It's not going well.
I've let Data down - again. This seems to be my lot in life. I'm told to move the ball forward, with the understanding that a first attempt will not be perfect - but we will improve as we go.
This is the opposite of what Data wants from me. Data wants me to have all of my sh!t together before I ask them to do their bit.
And I understand this. But UXDirector has given me explicit instructions to not to wait until everything is perfect. UXDirector is tired of waiting for perfect - and they want movement. Now.
They are the boss. So, I do what they say - only to end up utterly letting down Data.
Data has conviction. They are principled. "We cannot fake this. We have to get it right."
And I agree with this. I just believe that we will get it right, after a few revisions. We do not know what we do not know. So we will go forward, take some beatings - and learn.
Data doesn't want to take beatings. Right now, they are dishing them out.
I've often joked that a big part of UX is taking the beatings. So I lean into it until they are done.
"Do you know this stuff? Really know it?" They are talking about Arwafn.
I hedge a bit - which is stupid.
"I don't have it memorized, but I believe I know it."
Data can sniff out BS like a bloodhound. "Because we cannot get this wrong. This has to be right. Customers won't go through the misery of setting this up if they don't see the value."
I'm trapped between two competing design strategies. UXDirector and Data are not on the same page. And there seems to be no way to make them both happy.
Somewhere in the beating Data drops a bomb.
"The Professor is leaving."
The Professor is Data's partner on a big chunk of our current project. They both share the "first, get it right" philosophy of design - and have been collaborating well.
"Yeah, their last day is a week from Friday."
I do the math. It's Wednesday, which means if the Professor gave two weeks notice, the UXDirector has known for two days and has not told anyone.
What the what?
I like the UXDirector. But if they have a major weakness, it is in their communication skills. In person, you will get all you need to know - but only if you seek them out. If you are waiting for a bulletin from them - don't hold your breath. Once, they emailed us the day before they left the office for two weeks. Nobody knew a thing about it. "Bye department, I'll be gone until..."
And now, mum on the departure of a team member.
* * *
Bit of background is in order here: The Professor is someone I have a good deal of professional respect for. They clearly have UX and research chops.
But here's the thing: they flat out suck at working with people like me. I've never had a meeting with the Professor where I didn't feel like I was getting lectured.
Here's what I did... and here's the background on how I approached it and here's the proper technique...and-
"I have a question"
Let's table that for now. Now you can see here that..."
"What is that pattern?"
I would push back on the term 'pattern.' This is clearly an expression of a design language. Now, as I was saying...
And so on.
Hours of this.
We used to refer to some of the meetings with the Professor as "Watch Professor Type." They'd show up with stuff they wanted to show off, and brush off anyone else's material until they'd lovingly walked through every last facet of their design. At which point, any questions or alternate designs were swatted aside until the Professor would conclude that their design had carried the day.
It's just a strawman.
Strawman. They said this so often that it became a joke with Runner, Noddy and I. We actually had a drinking game where each of us would take a drink every time the Professor said the word.
Being in the office the drinks were usually sparkling water, but it made us all smile.
And I don't think the Professor is a bad sort, they just had no idea how to collaborate. At one point I got into an email rant with them about a particular design choice they'd assumed we'd all adopt. I proposed a compromise and - they took me up on it.
The ice was broken - somewhat. And I'd hoped this would be the beginning of better things. The Professor had a good sense of humor and our meetings usually had more than a few good laughs.
So, right after Data tells me the Professor is leaving, they invite me to a technical review of the work Data and the Professor have been doing. This, I consider a win. Data would like me to be there. They would like Runner to be there as well, but not Noddy. As they put it "I don't want them to screw it up."
So, Data and I are on the same page about Noddy. Really, how could we not be? Noddy is a total tool.
Anyway, I go into the tech review and sit back while the Professor launches into another tour of their grand vision.
I've seen this part before - and I'm wondering what the Hell the Professor is up to. A technical review is basically "I want to build this. How many technical hurdles do you see at first blush?"
A rapid description of the features would suffice. But this is the Professor: He begins with his persona research. Then his task patterning. About three more abstract visualizations later, the developers are checking their smartphone email. Then the Professor starts talking about their prototyping tool. How it works, what their initial approach was - the problems they encountered - and why the performance of the tool was currently sub-par.
If the Professor had any empathy for their audience (aside from me, all developers) they would realize that absolutely nobody gave a sh!t about what they were talking about.
Some 45 minutes into the verbal barrage, the Professor finally arrives at showing page mockups and discussing the data requirements. This - devs care about. Questions begin flying in earnest, but there are so many unknowns that the meeting ends 15 minutes later with the devs as mystified about what was required as they were when the meeting began. Eight high-priced developers burned an hour to get a UX theory lecture and walked away with very little new information.
