Design is Not the Frosting on the Scaled Agile Layer Cake

Erin Hauber
Director of Human-Centered Design Practice, USAA

From the DesignOps Summit website:
For many in Design and UX, news that your company or organization is adopting the Scaled Agile Framework can feel like the beginning of the end for fully integrating design and design teams in the software development lifecycle. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I will talk about how Design and Business Agility built a deep and cross-functional partnership at USAA to bake a human-centered approach into the Scaled Agile layer cake resulting in: SAFe Coaches who advocate for design, a Lean Business Case that uncouples business and user outcomes, and a shared definition of value that aligns whole teams on the best outcomes.

She works at USAA, which is hundred year old member-owned organization serving military veterans and their families. They weren’t born Agile, and they weren’t always a technology company.

She is going to talk about feelings … her feelings. How she went from angry to optimisic about this change. One unavoidable fact:

She was speaking about the future of the design profession in 2010. At companies the size of USAA (30K employees). Design isn’t usualy the only change that’s happening. There are usually layers of change. So just when you think that you’re done – we hired Chief Design Officer, we have 300 designers … but there is still more work to do. How to make suredesigners don’t get lost in the change?

Truths of engaging with change:

  • Empathy applies to us, too
  • Be the antidote
  • This is a movement

Emotional journey around Scaled Agile Framework. This honestly felt like a step backwards – coaches wanted them in teh team layer. She was furious, disappointed, and a little despondent. The searches were like when you’re sick and you Google your symptoms – it wasn’t good. It’s not all doom and gloom. SAFe now has design on the chart. But we didn’t have that a year and a half ago.

Empathy applies to us, too

The things that terrified her at the time. It changes every 3-6 months, that design is nowhere to be found … those things started to look like opportunities. Treat it like any other experience problem – it’s behavior change. We need to recognize that empathy applies to us too.

So, they did design research, bring human insights and feelings into the conversation. People were struggling with a top to bottom change that happened to include design. They were not going ot be able to just take SAFe off the shelf. They confirmed tha tpeople were overhwlemed, that they were missing the point of the change, and that they didn’t know where to start.

And yet, it was bigger than design. Business Agility team was leading the change, and they shared insights. They cared, and they invited design to be part of a cross-functional working group. We published a guide that tailored SAFe to their organization.

The observed that people were working in isolation because they misunderstood that collaborating within their reporting chain for what was needed for cross-functional collaboration.

Team is the people that contribute to what is desirable, feasible, compliant, viable for their business. It focuses the team together on outcomes. A lawyer helped come up with a solution to a compliance problem – he got to be the guy that said “yes, and”.

Be the antidote

We can be a curiosity or totally overwhelming. You have to makde design immediately usable and valuable – demonstrate how you integrate.

They had developed Keys to HCD:

In this environmetn of change within change, it wasn’t enough. People retreated to old habits because they were overwhelmed. But design wasn’t one of those habits, so it was a real threat. They thought design was important but they were waiting for the calm. It was up to them to articulate all change as a single change. They updated their slide:

All of the change is one change – showing that there are shared goals. This opened all of their programs, and gave them a chance to talk about where they were struggling to get started. This talk track opened internal trainings, too. Then we could talk about the value of design across those layers. Being the antidote requires courage. It’s trademark but it’s not sacred.

This is just about having a cross-functional and predictable way to haveing many ideas to haveing a valuable outcome. We using design thinking in SAFe – usually related to quality and speed of decision-making.

This is a movement

This change is cultural, political, and resistance … maybe Resistance with torches and things. They make propaganda and make covetable materials. To make design not just achievable but desirable.

Bring Your Own Epic is a training that uses a modified sprint for a portfolio as the focus. They use the frameworks on their own work. The boost comprehension that it can be done with ‘stories from the field’ about how design and SAFe are working at their company. That’s huge, because you can’t be what you can’t see.

Through these covetable materials, they are reminded how to be part of something bigger, while being reminded of the basics of Human Centered Design.

What about those SAFe coaches telling them to go to the team layer? Getting them to champion design is an ongoing effort.

She has gone from angry to optimistic about these changes. What gets her out of bed is influencing how mid-career executives work:

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