We met Jeff Gothelf, Organizational Designer, at a virtual conference on product design. We had the chance to talk to him about UX teams and building user-friendly software products.

This is the first part of our conversation.

Jeff gave a presentation called, There’s No such Thing as UX Strategy at the Product Management + User Experience Conferences. Afterwards we got together with him again for this conversation.

What Is the Role of a UX Team in Building Software Products?

There’s obviously a need for UX designers. The interesting conversation happens around a UX team.

Yes, there needs to be a UX team in that designers need colleagues to learn from, to work with, to bounce ideas off of, to share challenges with, etc.

But ultimately those UX practitioners need to be distributed into the product development teams. So you need to have a UX designer on every team in the same way that you need to have an engineer or product person or QA people.

So they have to be ultimately dedicated to individual teams. That’s the most effective way to ensure that both the customer and good design ideas make it into the product.

What Is a UX Designer’s Most Significant Task in a Product Team?

I think the most significant task that they should be worried about is being a champion for the customer. Their task is to make sure that the work that the team is doing exceeds acceptance criteria and works as designed.

Works as designed is a nice place to start, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is usable or desirable. So I think that it’s critical that UX designers ensure that the voice of the customer is heard throughout the process. And that the work is iterated on, optimized, until specific positive changes in customer behavior take place.

What Is the Best Way to Integrate UX into Agile Methodologies within Teams?

You need to have UX people on the Scrum teams themselves. I think that any organization that says that they’re Agile but doesn’t build cross-functional Scrum teams is lying to themselves. Because that immediately halts the Agile process.

In other words, someone’s going to have to do the design up front. And as soon as you’ve got that process taking place, you’re no longer practicing any kind of Agile software development. You’re back to Waterfall. The key is to make sure to have designers on each team.

Now, the designer’s responsibility is to be present, and active, and proactive in their Scrum team. They have to attend stand-ups. They have to attend sprint planning. They have to attend retrospectives. They have to help estimate. They have to help prioritize.

The team will adjust the way that they work to support design activities.

What Are the Major Challenges When Trying to Foster This Lean UX Culture?

Some of the biggest challenges are exactly what we just talked about. Which is convincing designers to take part in Scrum teams. And to participate as full members of the team.

I think a lot of designers feel overwhelmed, or perhaps even outnumbered in those situations, and don’t want to participate, or don’t find value in their participation at all times.

And that starts to build divisions.

Another consideration is changing the way that the team works. From a team that’s focused on delivering features to a team that’s delivering outcomes, measurable changes in customer behavior. That’s not a design, or an engineering, or a product thing. It’s really a management criteria.

It really boils up to incentive structures in the company. Most companies have an incentive structure that rewards people for shippings features. And it doesn’t matter if that feature is well designed, it doesn’t matter if anybody uses it. Just get the feature launched. Changing that is difficult because what we also really want to do is we want to reward people for making customers more successful.

If customers are more successful, their behavior will change and we can measure that. They will continue to subscribe to our service, buy more stuff, tell their friends, spend more money, and whatever it is that we’re trying to get them to do.

Can a Designer Participate in Making Business Decisions?

Absolutely, I think that the designer can be the voice of the customer, the expert voice in the room about the customer. And offer that insight into business decision making.

I think that there’s so much input from designers and researchers and UX people that can positively impact business decisions.

However, the reality is that it’s never going to be 100% customer decisions. We’re going to make decisions that work for us as a company and work for the customer as well, in most situations.

But in many cases, the customer is rarely considered. I think that if designers can step up and offer that insight regularly, companies will make better decisions.

About Jeff


Jeff Gothelf is an accomplished teacher, workshop leader, and public speaker. In 2012 he founded Proof, a lean product design innovation studio in New York City. Later acquired by Neo Innovation Labs.

In 2013 he co-authored (with Josh Seiden) Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experiences. His next book will be called Sense and Respond and will be out in late 2016.

Part II

Our conversation with Jeff Gothelf continues in part two. We keep talking design, including Product Teams and rapid firing of MVPs as topics.

For More …

You can reach out to Misael Leon at [email protected].