STEPH CRUCHON: Hello everyone, We are so happy to welcome Kai Haley. Kai she’s the head of ux methods and processes at google. Her job is to create and scale programs to enable the culture and mindsets that improve google’s product quality.

She’s one of the founders and lead of the google Design Sprintmaster academy and she has trained hundreds of sprintmasters at Google. To drive innovation across google’s diverse products or areas. But google has also been impacted by COVID like just like you just like me and in this toolkit she will share with us how google has quickly adapted the collaboration and innovation approach during these last month.

Shifting from working totally on site at google and they went totally remote. So please welcome from San Francisco Kai Haley.

KAI HALEY :I am so honoured to be following such incredibly inspiring talks. Particularly Suryas who just came before me and you know what an incredible lineup of speakers! So thank you all for being here, thank you so much Steph Cruchon for putting this on and having me here today. Steph is driving my slide so just as a note for folks.

i wanted to talk to you all today about you know how we’ve been fostering future-ready cross-functional teams. The team that I work on right now supports and grows the discipline of ux across the company. So when I first started at google almost nine years ago now I was a visual designer on the search ads team. And I really struggled when I first joined Google, because the UX team was working very much in a silo and this was the same for the engineering teams and the product management teams. I will give you guys all a little context.

When I was working on the search ads team we really did struggle to collaborate.I didn’t have much access to my engineers we didn’t sit in the same building,I didn’t have visibility into the strategy that my product managers were setting or the goal setting that they were doing. And it’s really hard to be effective at driving great products when you’re working in a silo and working alone.

So I was lucky enough at that time to participate in what was our first innovation week which then evolved to become our annual sprint week, where we started trying on design sprint methods that we were developing at that time. And I discovered what an incredible framework this was for breaking down these silos and bringing together you know all of these perspectives getting to the heart of what is desirable, what is feasible and what is profitable for the company.

This really was the beginning of a transformation in the way that I worked as well as the way that many Googlers were working at the time.I became very inspired by this framework and methodology and started training Googlers after. What does it mean to be future ready and how does this relate to cross-functional collaboration. Yes, we all know cross-front control collaboration is amazing it does unlock lots of great opportunities and potential when you’re able to get teams to work together, but being future ready it’s not about having a magic crystal ball that will allow you to see into the future. imagine my magic crystal ball on this slide it’s really a way of being an approach to working.

So I think about it as building organizations that are adaptable and agile creating the teams that are able to pivot quickly and adapt to changing circumstances, being able to identify when you need to pivot as well as creating an environment that is safe for experimentation. Being experimentation oriented and that also then leads you to resilience. When you run these experiments and they don’t work to be able to pick yourself back up to embrace that failure and learn from it as you go and then of course inherent in all of this is navigating complexity and we’re in ever more complicated times these days .

And you know that navigating complexity is its own discipline that you can you know. There are lots of great experts who speak about this but in order to be able to design experiments that we’re going to learn from we really have to have strong systems thinking and understand the factors that are involved that we’re dealing with. Many of these can be considered characteristics of a learning organization and this is not a new concept peter’s saying popularized the concept of learning organizations back in 1990 and a lot of these he picked out five characteristics six systems: thinking personal, mastery mental models, shared vision and team learning. These are all things that are you know really part and parcel of being future ready.

Our sprint master academy program and our design sprints program really focuses on building these capabilities, these characteristics and infusing them in to our product development process. So for example we help sprint masters with building their own personal mastery and deep expertise. They work hands-on with product teams to help them create shared visions to help them learn as they go so all of these characteristics are really infused into our product development process.

Through the design sprint process and through these critical sprint masters that we train to help
lead teams through the process. One example Surya also shared an example of having to pivot and change due to these very unprecedented times when we were all literally grounded back in march we really had to pivot quickly we had critical sprints that were in flight that sprint masters were you know ready to get on a plane to Australia, ready to get on on a plane to Singapore.

