A UX Advantage Podcast with Karen McGrane: Shifting To Continuous Deployment

Sean Carmichael

August 3rd, 2015

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The speed of Agile delivery fundamentally changes the work process and puts new demands on the design cycle. What happens when the notion of deadline dates is replaced with a continual stream of experience enhancements by everyone in the organization?

That is just one of the questions being addressed at the UX Advantage conference. Karen McGrane and Jared Spool will be your hosts as they have meaningful conversations on a series of topics with top design executives.

In this podcast, Karen tackles the UX Advantage topic, Shifting to Continuous Deployment.

Join us in Baltimore August 18-19 for UX Advantage. For more information, visit uxadvantage.com.

Recorded: July, 2015
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Sean Quinn: Hey now, everybody, I’m Sean Quinn. Today is another very special UX Advantage podcast. You see, for the past several UX Advantage podcasts, I’ve been joined by Jared Spool, which was pretty sweet. Today is even better, because we are all really lucky to be joined by the co-executive producer of the UX Advantage Conference, Karen McGrane, who along with Jared has been working really hard on putting together a unique conference that focuses on UX strategy issues no one else is talking about.

How are you doing today, Karen?

Karen McGrane: I’m doing fantastic. Thanks for having me.

Sean: It’s great to have you here. The speed of Agile delivery fundamentally changes the work process, and it puts new demands on the design cycle. What happens when the notion of a deadline date is replaced with a continual stream of experience enhancements by everyone in the organization? It must put some strain on the top, all the way down to the bottom. What do you have to say about that?

Karen: It’s just such a fundamental shift in the way that we work. As far as I can tell, it’s moving our design and development practices into a truly digital space. When you think about all of the historical models from other industries that we have been basing software development on, whether that’s…I do a lot of work with the publishing industry.

The idea of, you’re going to print a magazine every month so you’ve got to have this big push up into the printer, where the magazine gets sent to the printer and then you can’t make any more changes to it, or architecture, obviously. It’s like you either have a building or you don’t have a building. It’s not like you can be continuously adding to the building.

Even thinking about software development, the idea that up until, just a handful of years ago, all software development was essentially products that were bought in boxes on the shelf. You have the marketing plan behind them and TV commercials and what not.

Now, the idea that we would be creating websites that where apps or digital products that are only ever going to be delivered through the web or through the Internet, it just doesn’t make sense. Why should we be following that sort of offline, box-centric model, when we could be continually updating and iterating on these products?

That’s just a fundamental shifts in the way that we think about our workflow, the way that we think about our processes, how do you make decisions, who do you have working on the team, who has the power to make changes. I think it’s quite transformational for organizations to start thinking that way. I also think it’s probably a pretty hard shift.

I do a lot of work with the publishing industry, and so moving an organization away from “we publish a magazine every month” to “we are constantly writing stories and publishing them on our website.”

You might think you can just get them to start being like, “We’ll publish things all the time,” but it doesn’t work that way. It changes the whole culture. It changes the whole value system of the organization to be working that way.

Sean: I imagine it also changes the perception outward, inward of your consumer base, what’s the value of this thing if I don’t have to wait 30 days for this?

Karen: It changes the economic structure. It changes the revenue model. It changes the level of quality in some cases. How do you decide whether something is good enough?

All of that, I think we talk about those decisions as if they are purely technical decisions. How are we going to decide if we’re ready to ship something? How are we going to evaluate success? It really gets to some really deep-seated cultural issues, some really deep-seated values around how the organization describes what it does, what the right way to do things is. Those things are harder to change, I think.

I think even organizations that say they want to work in a more agile method or say that they would like move toward continuous deployment, it’s going to take them a while to get there. It’s not that technically they couldn’t get there, it’s that culturally they can’t get there.

Sean: Whenever you couple fundamental shift or fundamental transformation followed by the word organization, if an organization could cringe, I believe that those terms, “fundamental shift”, would make that happen.

As organizations become more calcified with the systems and the habits that they have, how do you go about getting everyone in the organization on board to not only embrace the concept, which just seemed really hard enough, but to then put the concept into action for execution?

