet this need.

Given my previous experience in working with international teams based in our Pune office (previously part of Crest Premdia Services), I was asked to build and develop a team of User Experience Designers, to work onsite with software development teams in that office, ensuring that user experience design was a key part in the production process.

The Springer Nature Pune office at sunset

The Springer Nature/Crest office in Pune

Building the Pune UXD department

Part one

In order to ensure the success of the new Pune UX team, I took a three-stage approach to the issue:

  1. Developing the recruitment process
  2. Increasing awareness of User Experience Design within the office
  3. Supporting the team

Developing the recruitment process

To start, we needed to ensure that we recruited the right people for the team. I developed a recruitment process that would help with this, which incorporated principles including Lou Adler’s Performance Based Hiring, which helped us write job specifications that focussed on role expectations, rather than a laundry list of requirements. By doing it this way, we could ensure that potential recruits would not be put off by a list of things they could not do, and we could focus more upon the actual tasks they were expected to complete in their project. This approach has been adopted for the whole of the Global User Experience Design department, and is now being adopted by other discipline roles, such as development, project management and business analysis.

This approach did receive some pushback from the HR Department in Pune, as, despite my explanation into how the technique worked, they found it harder to evaluate potential applicants, as they did not have a list of key terms to look for in submitted CVs. I therefore worked with the team, to evaluate the process further and ensure that a light touch evaluation could be carried out by the HR team, to extract people who were very clearly not suitable, but the main evaluation would be conducted by myself and other UX Leads, to ensure that candidates had the right skills, or showed promise in being able to achieve them.

Sticky notes showing how we planned the recruitment process for the Pune UXD team

Planning the recruitment process for the Pune UXD team

A diagram showing the devised process for recruiting User Experience Designers in Pune

Sketching our planning into a scheme for evaluating candidates

Alongside my fellow UXD Leads, I helped design a process to help evaluate candidates that would not only work for my recruitment purposes in Pune, but also normalised the process across each of our offices, to ensure that candidates from each country would be evaluated equally, and therefore maintain levels of expertise across the company.

  1. CV review – CV is reviewed by Pune HR, and a member of the UX team, to make sure they show possible suitability for the role.
  2. Pass/fail evaluation – if suitable, a screener call is arranged
  3. Screener interview – candidates are called via video conferencing or phone, and asked questions to ensure that they can answer basic questions around their application and history, helping to quickly ensure they are knowledgable about UX and their work history
  4. Pass/fail evaluation – if they are successful, we can then invite them in for an interview.
  5. Interview day – As candidates often had to come in from far away, and to speed up the process, we would then hold interview days for several candidates, consisting of:
    1. First interview – an interview with one of the UX team, as well as members of their prospective production teams, to further investigate their work history and suitabilities for the role.
    2. Practical test – candidates were then given an hour to work on a UX solution for an open-ended problem on their own. This would give us the ability to not only see how the candidate worked under pressure, but would also allow us to stagger the interviews. The candidate would then be asked to present back their work, so we could evaluate how they approached the problem.
    3. Pass/fail evaluation – if the team in Pune is happy with the outcome, then one final stage is arranged:
  6. Video call with UX Lead/Global Head of UX – for the times when I was not present in the Pune office, I held a video call interview with the candidate for one final stage, to get an idea myself of their abilities, and ensure a good cultural fit with the company.

I started the process myself, conducting interviews from the Pune office, and, when we had recruited a few people for the team, I asked them to carry on the process while I monitored it from the London office. This process helped us ensure that candidates were suitably able in their roles, as well as providing a rapid way of evaluating them, as it was common for Indian candidates to be lost to offers from other companies, making the speed of evaluation and offer key to securing decent people for the team. I am proud to say that, from this process, we hired a team of very capable User Experience Designers who helped us to expand the influence of our department to the production teams over in Pune, and worked well with their UXD colleagues in our London, Berlin and New York offices.

Increasing awareness of User Experience Design within the office

While I was over in the Pune office conducting interviews, I also spoke in depth to the teams who we were hiring designers for, and found that the understanding around the role of User Experience Design to be rather confused. Many members of the teams had not worked with User Experience Designers before, and so I put together a presentation to help explain some of the principles behind User Experience Design to help them:

Slide from the what is UX presentation
Slide from the what is UX presentation

Slides from the “What is UX?” presentation I gave to help explain UX principles to production teams in Pune.

