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Building a UX Team: Change Is the Only Constant!

Formerly an analyst, I am now building the design team at Grameenphone Ltd., one of the most admired brands in Bangladesh and the largest mobile operator in the country. It all started with a phone call:

Caller: Hi, Moin, are you busy at this moment? Can you come over and meet me right now?

Me: Sure! On my way!!

Caller: Thanks for coming. We have a vacancy and your name has been recommended. Also, my experience working with you gives me confidence that you will do well. Want to explore something completely new?

Me: I can give a try, but what is it?

Caller: The User Experience team is in need of a new leader!

Me: What!? Me? (Few seconds pause!)  Okay! I will take the challenge.

And this is how it all started. I was given this amazing opportunity and jumped onto the ship. Now I am a proud leader of a small 5-person team of very talented team of UX professionals.

We hope to grow even bigger and better in the days to come. But no university in Bangladesh offers formal HCI/UX/Design education. There are no agencies with expertise in user research or experience design. The people I have recruited so far received their formal design education abroad, in Sweden, the USA, and India. Even though there are people who consider themselves as UX professionals, after going through 5,000+ resumes and portfolios, I was unable to find anyone with a strong background in UX or knowledge of HCI.

CEX, UX, Service Design, HCD, HCI … Wow! I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Like many other global organizations, we decided to create our own User Experience team, working hand-in-hand with product developers. As the team’s role has changed, so has its name. The team started in the Customer Experience Department in 2012 and at that time it was called Service Design and Usability.

In 2015, the team moved to the Product Department. After doing some research on the role and concept of UX, I decided to change the name to Service Design & UX. Now, we are planning to change the name again to Experience Design & Strategy.

These changes in the team name are not just words, but reflect our journey to where we are today.

At the start, my first challenge as design leader was to understand the terms the team used and how our entire organization interpreted all these terms. Even today, a significant number of people come to us asking, “Can you fix the UX of my product,” or “Can you give us some feedback about colors, so we have good UX?” I respect the fact that they come with belief that UX is important, but UX is so much more than these questions.

This approach wasn’t good for the team, either. When I checked the Key Product Indicators (KPIs) for the team, I saw that the team was chasing small requests without a focus and their contribution to the business was unclear.

Building a strong UX team required changes in both the organization and attitudes. After the initial shock, I started doing some research and discovered the concept of the “design driven organization.” This made me curious, so I started looking at other organizations to learn how they work, recruit, and educate their design resources. My search included Google, Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Service Innovation Lab.

A sample of pages from the research on careers and human centered or UX design
Figure 1. I started my search with organizations that were well known in the community as design-driven companies with innovative product ideas and business models.

Based on this research I have split the department’s overall tasks into a few categories: Identifying key problems, roadblocks, and solutions.

The key problems identified were:

  • The organization’s understanding about design, its impact, and value
  • The traditional way of work, which prevents creating real customer value
  • It is hard to hire and maintain a strong design team
  • Challenges with internal infrastructure for creative and collaborative work

Based on these issues, I had to overhaul entire job descriptions for the team, including my own! We also redefined our key responsibilities, qualifications to be part of the team, and educational requirements.

Samples of pages (text not readable)
Figure 2. I researched many job descriptions on the web to rewrite ours.

With my new vision of the team in place, I began looking for professional UX resources, and faced the biggest challenge: scarcity of qualified applicants in the market due to lack of formal training or certification programs. I started using LinkedIn, Facebook, and a few other foreign university websites to find potential candidates for my team.

During this phase of the work to transform my team, I learned many new terms. My bookmarks list included portals of information about human factors, ergonomics, information science, psychology, adaptive technology, and more. This process and new knowledge helped me recruit two good team members. I even have two people in the pipeline if they return to Bangladesh.

UXPA home page with a long list of bookmarks on UX topics
Figure 3. From UXPA to commercial portals, the web provided information about the state of UX around the world.

Design Capability Blueprint

The journey to shape the UX team can be looked at in 6 parts. This structure is a blueprint for developing a design capability.

  • Setting up the organization
  • Developing governance and making sure people are aware of it
  • Building team (and organizational) capability
  • Developing a design driven culture
  • Organizing the work process
  • Building infrastructure to become customer-centric

Setting up the organization

This work was in two parts. The first was rebranding myself as a design leader and defining the role of an empowered leader with experience in design and leading a design team, driven by specific customer-focused KPIs.

Then I had to create a design unit that includes all of the design and other creative resources reporting to me, the design leader.

Most UX teams will include some or many different UX roles, but we have kept the formation of the team dynamic so that we can adapt according to project needs.

For example, right now we have two user research experts: one specialized interaction designer and one visual design expert. However, through training in India, our user researcher is also a usability expert. The interaction designer spent significant time educating himself as an information architect. The visual designer is learning interaction design through online courses offered on IDF and courses by Georgia Tech. Through this program of education, we keep our designers motivated about their jobs and always doing and learning something new.

If we decide to work on a new product/service concept, our team can focus on UX research. As we work on a design system, other skills come into play. There can be quite a lot of overlap between these roles, but this will keep the team (and costs) small, and allow the team to find its feet.

Once we decided the roles and the responsibilities, we defined how our UX team would collaborate with other teams. As laid out by Lean UX author Jeff Gothelf in his post on integrating user experience into Agile development, there are two options: the internal agency model, or the hub and spoke model.