And there was a niggling little detail in the presentation that I couldn't manage to forget. In the past, the Professor hasn't been shy about lacing his documents and communications with snide nicknames for people and things he has little respect for. They'd referred to the Marketing Department's branding guidelines as "the art project" and I suggested we stop calling it that - lest one of these folks get wind of it and take offense. This was my attempt at being diplomatic.
The Professor laughed it off - like it was silly to even worry about it - and just left the term in their documents. And proceeded to forcefully use the term in our subsequent meetings. It struck me as tacky - not a huge deal, but evidence that the Professor didn't easily turn off their scorn.
This is in the back of my mind, when I see the Professor's summation of our UX team's current projects.
Next to the entry for Arwafn - under the column that indicated who was working on it - the Professor had written 'the three Amigos.'
Meaning Runner, Noddy & I. In the eyes of the Professor, we're the three Amigos.
Now, I'd seen this 'cognitive walkthrough' of the Professor's before - only this part hadn't been in the tours I'd seen.
And I wasn't supposed to be in this meeting - Data had invited me at the last minute.
Nice. Way to belittle your peers in front of the Devs.
I mean, Runner and I are making fun of the Professor on a regular basis - we're just not documenting it and showing it to folks outside our team.
Okay. I see how it is.
* * *
So, the Professor is quitting. Taking a job for less pay, because they want to get out. They've tried ("and tried.. and tried" they say) to win UXDirector over to their design philosophy. No traction.
Hmm... maybe it's your delivery.
And they're going to - in their words - "a rockstar shop." So be it. If they find an environment that suits them, they are better off. Frankly, I think we will be, too.
I mean, I've been in a lot of pointless meetings - but the Professor had a way of describing things that they were "going to do" - and then not do them.
This is perhaps the reason that UXDirector is not embracing their design philosophy. Because it is so slow.
* * *
Which still leaves the question as to why the UXDirector hadn't bothered to tell anyone that the Professor is leaving the company. Given the UXDirector's communication style - I can't say this omission carried any special significance. You don't get much from UXDirectory unless you ask for it. Nobody asked them if the Professor was leaving the company - so, they hadn't said.
* * *
So, it's today. I'm still smarting from the week's beatings. I've recently acquired a new set of standards for Arwafn - and I can see it will require changes to its basic function. This will go over with Data like a lead balloon.
I remember Noddy talking about this particular function and find an email from them from March. They are asking about this function based on another document. They email basically everyone on the project to say "look what I've found." Product weighs in and says "make this change." A SME weighs in and says "we must do this."
I remember talking with Noddy about it - I was trying to figure out how big a deal this would be. I had no concept of how big of an issue this was - it seemed like an edge case. I wasn't eager to make changes, but I wasn't opposed to it. And Noddy had been greenlighted by Product.
A month later - I'm looking at new specs that tell me I need to make this change
Hooray. I'm looking for ways to break this to them and opt to go to another person in Data's field - Heater. Heater instantly knows what I'm looking for and starts the machinery to make the necessary changes.
Heater is thorough - so they copy the UX team - which means Data. Data is clearly irritated at this new discovery. Clearly I'm not doing my job well - otherwise I'd have known about this.
My attitude is that making fixes as we go forward was always part of the plan. UXDirector has said we'll put our code into an environment and throw actual production data against it to see where the holes are. This strikes me as a great next step.
I've mentioned this to Data and while they are clearly on board with this - test and make improvements. But this new change of mine is still heresy.
UX is all about taking the beatings.
Later, I'll go tell the devs that we'll have to change working code.
Noddy stops by to tell me that he knew this would be a problem, that'd he'd asked for these features a long time ago and "...nothing happened."
Gee, wonder why that was...?
* * *
It's the afternoon. I'm looking at a farewell email from the Professor in amazement.
I've seen my share of awkward goodbye messages - but the Professor's is on a whole new level.
I mean, what do you usually say in a goodbye message? "So long, it's been great. I've learned a lot. Here's my contact info. Keep in touch."
Not the Professor. Their message has something else.
It has a chart.
A timeline illustrating the projects the Professor has been involved in - what the goals were - and the (Totally awesome) success each of them ended with. There are at least three swim lanes in the data table and...
...skip it. It was ridiculous. A victory lap for someone who saw their every action as triumph.
I'm deleting it when I remember that I have another meeting with them.
The Professor is having their last meeting about the style guide. The style guide has been a recurring lecture series where the Professor tells everyone to do what they say.
