JJ Kercher, Head of Customer Experience, Real Estate, AppFolio
A successful experience design practice will have many familiar characteristics, such as cross-functional relationships, a design system, clearly defined career progression and a seat at the product strategy table. But these realities are rarely achieved all at once and are usually the result of thoughtful evolution as the team grows in people and in practice. This talk will use the UX Maturity model, which highlights an experience design team’s progression from unrecognized to embedded into the fabric of the business, to illustrate how, when, and where to focus incremental efforts towards maturing design in a growing business.
JJ Kercher (@jjkercher) is the Head of Customer Experience at AppFolio. Today she is going to talk to us about:
She has been at AppFolio for eight years. They bring cloud-based software to help small and mid-sized companies effectively market, manage, and grow their business. She is going to talk about how they made the transition from start-up to where they are today.
The company was founded in 2006 by technology leaders – computer science professors. A strong engineering-centric culture, where they started in Agile from the beginning. She had to figure out how to make design work in that context. The initial product was already recognized for ease-of-use, in spite of not having designers. She started in 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, they were expanding fast and preparing for a successful IPO. Their UX team is now expanding and rebranding into CX. She was the 75th employee, but there are 750 employees now, 23 on the UX team.
UX Maturity Model, based on a version of Johan Berndtsson (2014):
The goal is to get to the 6th level, truly embedded. Today she is going to walk through the steps of moving through the maturity model.
In Stage 2 (Interested), the design team may be disproportionate to engineers. Often the designer is a ‘team of one’. UX is positioned as an advisory or consultant role, and design is tactical and non-routine. At AppFolio there was one designer for multiple product teams. Engineers didn’t see the need because ease-of-use was a competitive advantage already.
So her primary challenge the time was just to integrate UCD in a deliberate way in their development practices. This was where she invested her time:
At this time, she invested in relationships with the engineering team by being inclusive, learning what drives them, tell meaningful stories, and grow internal champions. She also invested in the design practice by building empathy through usability testing, collaborative white boarding, and using familiar methods (like user flows and diagramming). She feels that we don’t do enough of those types of artifacts, and they may resonate for an engineering audience. Finally, she was investing in the team through learning. As a leader, she was still an individual contributor, she needed to deeply understand how to integrate design into Agile, and she realized that research skills were critical to build empathy.
She is going to talk about Stage 3 (Invested) in brief. The landscape is similar, and design is still tactical. The main change is that there is more of a cadence, a rhythm, some typical artifacts. The best outcome here is that engineers want more from UX.
In Stage 4 (Committed), we start to have a discussion about staffing ratios and team growth. Designers aren’t just advisors, but rather embedded in teams, and the need for specialization (e.g. visual design, researchers) emerges. Design is still tactical, but it is more solution oriented. For her, that meant the Manager role was more formal (though she was still staffed on products teams until a few years ago). There started to be some differences in design patterns, and that justified the need for work on design systems. They also realized the need to focus on mobile.
Their primary challenge was in delivering a consistently delightful experience across channels. This drove her investment focus:
Her relationship focus was on all digital experiences, including engineering team, product management (to prioritize design), and adjacent experiences like help documentation (which was owned and managed by a customer success group). Her design practice focus was on evangelism. The created a cross-functional Guild to talk about design patterns, they focused on the Help Center, and they started with an analog design system on their shared drive. They also started to share behavioral data (e.g. web analytics). At the team level, her focus was on shared knowledge. She was focused on relationship building, coaching, hiring, and customer evangelism. They had weekly standup, and regular design reviews.
In Stage 5 (Engaged), the executives are bought in. You have the buy-in, but you have to formalize those programs and repeatable processes.
In Stage 6 (Embedded), you likely have a mature products, growing in complexity. The team gets more structured, with clear career paths, and there are strong relationships between design and product management, and research and design. The team is now 10 designers, 15 teams, researchers, and a visual designer.
Their primary challenge was to feed tactical insights into the business strategy to drive promoters in the NPS, and that drove her focus:
Their focus on relationships was across organizational roles, UXR helps with needs finding and not just feature discovery. Outside in thinking. In the design practice, the focus was increasingly strategic / cross-channel. They started thinking about design systems, product ownership by UX, experimenting with design sprints, journey mapping, and a cross-department CX council. Her team focus was on career growth. As a leader she was focused on relationship building, building leadership depth, and service design. They have created lead and manager roles, created career paths, grew business acumen … but keeping decision-making as flat as possible. The business acumen part is very hard. She had team members working on a book on financial intelligence.
In turns out that for her, they climbed the UX Maturity Model, and that brought them into end-to-end Customer Experience. Their charter now is to accelerate customer value through the design and delivery of exceptional end-to-end experiences. This is her new team structure:
The team is small – just two people now – but they are doing exciting work, including service design experiments.