To work in person on you know really important projects and we tended to think up until this point very much about design sprints as an in-person activity. We would rely on getting everyone in a room together and having all of the benefits that come with working in person so we didn’t have that much expertise in this are. We had deep mastery at design sprints as I mentioned and since 2014. When we started the academy we trained thousands of uxers and we have an incredibly engaged community of 400 expert sprint masters who are running sprints across all of google’s product areas.

But remote design sprint was pretty new to us. We looked across the organization and we said hey who is anybody doing this? I’d run a couple out of necessity in general we kind of saw them as like last resort. But we realized this was something we were going to have to learn really quickly. We’re going to have to pivot our practice and then scale our learnings as fast as we could. So in order to do this we took one small step. It was a small experiment and we said hey let’s get everyone together you know with our first week in which we were required to work from home.

And you know surfaced and invited the sprint masters who had been running remote sprints to share their expertise to share their learnings and this quickly turned into a platform and a weekly session where we could bring in experts from outside and share as people were learning inside the resources and tools and templates. That they were building as they were rapidly transitioning their practice from in person to virtual.

So we were able to amplify the knowledge that we were creating and scale it you know across our 4 000 person organization and one of the things that we discovered through this process was that we couldn’t just take our traditional full day multi-day design sprint whether we were running three days or four days or five days. we couldn’t just translate this into the virtual environment and just hold a video a collaboration session for eight hours a day. This just wasn’t handy possible a couple sprint masters actually did do it initially and found that it was not the most effective way to work.

Not just for the distribution of time but also for all the other demands on people’s lives and what they were going through and still are continuing to juggle these days. So we were doing and we still are doing some where we distribute over time zones in shorter time sessions. Looking at how can we you know set this up to be possible and to to combat video conference fatigue.

But what we really discovered is that it’s about more than just distributing the time. Time is operating really differently has been operating really differently for all of us. We’re you know having to shift the way that we live and work into our homes and juggling things like homeschooling and caregiving so we have less time but in the virtual environment we actually were discovering that it was taking more time to do everything than we would do in person.

So a very interesting contraction of time happening and we had to go kind of back to the beginning and think about you know what is the design sprint afforded us and in the past it was really this container this brand a calling card that would get us in the door and allow us to get everybody together in a room. And then you know we could work it out once we got in the room we would do a lot of advanced planning user research, problem framing, you know talking with our stakeholders, making sure that we’re using everyone’s time really effectively.

But sometimes we would find that actually this is what we were doing when we got into the room. We did similar to some of Surya’s wonderful illustrations a lot of the process ends up you know being pivoting on in the moment while you’ve got all the important and the right people in the room to do the workshop. We actually had to to step we had to look at what are our real goals and our very very crisp goals for every session that we’re holding.

And I’ve been thinking about this as this concept of atomizing the sprint. What are the goals of each of the activities in the sprint and how is that getting us towards a larger goal. Can we break down that larger goal in a way that we can make progress more effectively with people’s time. So this means really crisply focusing on the goals for each sprint per session and that’s not always about product outcomes a lot of times it is but we would get benefits from getting everyone in a room together. Like shared vocabulary knowledge, sharing increased collaboration, and sometimes you wouldn’t set that out as the goal for the session but now we had to be even more intentional about designing these sessions for the needs of not just the product but also the people.

We also had to get the tech and the tools right so the sessions would go smoothly. There’s always going to be something that goes wrong but we need to build the confidence in the technology and a lot of that was getting comfortable. What are the different tools I know a lot of folks have had many discussions about what are the tools to be used and what tools are available. But you know this was something that we had to onboard ourselves to very quickly.

And as I mentioned designing for that we’re bringing into the sprint. Because really it is all about the people co-creating together building relationships and connections together so that they can be more creative and collaborate and problem solve together. Recognising when sometimes we really need that sprint to improve, that the conversation to improve the collaboration not just for the outcomes so this is something that maybe in the past we kind of got for free.