To be fair, the sessions had improved from the first few sessions - but we hadn't met in recent weeks because we were all too busy.
Now the Professor wanted to have one last session and we couldn't really find a reason to turn them down.
We started out cordial enough. The Professor asked if anyone had some items for the group and I pointed out that everyone else in the room would still be around the following week to discuss things - but if the Professor wanted to say something, they should probably say it now.
"Fair enough," says the Professor - and they proceed to walk us through "their process."
I've seen this document before. At least three times. And now four. This matters not at all to the Professor and they replay their earlier lecture as if it were hot off the press.
They detail personas and affinity diagrams. And how they "informed their early iterations" and how this led to "an integrated feature set." How meeting with users had allowed them to "move forward with confidence."
At this point, I've had it.
I interrupt. "Are you showing us these things because you think they are new to us?"
I mean seriously, pal. Everyone in this room works in UX. You are talking to us like we are schoolchildren.
AND I - FOR ONE - AM SICK OF IT.
The Professor seems surprised. "No. Not at all."
Then why the F*#k are you lecturing us on this stuff like you've just invented it?
The Professor just wants to share their design philosophy with us, they say. They want to point out how they've managed to do all this research AND still deliver stories in a timely manner.
* * *
Need to step back a bit here - and I appreciate you for hanging in there on this one. It's ramblier than usual because this stuff just happened a few hours ago.
The Professor and Data have been working on their project for as long as Runner and I have been working on Arwafn. We have a number of accepted stories and a bunch of stories Ready for Development. RFD, the coveted status of UXers in our company.
RFD = Devs don't go hungry = points on the board.
And we have stories that are in progress - and more on the way.
The Professor? The one saying they were able to "deliver stories in a timely manner?"
They have zero stories that are RFD.
TWO DAYS AGO, they dropped 40 stories into the queue and got them estimated. This means they are not RFD, not about to be RFD, but about to be worked on so they will eventually become RFD.
And the Professor is leaving in two hours. These stories - whatever they eventually become - will owe precious little to the Professor, since Data and Sprint will be stuck doing the work to actually make them happen.
And quite possibly Runner and me.
Professor? I CALL BULLSHIT.
* * *
So, knowing this - hearing all this, I've stopped being patient and started to call out the competing philosophies in the room. Up front vs as you go.
If I had a choice, from a standing start - with room to breathe - I honestly can't say which of these I would reach for first. Each of them have their advantages.
But there was no choice. UXDirector spelled it out. We are an as-you-go shop. We'll move stuff forward, make mistakes - and then make things better. The Professor has basically ignored this and has gone their own way. UXDirector has let this happen, under the hope/assumption that good stuff will eventually come down the chute. And - to my mind - the Professor has landed a big pile of maybe and is trying to rub our noses in it on the way out.
"I'm frustrated." I say. I point out how I'm told to write a simple story NOW - then make it better. And my reward for that is to drive Data into a near fury.
"I'm not trying to drive you crazy. I'm doing what my boss has expressly told me to do."
And then all kinds of sh!t starts letting go. Data takes issue with my version of RFD. The Professor asserts that our amount of rework will be less than theirs. I'm incredulous.
"You think you won't have rework?"
"Not as much."
The Professor is shoving 40 pigs through the python at once. Or, they would be if they were sticking around to make them RFD. Instead, Sprint and Data will try to make these pieces flow through the system - all interconnected - all co-dependent - and minimize the rework.
A lot of the stories are clones of one another, so you build one, you can easily build the other. But if you start them at the same time and one dev finds a problem that another doesn't...?
The devs were saying as much after the tech review. All that interconnectivity being built at the same time ups the risk substantially.
Sprint, bless them, stands up for me. I get the sense that Sprint and UXDirector are on the same page. Sprint lets go with some stuff that had been bottled up for awhile.
And Runner joins in. "We are not an effective team."
And we aren't. Runner nails it. Three of us are in one office and three (soon to be two) are on the coast. We used to have regular meetings as a team and now it's just impromptu phone calls and email.
And stuff gets missed. And then we get angry at...everything.
It's like therapy. Soon people are apologizing and we're agreeing to have regular check ins. Data volunteers to have regular work sessions with Runner and me on Arwafn.
It was horrible and beautiful all at once.
But I'm so glad it happened.
I end up wishing the Professor well - I do hope they are happier in their new shop - but I am glad they are moving on. I suspect I am not alone in that. I want to work in a team and (with the exception of Noddy) everyone else on the UX team is somebody I like and respect.
We just need to get past the awkward and the awful and move forward.
And I think despite - or perhaps because of - the Professor, we took a big first step.