  • Internal Agency Model: A UX manager acts as a gatekeeper, intercepting and divvying up incoming work to the team based on ability and capacity. This approach means that designers must figure out how to make their output comprehensible to developers. It also means that other teams will have little understanding of the UX team, and vice versa.
  • Hub and Spoke model: UXers are placed within other groups, such as product design, development, and marketing or sales. This way, designers “feel connected to (the) team’s focus. In doing so, the designer’s priorities become clear.”

We also have cross-functional teams dedicated to the development and improvement of a specific service for the duration of the service lifecycle. This is different from today’s project teams that are only assigned to a project duration that ends with the launch.

Building team (and organizational) capability

Our work to build up the capability of the team included:

  • Employee development: an internal program to build design capability by up-skilling/cross-skilling existing resources and providing them with “on-the-job” training.
  • Design training across the full organization on design value and methodology and providing practical tools for everyone to use in their daily work.
  • Job rotations is a work in progress. We haven’t yet been able to establish a mature “bi-directional” job rotation program to enable experienced resources to help other business units. However, we support other business units through virtual collaboration, which is appreciated by management and has helped designers boost their confidence.

Recruiting new team members has been the most challenging part both for HR and the design team. I have been following Julie Zhuo, VP of product design at Facebook for some time. “At a startup, you need your first one or two designers to be versatile—great jacks-of-all-trades,” she says. ”Not only do they need to deeply understand and think through product strategy, they also need to have good interaction chops and decent visual sense, since they’ll be doing everything from designing the UX to thinking about the brand to designing icons—they need to have a diverse skill set.”

According to Zhuo, finding the ideal designer who fits your needs is a two-part process. First, you have to find promising candidates (she runs through three concrete steps). And second, you need to decide if they’re right for your team—which can be trickier than it seems.

With the help of our HR team, I have started visiting various universities as a guest speaker to build awareness about the subject and career opportunities. To build the capability and get some great minds in this field, we have initiated several internship program/capstone projects, as well. I believe this will help to find the right candidate for my team.

Developing a design-driven culture

Almost every designer I’ve met (including myself) has, at one point or another, felt they were working in an organization or with people who didn’t appreciate design. A year and a half into this role, I still feel that most people in our company, including the leaders of various units, don’t understand what we do.

Transformation of the telecom culture to a design culture requires a dedicated program. The program must contain leadership training, communication, best practices communication, leaders walking the walk, and employees talking the talk.

Evangelizing UX is an ongoing effort that aims to promote the value of user experience to non-UXers. Reaching out beyond the UX team to get any UX-friendly executive actively on board with promoting UX is an excellent way to earn acceptance.

There are a lot of people in any organization who have no idea what UX is. We started a small education program for the whole department to create awareness about what UX really means and to explain the various methodologies, including working with personas, user interviews, usability testing, user journey maps, interaction design, wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. Most importantly, we did this based on real cases from our business— not just theory or common examples.

Organizing our work process

Over the past 1.5 years, through various projects, we created a development process combining design methodology and agile software development for new product/services development and to improve existing services.

We established a set of KPIs to help ensure management and operational focus on customer value and design quality.

Our Experience Standard defines the criteria that any of our services should meet before it is made available to customers. Establishing a design culture has helped the team strive to deliver consistently excellent services and experiences.

Finally, we have a project governance model that allows for agile and iterative ways of working, fully integrated with go-to-market processes, ensuring that customer insight/input is the main driver for decision making.

Building infrastructure to become customer-centric

In addition to developing the skills and capabilities of the team, we needed to create a space and tools to support our work. We wanted a design lab, a collaborative, inspiring workspace that supports creative working methods with permanent project zones for service development teams and customer zones for frequent customer interaction and testing. We are now rebuilding our lab with the ecosystem of hardware, creative software, tools, and templates needed to operate effectively.

Read … Learn … Explore …

I was inspired by a team member with an amazing collection of books for the passionate designer. The first book I read was Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown. The ideas in the books I read have transformed my understanding of design as a creative way of solving a real-world problem.

It’s not just books. There are numerous websites/pages, blogs, university research papers, awards, conferences, boot camps, and other articles and notes that helped me move forward and are keeping me up to date with the latest advancements in this field.

I am fortunate to have come across some great HCI/UX professionals who supported me with their valuable time and mentorship. I am particularly inspired by the eagerness of Bangladeshi HCI/UX professionals, some of them living abroad, to contribute to the development of a UX community in Bangladesh. Like me, they have also struggled to build a strong community and they faced similar challenges.

This journey is just beginning. There are many new areas of design to explore. As a father of a 2-year-old boy, I want to be responsible and contribute in a creative way, to ensure we gift a better world to our future. We can look beyond our immediate projects to explore the technical, social, material, and theoretical challenges of designing technology to support collaborative work and life activities.


More reading

These sites are often mentioned for UX reading and they were very helpful for me.


I must thank the management team of Grameenphone and the design team at Telenor, both of which have supported me tremendously since I took on the role as design lead in March 2016. I also want to thank Mr. Ataur Rahman Chowdhury, currently working as UX consultant at Backbase in the Netherlands, for helping me to build a community from scratch. He opened a whole new world for me by introducing me to a group of HCI/UX researchers, academicians, and professionals living inside Bangladesh and abroad. I will remain in debt to these people for guiding me, and I strongly believe that we have only just started this amazing journey and have a lot of more to achieve. In this journey, Dr. Nova Ahmed, one of my mentors, is guiding me to build this community and helping me to learn more.

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