Last week I participated in my employer's semi-annual hackathon. In the past I've hated those events. From the UX side we were encouraged to participate, but the developers didn't want designers in their teams. They weren't sure how to collaborate with us as part of their normal work, and they sure as hell didn't want us designing their output. Nobody from UX was involved in planning or execution of the hackathons. Dev leadership would pay lip service to participation from non-technical staff but didn't try to support it in any way. This is like a perfect storm of everything I hate.
What made this year different was that I had a really good idea. The raison d'être
of the company I work for is to help ordinary Americans save for retirement. But for some unfathomable reason, we don't offer our customers any help once they actually retire. Instead we push their retirement start age a year into the future every year. It's a mystery how the company has survived for nearly 2 decades with that strategy. Of course we don't even know how many customers leave because we're so unhelpful in that phase of their financial lives. My idea was to create a customer experience for a person who has been retired for a few years.
I recruited a product manager, a financial researcher and a writer to my team, Team Already Retired. Each team could only have up to five members. I was going to go for a marketer to fill the last slot. But then by mistake I recruited a development manager. He in turn recruited another developer, so we had to unload the product manager. But that meant that we could attack the problem from two sides: the customer side and the numbers side.
The writer and me created an email, a landing page and an overview page. The email was meant for people who were over 50 and who had recently stopped working. It invited them to tell us if they had retired. The landing page gave them three options:
- Yes, I'm retired and this is the date I stopped working.
- No, and this is my new employer.
- It's complicated, so please call me.
From there people who said that they had retired would go to an overview page that would give them key information about their finances in retirement, including Social Security and healthcare costs.
The developers managed to squeeze the relevant numbers from an algorithm that was developed many years ago. So we used those numbers in the prototype that I created.
There was a lot of buzz around our idea and we did a great demo. We had been told that presentations were going to happen in random order, but instead they went alphabetically. So we were the first team to demo.
I started the demo off with saying that my team was proposing to extend the vision of our founders from helping people prepare for retirement to also help them live well through retirement. I also said that of all the hacks presented, ours had the greatest chance of growing and transforming the company. Bold words, but having seen all the other demos, I still think they're true. Apparently others did too, because we won!
That felt really good! I feel more accepted by my coworkers than before. Lots of people have come up and congratulated me since the event. There is talk about productizing my idea, too. We'll see where it leads. For now I'm happy that we won. I'm not sure that I'll volunteer to lead another team next time. It's hard to top that experience of winning the first time I did it. Fancy Ass Designer
Of course there's backlash too. The Fancy Ass Designer didn't participate in the Hackathon. Apparently he got bored while I and most of the engineers were doing that, so he put in some work on the area of the project that he had delegated to me. *head desk* As I told somebody else, when you've delegated something, it stays delegated. Partly taking it back and sketching some random ideas that you don't even know if they're viable, is just poor management.
The product manager who was associated with my team, is also the PM who is leading the project the FAD and me are working on. I think that working on my part of the project was a way for him to "win back" the PM from me. It seems childish but that's par for the course for this guy.
Another UX person was walking around making sure everybody on the UX team signed a baby shower card earlier this week. She had a list, but the Fancy Ass Designer's name wasn't on it. It's just one more thing that makes me think that he isn't going to be around for much longer. I'd be surprised if he's still here when it's time to sign my birthday card in January. Accessibility
The again, I'm not sure I'll be around for that either. Accessibility has reared its ugly head again. I last wrote about the topic
and how it's been mismanaged back in June. I'm still their fallback plan and the brass still don't get it. A lot has happened since June. I was able to get my manager to understand the topic a bit more. We did some preliminary work on selecting an accessibility company that would help us make our customer-facing sites accessible. Auf Nimmerwiedersehen, Boss!
Since then my manager has left. I've know since January that he was on his way out. He'd been to an off-site with the other managers first thing in the new year. When he came back from the off site, he told me that he had been severely criticized by his new manager and his peers for being too wishy-washy. They wanted him to step up and lead to help make the company more UX and design centric. He also said that he knew that he wasn't capable of that. So the writing was on the wall.
I'm happy that he's gone because that gives us a chance to get a UX leader who will actually lead. My manager only blamed his own team for any conflict that came up. He really wasn't a good manager. If it's one thing I expect from a manager, it's that he'll have my back. With this guy you could depend on him blaming you instead. New UX broom
One of the last things my manager did, was to hire a very senior designer who I know from my time in a previous company. We worked together on defining interaction patterns. She hasn't been formally tapped to be the new UX leader, but I'm hoping that she will be. She's already shown her leadership skills and others in and outside the team are enthusiastic as a result. We've been waiting for a proper leader for so long! I've been giving her hints and tips along the way and that's worked out very well.
The New UX Broom has some competition. The Fancy Ass Designer, for instance, seems to think that it's his turn to run the team. If he wins, I'm probably leaving. He's not a great UX project lead and I doubt that promoting him above his incompetence will help matters. There's also the senior visual designer. Back when we had a visual design team, he managed it. Although, given his almost allergic reaction to conflict, he's probably happy to let somebody else lead. Preferably not somebody who will blame him for every conflict that crops up! More accessibility
Anyway, returning to the subject of accessibility, the heads of Consumer Products and Development are now tasked to deal with accessibility. I had a meeting with them yesterday. They are at sea and they know it. Unfortunately they'd much rather use me as a life raft, rather than learn even a little doggie paddle. I've just written an email to them, further emphasizing that training the developers is not optional if they want to become compliant.
Earlier today I googled the difference in pay between a designer and a product manager. The national median difference is $25,000/year. So if the opportunity presents itself again, I will bring up my idea of moving into product management. Right now I'm thinking that if they want me to work on accessibility full time, they either pay or I hand in my notice. It is way too frustrating to be caught up in their crisis management without a hefty pay rise. It's not like it would be hard for me to find another job if I quit.