When we would get together in person and now we’d have to spend more time planning and prepping for it. So the outcomes from our quick pivot earlier this year was we developed these really quick reusable templates and tools for everyone across the company to use and we allowed folks like the cloud ux team to better identify opportunities. To meet their customers needs with sessions focused on empathy mapping and aligning a team on the product mvp. So not running the whole sprint all the way to the prototype and user test but really narrowing in on what we need right now.

To define those critical user journeys together collaboratively and the google health team did this earlier this year. Mapping assumptions to find gaps and understand what we don’t know. the google classroom team used this sprint to help you know the identify these gaps so they would know where to invest their resources.

There were teams even setting long-term visions and road maps in longer sessions over multiple days and really looking at you know who needs to be involved in these conversations. How do we spread these out to get the outcomes that we need and even some of these more softer benefits such as helping a team form helping a team create a shared vision or a shared understanding of their value proposition.

And doing fun activities in tools like Mural. Yes so with all this we were able to keep our team sprinting. We were able to keep our velocity and we had over 60 percent of our teams actually continued to run design sprints and participate in sprints.

One of the the questions in the chat is you know how could we be focused on not in person on only in-person collaboration and I will say- We have many different forms of collaboration across the company. Design sprints are a specific type in which we really got the value out of bringing people together synchronously. But we use many different techniques for asynchronous collaboration. So I just want to make sure people get the picture that it’s not like we’re this was the only method that we had or do continue to have.

We use lots of amazing google tools for this asynchronous collaboration across the globe but one of the
things that I mean we did end up finding some great benefits. To build on what Surya was saying about this being a real opportunity time we found that this did allow us to have even more engagement from engineering and product because this became a relief from their daily activities that they were doing an opportunity to work in a different way.

We were able to include people that maybe couldn’t get on a plane and fly so folks that have other restrictions in their lives and weren’t able to actually participate in person. So this really made it more inclusive as well as this did working digitally.

You know we could also becomes a levelling ground and creating space for more quieter voices. We found this to be a big benefit that people are able to contribute more broadly across and then of course the sprint documents itself. When you’re working in a digital tool and our sprint masters are have been pretty happy about that there’s a lot of upfront work even more upfront work to design our sessions but in the end we save some of that when we have to share and document and spread the learnings from the sprint afterwards in addition to design sprint spreading and scaling this across google.

Many sprint masters have also been contributing back to the go back one more back to the community running sprints for things like the california public school system. We ran a five-team sprint to help the california schools determine, figure out how to go back to school with distance learning this fall. We worked with the new york city public services group of non-profits to increase access to employment opportunities and public services. And we’ve had teams working with focused on equity health research to improve access to health opportunities.

So lots of great impact from the increase in our skills remotely and virtually to be able to reach out beyond the the confines of our own locales and to pivot and continue to learn and grow as an organization.

Steph Cruchon: one person asked about the soft benefits of in-person sprints.

KAI HALEY: I’m not sure if soft is the right word but it’s what happens when we do have time and we make time and space for conversations that don’t happen because you’re not always in the same office. Or you don’t have a chance to run into each other in the kitchen or you know the water cooler as they say so we get that space and time for people to share their perspectives and the collaboration methods. Really make room for those conversations as well. c

Steph: Can I ask a question about i’m sure it’s secret but what are the topics of these sprints? Are they about products are they about the way you work now because of covid? Can you disclose a little bit about what kind of challenges you have?

KAI HALEY : I mean historically we’ve used design sprints for all kinds of things right. We’ll use them to  improve our products and make our products more user-centered but we also use them to improve processes. So in terms of you know in this time people have definitely turned to this methodology to help them figure out how do we better support our employees at home. How do we better communicate. You can use that process to problem solver to co-create together solutions as well as defining product vision. Improving your critical user journeys and things like that.

In virtual sprints now we’ve been using a variety of tools including mural as well as google slides and google drawing and of course google meets. And that’s you know for the collaboration we need a collaboration canvas for prototyping. We have all the standard prototyping tools that teams will use for digital products. So it really is dependent on the the the problem space that you’re working

If you’re designing a digital product versus a process versus a physical product.

