learn from design teams
April 28, 2018

Why Customer Insight teams should learn from Design teams

By Paul Laughlin

Listening to a Digital UX Design leader this week, I was struck by how much Insight teams can learn from Design teams.

I had the privilege of speaking at a Marcus Evans conference on West India Quay in London. “Optimise User Experience and Digital Design to Increase Customer Centricity for Financial Institutions“. That must be the (crazily) longest event name I’ve ever attended!

Anyway, before I shared on softer skills, Kara Towner-Larsen from Nordea was speaking. She spoke on “Lessons from the Digital and Cultural transformation of Nordea”. I found myself nodding frequently.

The reason for my enthusiasm, was how many of the lessons from digital design teams were relevant for insight leaders.

Learn from Design teams: It’s all about culture

For both internal design teams and insight teams, one of their top challenges is culture. How can they transform the mindset & ways of working, across the wider organisation.

Neither function can fulfil their role, by being a specialist adjunct, to an unchanged business. They should role model, & influence the way design & insight are used, right across the business.

I’ve shared within previous posts, on innovation & FinTechs, the importance of Design Thinking. Increasingly, these principles are being adopted by organisations to improve other outputs & methods. Design needs to be inspired by insight, but there are also similar challenges faced by both teams.

Learn from Design teams: Similar challenges

As Kara shared the history of establishing Design teams within Nordea, this also sounded familiar. Initially, too much digital design was left to external agencies. Better measurement threw a spotlight on the need to do better & the benefits of in-house skills.

Recruiting and retaining technically capable designers proved a 12 month journey. But, rightly, Kara focussed on attitude & mindset. Creating a team of 12 “right-minded” people was perhaps the most important enabler she gave this business.

She & her team also took time out to define a vision & strategy, for the next two years. The number of links (to past posts), that I’ve embedded in the above text is testament to how this is also needed by insight teams.

Learn from Design teams: 5 cultural lessons

The greatest proof, of the relevance of this talk on Design teams, for Insight teams – were 5 lessons learnt. Here Kara shared her top five lessons learnt, about how to change culture.

As you’ll see from my comments below, each is also good advice for Customer Insight/Analytics team leaders.

1. Enable the do’ers

Here Kara was referring to both the leader’s responsibility to empower her own team, and also business teams. Key to effective leadership development, is learning to ‘get out-of-the-way‘ & let your team do what it was hired to do. A focus on identifying barriers & breaking through them, on behalf of your team is also important.

Internal events & encouraging knowledge sharing with other teams is also helpful. Rather than seeking to concentrate all power within your team, share best practice. Establish a reputation as a leader who enables others to have the knowledge & skills needed to do a good job. It is more valuable, to become such a ‘go to’ leader, than try to control all that’s going on across a large corporation.

2. Prioritize hiring the right mindset

As mentioned above, attitude & mindset should trump technical skills. Hire for attitude, train for skills, is as true a mantra today as it’s always been. Kara ensured she hired designers, who were motivated by helping customers, and business colleagues.

Likewise, insight leaders should not become transfixed on fashionable technical skills. An ability to learn quickly is key, but technologies change. Much more enduring are those who are motivated by helping others & seeing their work result in a better world.

3. Create empathy for customers & business

Kara worked on ensuring her designers and wider design community, empathised with customer needs. Here there is clearly a role for insight colleagues to provide relevant customer insights. But, I’ve also shared before, the importance of analysts getting out into the customers’ world.

Empathy for the wider business matters too. Building strong relationships with other colleagues & teams, develops the right team ethos. It is also a great way to ensure that context, or domain knowledge, is also gained & used in design/insight work. Commercial & Customer relevance are essential for useful outputs.

4. Make day-to-day working environment enjoyable

She shared the idea of creating an “attractive place to work“. Which is about creating the physical environment that is conducive to the work of your team & thinking. Which, for many teams, does not mean Google-esque beanbags & fun colours. It may just as easily mean lots of natural light, minimalism & quiet.

Guest blogger, William Buist, shared with us before, the importance of place on your work. Insight leaders should be inspired by design leaders, to invest in creating the best working environment for their teams.

5. Investing in relationships & community

I’ve mentioned, above, her comments on empathy & joint working. Kara went on to share why she chose a hybrid operating model for her design team. One that combines the best of centralised control & federated free-for-all.

Together with generous sharing, and internal events, I’ve seen my clients enjoy such an approach. Building alliances from communities of best practice, and Councils. The latter can coordinate activity & share best practice, across the business.

It is clear that many analysts & data scientists see themselves as part of a wider technical community, beyond their employer. The active & generous communities that have developed around R, Python & Data Visualisation, show it. So, it’s worth encouraging such a mindset internally. Investing in building communities that support quality & collaborative work (on design & insight).

Learn from Design teams: have you seen the light?

I hope those reflections have inspired your own thinking. Thanks to Kara for such an inspirational talk.

If you have experience of applying lessons from Design teams, or collaborating with designers, please let me know. It would be great to follow this theme up, with case studies from other organisations.