Karen: I think we’re going to have some great speakers at UX Advantage. We’re going to be able to talk about how they did that at their organization. Bill Scott from PayPal, I know, has some fantastic stories of how he has moved PayPal to a Lean UX-focused organization.

I think that all of our speakers are going to be able to describe much better than I probably could what it actually takes to get your engineering team, to get your design team, and to get your executives on board with what it means to do this and to do it right.

Sean: We’ve talked about in our other conversation how these topics are intertwined with one another. I’m thinking as I’m hearing you talk about the incentives and rewards, there must also need to be a fundamental shift in how those are conceived of and then distributed when you’re changing the rate with which things are deployed. Is that an accurate statement?

Karen: Yeah. One of the things I’m most fascinated by is, how does an organization tangibly reward people for performance? I genuinely believe that you can look at how particular executives in the organization get their bonus and diagnose what that organization really values.

They may pay lip service to caring about design or caring about the user experience, but where they put their money is what really motivates them. I think Jared is fond of talking about this, that many, many organizations are motivated by ship dates.

There’s the sense of, we’ve got a product and we think it’s got to launch by a particular date, and somebody’s going to either get a bonus or get fired, based on whether that product actually meets that date. I know I have definitely worked with organizations that have said, “This thing has to launch by such and such a date, and we will give you more money if you hit that date.”

That sets off some really perverse incentives. That sets up some incentives to launch something, even if it sucks. Even if it doesn’t meet the needs of the business, if it doesn’t meet the needs of the users, but my god, you have that hard deadline and you needed to have something to show for it.

I think that when you poke at that problem, you realize that, there is a deeper ecosystem of goals and motivations that also needs to be changed in order to make something like this happen. You may need to ensure not just that the continuous deployment or that you’re moving to an agile method, you might need to ensure that HR is on board with writing, job descriptions, or writing bonus plans that don’t use ship date as one of the motivations.

You might need to change the way that your contracts are written. You may need to get your legal team on board with working in a different way. We’re going to have representatives from the US Government, Digital Service, the White House, and from Fidelity, talking about how you change the legal and procurement processes to make things like that happen.

I’m really fascinated by how changes like this happen in large organizations, because you realize it isn’t just the engineering team, for example, saying, “Hey, you know what will be great? Is if we stop focusing on ship dates and instead move to a continuous deployment model.”

The rest of the organization has to be on board with that as well. You’ve got “little ducks”, you need to get in row there before that can happen.

Sean: Let me ask you this then. Is it possible to apply what we’ve been talking about to the actual process of getting everyone in the organization on board? Could we be continuously deploying as we move towards getting everyone on board?

I’m not sure if it makes sense, but that popped into my head when I was listening to you. Can you move before you have everyone on board?

Karen: I think many of the guests who we’re going to be talking with will be able to speak to the small changes that they’ve made. Yeah. I think there’s no way that anybody would ever get anything done if they believed that they had to make one massive shift in the organization overnight.

I think that one of our guests said something. You got to eat one bite at a time. How do you figure out what the small incremental improvements are that you can make in your process so that over time, you get to the place you want to be?

Big changes are scary. They’re risky. They’re something that people really don’t want to take on. Can you do a pilot project? Can you start hiring for some new roles that might start working in this way? Can you change the way that you structure your contracts or change the way that you structure your weekly meetings so that you’re moving in that direction?

I would never encourage anyone to think, “We’re a failure if we can’t do all this all at once.” Instead saying, “Where are we at right now? What are the baby steps we can take in the right direction?”

Sean: That’s great. Where we are right now is at the end of this podcast, so I wanted to thank you for your time today, Karen.

Karen: Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Sean: Watch for other podcasts that’ll be covering more of the conference topics. Be sure to check out our conference speakers and all the topics at uxadvantage.com. You definitely don’t want to miss this event. It’s coming up fast. It’s in Baltimore on August 18th and 19th. You can register at uxadvantage.com.

Bye for now.

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