Sabrina: I would have a question- are other remote design sprints have impact to your solutions and products? Do you already have an evidence about that?

Kai Haley: So it’s an interesting question, because you know we always talk about the impact of design sprints and how long does it take to see the evidence. And so we are you know five or six months into this right now. Our launch timelines are you know relatively longer than that but what I will say is the evidence that we’re seeing is around being able to maintain our velocity, maintain the speed at which we’re working. Which is one of the things that we rely on design sprints for alignment and shared

But we also rely on it as a way a method to make a a way to make decisions faster. To get evidence and data to support you know or to make sure that we’re investing in the right products so we are still able with remote testing and remote design sprints. To continue working in the way we would normally you know on the the similar timelines.

The evidence is coming the projects are being launched. On shorter timelines it takes time to really measure because you have what you get at the end of the week, but there is what you get after a month or years.

Jeroen: I had the outside in question as an outsider. Let’s say we look at google as let’s say digital first digital only in everything and you gave us the impression a little bit that google had to handle let’s say the reality of going from all in-person sprinting and collaboration to a more virtual style. Was that a surprise was it a wake-up call how is google looking back at let’s say the notion of having to change that way of working and being so in-person oriented being such a digital and virtual company?

KAI HALEY: well, I think it’s less about being digital and virtual and more about being global because as we can see here we’re all operating on different time zones and when you fly somewhere you normalize your time zone. We’re all there together we’re all working right now. We can’t ask people to work all night long so we actually have to converge at space or I mean time, right? So we have to converge time and that was really where we found the big challenge. Less around you know having the right tools because we were able to getup to speed and have the right tools and have the processes to do the work. And more comes down to the hands where we have people who have lives in different places around the world and to bring them together in a way that it is respectful of you know their work-life balance. All of these are the things that I think are are much more challenging to resolve than the the digital aspect or the the technology aspect of it.

It just comes down to the fact that in order for me to you know get to be on for the first speaker this morning I had to wake up at like 6am where it’s dark out. I’m just saying that it’s a moment where you you realize you know we can overcome space but we can’t always overcome time.

Michael: my question is more about how you manage your try to influence the difference in motivation from or the implication of the participants during the sprints especially now that they are going to remote. I know, some people are not really sometimes motivated at the beginning and how do you manage people’s motivations in the sprint to get them to be engaged and influence their participation. Sometimes you have people that are very motivated and they have control remote or through a screen and some others really prefer the in person so you notice different motivation between the two people. Do you have tips to manage this?

KAI HALEY: yes actually, that was one of the areas that we really did spend some time leaning into which is how do you create a sense of connection and safe space virtually. Which is a different than when you’re doing it in person. So we’ve been training our sprint masters in virtual facilitation methods mindfulness improv even to try to, you know, set the space virtually.

That creates a sense of safety for people to participate. We also rely on each person’s participation because in that’s one of the best things about the sprint process is it’s very clear when you don’t contribute so each person has their turn. So we don’t actually struggle so much with that participation once you set those ground rules.

But you know there are folks who are less engaged that can be less engaged if they don’t have a really strong connection to the context of the sprint. So the other thing that we’ll do is make sure that everyone who’s participating and attending is really critical to the outcomes. Or you know really
understands what their role is. And a lot of times that is helping to define their role for them and
let them know what the expectations of them are.

When you invite them to the sprint and I will often do that in advance, when we invite people in.

Kate: hello thank you kai for a great talk, appreciate your time and your expertise. So my question is how do design sprints fit into the rest of your team’s road maps. When you’re getting these cross functional people together like developers and data people they all have their different road maps and plans so getting everybody to align to a sprint. How do you go about doing that?

KAI HALEY: it’s a great question and I think over time we have gotten a better approach to it which is I think really something to be thought of at a cultural level across the company. There are specific times in the year where people will say what we need to do is spread a sprint now. Because we’re going to be doing our resourcing, or we’re going to be doing our road mapping. So we’ll actually find an increase in requests for sprints usually towards fall planning when people are thinking about the next year and they’ll bring everyone together to align on you know what is our vision going to be for next year.

