JZ Jeff Zych

My Talk at Lean Kanban Central Europe 2017

From 20/20 Hindsight to ESP at Optimizely

On a chilly fall day a few weeks back, I gave a talk at the cozy Lean Kanban Central Europe in Hamburg, Germany. I was honored to be invited to give a reprise of the talk I gave with Keith earlier this year at Lean Kanban North America.

I spoke about Optimizely’s software development process, and how we’ve used ideas from Lean Kanban and ESP (Enterprise Service Planning) to help us ship faster, with higher quality, to better meet customer needs. Overall it went well, but I had too much content and rushed at the end. If I do this talk again, I would cut some slides and make the presentation more focused and concise. Watch the talk below.

Jeff Zych - From 20/20 Hindsight to ESP at Optimizely @ LKCE17 from Lean Kanban Central Europe on Vimeo.

Epilogue

One of the cool things this conference does is give the audience green, yellow, and red index cards they can use to give feedback to the speakers. Green indicates you liked the talk, red means you didn’t like it, and yellow is neutral.

I got just one red card, with the comment, “topic title not accurate (this is not ESP?!).” In retrospect, I realized this person is correct — my talk really doesn’t talk about ESP much. I touch on it, but that was what Keith covered. Since he dropped out, I mostly cut those sections of the presentation since I can’t speak as confidently about them. If I did this talk solo again, I would probably change the title. So thank you, anonymous commenter 🙏

I also got two positive comments on green cards:

Thanks for sharing. Some useful insights + good to see it used in industry. - Thanks.

And:

Thank you! Great examples, (maybe less slides next time?) but this was inspiring

I also got some good tweets, like this and this.

Tags: talks

My Progress with Hand Lettering

I started hand lettering about a year and half ago, and I thought it would be fun to see the progress I’ve made by comparing my early, crappy work to my recent work. I started hand lettering because a coworker of mine is a great letterer and I was inspired by the drawings he would make. I tried a few of his pens and found that trying to recreate the words he drew forced me to focus on the shape of the letter and the movement of the pen, which was intoxicating and meditative. So I bought a few pens and started practicing. Here’s the progress I’ve made so far.

Early Shiz

A bunch of shitty G’s. Poor control of the pen; poor letter shapes.

Goldsmiths. Better pen control and shapes, but still pretty bad.

A lot of really inconsistent and shaky “a’s” and “n’s”.

Happy Holidays. Better, but still some pretty poor loops and letter spacing.

Some really shitty looking M’s.

Newer Shiz

Fitter, Happier, More Productive Much cleaner and smoother. Better loops and letter spacing. You can also see my warm-ups at the top :)

Aluminum Better spacing, and fairly consistent thicks, thins, and letter shapes. I like drawing “aluminum” because it has a lot of repeating letters and shapes that require consistent strokes and spacing.

I still have a lot of room to improve, but compared to a year ago I’ve made a lot of progress. You can see all of my work at http://jlzych.com/scribbles.

Tags: hand lettering

How to Say No to Your CEO Without Saying No

Shortly after I rolled out Optimizely’s Discovery kanban process last year, one of its benefits became immediately obvious: using it as a tool to say No.

This is best illustrated with a story. One day, I was at my desk, minding my own business 🙃, when our CEO came up to me and asked, “Hey, is there a designer who could work on <insert special CEO pet project>?” In my head, I knew it wasn’t a priority. Telling him that directly, though, would have led to us arguing over why we thought the project was or was not important, without grounding the argument in the reality of whether it was higher priority than current work-in-progress. And since he’s the CEO, I would have lost that argument.

So instead of doing that, I took him to our Discovery kanban board and said, “Let’s review what each person is doing and see if there’s anything we should stop doing to work on your project.” I pointed to each card on the board and said why we were doing it: “We’re doing this to reach company goal X… that’s important for customer Y,” and so on.

"Optimizely's Discovery kanban board in action" Optimizely’s Discovery kanban board in action

When we got to the end of the board, he admitted, “Yeah, those are all the right things to be doing,” and walked away. I never heard about the project again. And just like that, I said No to our CEO without saying No.

Tags: kanban

Artists don't distinguish between...

Artists don’t distinguish between the act of making something and the act of thinking about it — thinking and making evolve together in an emergent, concurrent fashion. As a result, when approaching a project, an artist often doesn’t seem to plan it out. She just goes ahead and begins, all the while collecting data that inform how she will continue. A large part of what drives her confidence to move forward is her faith in her ability to course correct and improvise as she goes.

— John Maeda, “Redesigning Leadership”

This quote from John Maeda’s book, Redesigning Leadership really resonated with me. It captures my approach to problems and new challenges perfectly. I don’t stress too much about having every step planned out — I’ve learned to trust my intuition and follow new paths as they appear, having faith that they will lead me to a successful outcome.

“Improvise as she goes.” I never would have thought of it like that, but “improvising” is a great way to describe my approach.

Tags: quotes

Shifting from a Product-centric to a Service-centric Mindset

Over the past few months I’ve shifted from a product-centric mindset to a service-centric mindset. My focus used to be on building products that help people accomplish a task or goal. That meant I would try to understand the problem to solve, who it’s being solved for, and then design digital products to solve that problem.

But as I’ve grown as a designer, become a manager, and seen Optimizely move into the enterprise market, I’ve realized that a lot more goes into making a product successful than the product itself. Companies often offer additional services to make customers successful.

A service is a touchpoint or system provided by a company to fulfill a need. A touchpoint is how someone uses a service — a website, phone line, ticket kiosk, and so on.

Most digital products, for example, have additional online properties to help customer be successful, like a knowledge base. Companies can also provide non-digital services, such as a support line customers can call or email.

Even though a service may not have a visual interface, they can still be thoughtfully designed. To make good decisions about how these services work, you still need a solid understanding of your users and their goals. This is what product designers do when designing a product, with the only difference being the final deliverable is not a visual interface.

Shifting to a service mindset makes it obvious that new technologies that have invisible UIs, like Alexa and Operator, can be thought of as services and designed just like any other service. In its simplest form, design is the act of making thoughtful decisions. Having empathy and understanding a user’s goals, motivations, and context help designers make thoughtful decisions. These activities apply to services and invisible UIs just as much as creating visual interfaces.

On top of that, all of the products and services that a company offers its customers need to work in concert with each other. This means that it isn’t enough for each product and service to be well-designed on its own — they also need to be designed to seamlessly work together to make customers successful. Doing this also requires having a broad understanding of your customers.

When I had a product-centric mindset I was aware of the different touchpoints, but I hadn’t put much effort into designing them all as a cohesive, interrelated experience. Customers may use the knowledge base and email support while using the product, but that’s for the support team to manage. “I’m just going to make the product great because that’s all that customers need to be successful,” I used to think. I’ve since learned that isn’t true. It takes more than the product itself to make customers successful.

Learning about the discipline of service design has helped me connect all the different touchpoints customers use into one unified framework. Everything is a service — products included. And they can all be thoughtfully designed by using the core skills designers already have. By doing so, customers will have a better experience with your products and services, which will make them more successful, and that will ultimately make your company more successful.


If you’re interested in learning more about service design, these books and articles have taught me a lot:

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