Gaby Prado

Experience Design and Strategy Consultant

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Building a geographically distributed UX team

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of December 2011, eDreams became part of Odigeo, the alliance of Opodo, Go Voyage and Travellink. This alliance makes Odigeo the largest Online Travel Agency (and apparently, the largest eCommerce company) in Europe -and one of the Big Five worldwide- with presence in 29 countries, more than 12 million customers, and more than 2 billion Euros in revenue.

So I now face, as Group UX Manager, several interesting challenges:

  • there are designers distributed across 5 countries
  • all brands retain their unique characteristics and positioning, but offering same or similar services (not unlike Expedia and Hotels.com, I guess)
  • in some countries, like France, 3 of the 4 brands are competitors, and the 3 major players in the OTA arena.

This means I need to revise, expand and adapt the UX vision, strategy, methodology and processes I’ve been developing and implementing since I joined eDreams 3 months ago.

Needless to say, a lot of my time is now spent thinking how to best build a sense of unity to a geographically distributed team with varied skilled sets and expertise level, and  how to add value to the work already done without disrupting the day-to-day and being extremely careful not to break what already works.

One of the first things I did after taking on the new responsibilities was to look for reference material to learn from other UX managers who have gone through a similar process.

Although I had read about a few success stories about managing distributed UX teams, all of them were related to consulting firms or agencies.

I haven’t been able to find a similar case: creation of an in-house User Experience team to support 4 different brands that were previously 4 different companies, with designers spread out across 4+ different countries.

The only specific resource to UX Management I’ve been able to find (which also mentions managing distributed teams) is a “User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Teams”, by Arnie Lundt.
It is packed with anecdotes and stories for the author’s extensive experience managing teams and several UX Managers he interviewed, which makes it refreshing when compared to abstract, “how-to” books with little reference to the “real world”.

There are, of course, several well-seasoned UX managers (or principals, directors, heads, VPs, …). Some of them have blogs or share experiences, and some are really active in Twitter, but few blogs dedicated to UX management. I supposed there might be a confidentiality issue, and of course, the chronic lack of time in-house managers tend to have.

There is also a great conference: MX: Managing Experience, organized by Adaptive Path. This year will be held in San Francisco, March 3. Still debating whether I should put myself through the 18-hour flight, 10-hour time-difference, 2-day trip jet-lag grinding machine, but it looks great. Good thing that Adaptive Path has shared videos from MX  2011

The Design Management Institute does have a section for Website/Interaction Design, but the main focus is design as a discipline beyond any particular area.

There are more literature (blog posts and slides, really) about UX and Agile. Not really managing a UX team, but it is just as useful and important in my day-to-day.

While I keep looking for inspiration and ideas from the outside, in the meantime I have the tried-and-tested trial-and-error technique. Have to confess, it is a great deal easier when your boss and your team are aligned with your vision, and believe in “the only failure is not being able to get up and keep on trying”.
Our UX team is still a small team (based in Barcelona), and I am thrilled to see how is not only becoming a tight unit at an interpersonal level, but also growing in leaps and bounds in terms of expertise, methodology and approach (speaking of growing, will be posting shortly some job openings)

I also consider myself really lucky to count with the strong support from the CEO and the ExCo,

As the old African saying goes “you can eat an elephant… bite by bite”. So, the first step will be to start travelling across Europe and meeting designers to learn from them.

 

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