So we’ll set the sprints specifically in the calendar to influence those roadmaps so rather than say randomly holding a sprint and then being like oh sorry the roadmap’s already set and this is actually one of the things that we advise in our training. Is to always have a conversation with the product team and understand the road maps already in place. And make sure that sprint is going to be pushing those goals forward and is being held at a time when the outcomes will be actionable, so we usually find at least in the beginning of the year and towards the end of the year are kind of the hot spots for when people decide to run bigger sprints.

But there are teams that work in more regular design sprints that are maybe more iterative rather than vision long term, vision setting or roadmap setting. So it again depends on the type of sprint that you’re running and what the end goal of it is.

I could just repeatedly see if there’s I could address a topic from different angle is my sort of like my well concern with design sprint is the goal setting. I’ve been in those design sprint workshops that clients didn’t properly address the goal that we want to achieve. And it was absolutely a waste of time. So how do you avoid such situation? I know it’s a big topic, maybe like if you have hard-earned tips to share very concert defining goals for the design experience that would be really valuable.

Kai Haley: one of my favourite relatively new tools is problem framing so even running a shorter session in advance, using some problem framing methods. Jay mMalone has a nice one from new haircut and setting the time in advance of a longer sprint to bring together a couple of higher level stakeholders to really frame the problem. Because I have certainly as you mentioned been in a sprint where we didn’t do enough of that in advance. And we didn’t have the right people in the conversation when we started the sprint because we hadn’t narrowed the focus down early enough.

So if you aren’t able to get a really clearly defined problem through stakeholder interviews and conversations with your with your team actually hosting a short session. It can be really valuable before you launch into a bigger sprint.

Jackie: thanks for your time today. I’m just wondering do the sprint masters sit as a centralized resource or are they embedded in the product teams?

KAI HALEY: so they’re it’s an interesting model they’re embedded in the product teams but they are encouraged and very frequently do run sprints for other product teams. So acting kind of like a centralized volunteer crew and one of the principles of google which I really love is embracing mobility. So people do move from one product to the next. You spend a couple years working on photos and then feel like you know you’re really interested about math on maps or something like that so our sprint masters are you know experts that get a lot of value from working with other product teams.

This helps to build your relationships it helps to cross pollinate ideas across the the organization and so it kind of becomes this added benefit to both the Sprintmaster and the product teams that they work with. Because they can be an outside they can bring an outside perspective to the challenge. Often it can actually be quite hard to be a facilitator for your own product area.

And I think I see one about facilitating and taking part. I’ll just jump onto that. we highly recommend that facilitators do not also act as sprinters in the sprint. Personally I have done it myself and we have a number of sprint masters who are say the only ux designer on their team and they’re asked you know to fill in for that resource. It’s unfortunately it’s really hard to be a good facilitator and a good participant at the same time. So we generally recommend you don’t do that and if you can recruit somebody to be that essential ux resource or if it’s your team to recruit another facilitator and that’s where our volunteer group really comes in handy. If I need a design sprint, I can just email the group and say can somebody come help.

You kind of recruit the right profile at google like is it making designers or people excited to be on sprints, or engineers? Is it a help for you?

KAI HALEY: let me just make sure I understand- do people enjoy being on sprints is that contribute to their job satisfaction? If it helps you to find the right profile that people want to join google because they can be part of sprints. I think ultimately it is a better way of working which is part of why i’m talking to all of you guys today. Because it’s really to change the way that I work. So having that as a way of working and having people understand it as a way of working helps when people come to google.

Because they’ll know that you have really great ways of collaborating and we do encourage those relationships across those silos that I was mentioning. Like 11 years ago we had really much more challenging silos than we do now. We have really strong ux support, we have strong relationships with our engine product team. So my hope is that is something that other people also look for and benefit from. So the design sprint process enables that and makes it a great place to work.