Ryan Ollerenshaw has been specializing in user experience recruitment for over a decade and has been sitting down with UX leaders from across Europe to better understand how they are structuring their teams, the challenges they face and dive into some of their greatest achievements.
This is part 1 of a series of articles with Paul Lyngby-Trow Head of UX Design & Research at dnata Travel Group
Paul again thanks for taking the time, I’d love to jump straight into probably the most common and most contentious question I’m asked; what does the ideal UX team look like to you?
Of course, this can vary depending on the available budget and volume of projects.
Ideally. I'd have an allocated UX researcher and designer per workstream, working collaboratively as part of a dedicated cross-functional team with product and development. Sitting outside of this I would want more of a design ops team set up. A team of specialists that would be taking on more of a holistic approach, floating resource for all of the workstreams. This would include a design systems lead, UX research manager, a couple of UX writers, and service designers.
I guess there is no right or wrong but what I'm finding is a preference for product designers because they can be end to end on a project. And therefore, they need potentially fewer resources because they can see a project all the way through from inception to completion. On the other hand, probably about 50/50 split, for people who prefer the specialists. Have you had experience working in both setups? Are there pros and cons to either?
In my team, the ‘UX designer’ title should have been ‘Product designer’. If you look at the skill sets the designers cover, that's the right term for them. They're hybrids, doing both UX and UI, and they can all design the end to end journey. There are ‘Unicorns’ out there. You just need to search for them. They all have a different combination of skills, some stronger in UX some in UI. Together they work brilliantly. It worked out well for me at dnata. I was lucky to hire some real superstars. The team was very collaborative, sharing knowledge, easily bringing more junior members up to speed with additional training if needed.
If they're end to end, why do you think it's important that you still have that specialist researcher in part of the team?
I like having separate researchers because they have an unbiased point of view of the product feature we are testing. They are neutral and are just interested in customer feedback and insight. The designers are a lot closer to their design, which could lead to bias if they were conducting the research themselves.
At dnata many of the travel websites went through transformational redesigns. As part of our user-centered design approach, we scheduled a series of discovery workshops with customers, trying to understand their motivations, needs, and pain points. It was essential to have a dedicated expert researcher to be undertaking these types of activities. One person doing both research and design wouldn’t work.
Is there a reason you didn't go down the agency route for research? Or do the advantages outweigh when you've got them in-house doing the work?
When I first started Travel Republic, we did work with a few different research agencies. These were for larger strategic projects that had more budget associated with them. I managed to secure funds to build an in-house research team in 2017, as we scaled to look after more brands.
My experience working at dnata has been, going in-house was extremely cost-effective, considering the number of research studies undertaken. Having a dedicated team helped build relationships with brands and evangelize the value of research. Ultimately this opened up opportunities to work on a wide range of research activities.
When the team expanded at data, did you introduce a level of hierarchy?
Yes, I needed to relook at the structure as the team scaled and took on more responsibilities. I set up UX Leads in Kingston and Leyland, both line managing between 2 and 4 designers. I was then left with the 2 leads and the research team as my direct reports
This certainly gave me back more time to look at team strategy and innovation. I felt it was starting to become a bit unmanageable, the amount of one to one's and performance reviews. It took up a lot of time.
The UX Leads appreciated the extra responsibility, learning to balance line management responsibilities alongside practical design work. They both gained valuable experience in coaching and developing designers.
Would you have potentially looked at someone heading up the research team and then someone heading up teams of product designers based around more disciplines or based around more brands?
We did have a UX Research manager, but he sadly left for another opportunity. After that, my focus initially was to establish UX research more prominently in the Leyland office. If the team had expanded in the future it would have made sense to hire a lead researcher to balance the team out.
At dnata, there is roughly one UX designer allocated to each workstream. But what we found was a lot of the journeys are similar across travel brands so there was some duplication of design work. One idea was to set up teams to design key journeys that could be used by all of the brands. So, you might have one team looking at a holiday booking journey, one might be looking at landing pages. This feels to me to be a more efficient way of creating these page templates and design system components for the different brands. Obviously, they're going to have their own brand look and feel but it's a more efficient way of doing it.
Do you have a competency matrix or framework you use to find skills gaps?
Using a competency matrix method to build a team would be useful and there are some really interesting ones out there.
Be honest with yourself as you build a team around you (sometimes on a limited budget as you prove the value of UX) and hire people that offer skills that are better than yours. Think about the full end to end UX lifecycle. What do you need for a fully functioning team? Is it a Design Sprint specialist? design systems guru? Or radical researcher to shake things up? At dnata I hired UX generalists that all excelled in one of those specialisms that could educate the other team members.
Your role as a leader is to ensure you know the team skill sets available. I get to know and understand each member of the team. You can then make sure any required training is in place.
As well as looking at individual skill sets, It is also worth mentioning that we created a set of measurable UX team OKRS that focused on improving standards in 5 important key areas…
1.Understanding dnata’s customers
2.Maintaining design quality
4.Collaborating with other teams
5.Working efficiently as a multi-located team
With achievable key results, this helped synchronise and standardise ways of working across the teams.
You mentioned using agencies for the larger projects, how do you decide between growing your team on a contract or permanent basis?
At dnata, they work to yearly high-level roadmaps for most of the brands. For the larger strategic projects, you have the opportunity to plan and budget for additional headcount if needed.
I ideally look for permanent members of staff to fill new roles. I'm keen on building a close-knit team that works collaboratively together. UX designers run their workstreams autonomously, which makes them feel valued. I want people that can come in, contribute, and become part of the family.
For new unforeseen initiatives, there is often the need to go with a contractor. I've hired some really good contract UX professionals over the years. The day rate can be quite costly but you are hiring an expert who can come in and hit the ground running and make an impact quickly.
If you are looking for a user experience recruitment agency that can supply either UX contract or permanent talent then get in touch with Ryan and the team.