Supporting the UX team

Alongside this presentation, and having hired the UX Designers for each team, I set up a number of regular contact points with key individuals, to get a good picture of how things were going with each designer and their project:

  • A weekly call with each designer – this would ensure a regular touchpoint where I could discuss with each designer their work, how they felt it was going, and ensure that they had the resources and support they required. We also discussed how they felt things were going, to get a view of satisfaction in their role, as well as sharing intelligence about other relevant goings-on in the company.
  • A weekly call with the heads of projects – this helped me to understand the business requirements for each of the teams that my Pune team worked with. It also helped me formulate strategic decisions for ensuring that sufficient UX support was given to each project.
  • Regular catchups with the project managers – this gave me insights into how each team was performing as a whole, and ensure alignment of expectations from both my designers and their teams.

This approach helped me to identify problems and issues in good time, which helped me give an overview of how things were going in Pune, to the Global Head of UX and my fellow UX Leads in London. We could then decide if changes needed to be made, such as moving designers between teams, or recruiting further support.

When visiting the Pune office, I would frequently hold group sessions with my team, to examine issues together. In these sessions, we would write down issues which were helping and hindering us from our work:

Sticky notes on a board, outlining the outcomes of a session discussing the problems we face

Outcomes from a group session, examining the successes and problems we have faced (please note – this image has been pixellated to protect anonymity)

This workshop approach helped us share good and bad things about our work, and form ways of approaching common issues. I frequently encouraged team members to answer each other’s problems, so that they could assist each other at the times when I was not in the Pune office.

Building my coaching skills

Part two

During my time working with the Pune UXD Team, I also attended workshops on coaching, mentoring and leadership:

A photo of the notes I took during a coaching workshop

Notes I took from a coaching workshop

These workshops helped me to further understand ways of enhancing my team’s performance, as well as ensuring that their work was in-line with the Global UX plan.

Enhancing the skillset of the whole UXD department

Part three

Evaluating and enhancing with skills maps

As part of an exercise to assess and improve the skill levels of the entire UXD department, based across our London, Berlin, Pune and New York office, my fellow UXD Leads and I embarked on a project to conduct examinations with each member of our teams, to build a picture of where strengths and deficiencies lay with each person. We built a Skills Map, a multi-page spreadsheet that would allow us to go through each key skill with our team members, understanding how confident and capable they felt about each.

Screenshot showing the spreadsheet and analytics we used to measure skills levels across the UX team

Screenshot of the skills map spreadsheet, showing how we measured team members on various skills, and provided analytics to get an overall view across the department

We combined the findings to build a picture of the areas we needed to focus on. The areas of interest would then be either set out for team members to focus on individually, with us helping them by providing opportunities to read or practice a certain area of interest, or, if we felt that they were an area of interest across the department, we would conduct department-wide training, such as holding lectures or conducting discussions, to facilitate learning on a particular subject over a larger group of individuals.

Developing a UX playbook

We also went through Jared Spool’s UXD Strategy Playbook to ensure that we, as a department and a company, were headed in the right direction. We examined each of the plays, assessing where our individual teams were in each, and then combined the findings to give a picture of the whole UXD department, and, ultimately, the company’s current state of UX involvement.

A glass wall with pieces of paper showing the outcomes of our UXD plays

The outcome of our UXD plays exercise – please note, this image has been pixellated for confidentiality reasons

This helped us to define our own UXD playbook, and know where we, as a department, could help steer our team members, ourselves, and, ultimately, our company in ensuring full immersion into a way of operating that put the user at the centre of everything we do.

Conclusion

I learned a lot as a UX Lead for Springer Nature, and it certainly provided me with plenty of resources and skills to contribute for future positions. One thing I did find was that I missed being involved in the actual “hands on” work of User Experience Design, and that I preferred being involved in the strategic thinking behind products, rather than working with just developing and supporting designers. That said, I did receive some good feedback from my team about the levels of support I provided, with one even calling me “the best supervisor they have ever had”, which was very pleasant praise to receive.

For more information, or to discuss this further, why not get in touch?

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