August 19, 2023

Nodes of Design Podcast

I had the pleasure of joining Ravi Tej on the Nodes of Design podcast, where we discussed Intelligent Interfaces and the evolution of design leadership in an intelligent future.

We talked about what intelligent interfaces are, how they’re reshaping our interactions with technology, and how designers’ roles will evolve in this new future. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode here

March 22, 2023

Navigating Organizational Politics: The Importance Of Shared Outcomes, Alliances, And Partnerships

Let’s break two myths out of the gate.

Keeping your head down and doing great work in isolation never yields the impact you want — it takes a team. And you can’t ignore organizational politics if you want to be successful.

As you move through your career, as you elevate and take on more significant roles, you learn that the lone hero model is a farce. Building products is a team sport. And when you’re driving transformation, collaboration is even more critical since you need to create a movement to make progress.

The relationships you build across the organization are crucial to getting any work out the door, let alone great work. Your network, reputation, and partners all come into play when driving strategic programs. Operational leadership is required to get things done, but you need shared outcomes, alliances, and partnerships to make your efforts successful.

1: Find ways to develop shared outcomes with other leaders.

You’ll run into challenges, and sometimes even a brick wall, when your agenda and goals are at odds with another leader.

Sometimes this happens because you’re driving transformation that would change the power dynamics that the leader is quite comfortable with. Other times it’s because you haven’t taken the time to get to know the individual, what’s important to them, and how to align what you are trying to achieve with what they’re going after. Let’s hope it’s the latter, and I’ll save that other topic for another article.

Shared outcomes are the way to get everyone facing the same direction.

2: Build alliances across, up, and diagonally within the company.

Alliances are the people that warm the room.

They’re the people that speak highly of you when you’re not present. The champions that start from a place of positive intent with your proposals. They’re not just people that like you; they’re people that want to help you succeed.

Alliances are critical to your success since they are often not directly involved in your programs but have work that loosely aligns or has dependencies. Usually, these alliances start because you garner alignment and trust; by doing so, the efforts you’re partnering on enable you to row in the same direction. When you begin to feel the wind on your back instead of your face, that’s when these alliances are working.

3: Drive collaboration with partners to get things done.

Get to know leaders across disciplines and teams that you’ll need to work with closely to get things done. Building great products and services requires teams that understand the meaning of collaboration and how to leverage each other’s expertise and strengths. So take the time to understand where your partners are coming from and what they’re trying to achieve, then develop alignment. Get to know them as people beyond the work you’re doing. Lean in and help them with something they’re trying to accomplish, support new proposals, and lead by example in the ways you’d like them to show up for you.

And pay attention to peer relationships. They are some of the most critical partnerships you’ll have. Your peer connections are more important than you think; along with your boss, they’re your “first team.”

Reflection Activity

If you haven’t created a stakeholder map/matrix in a while, you’re probably not paying enough attention to your relationships.

My recommendation is to couple the matrix with a plan for each individual and revisit it monthly. In Leading Without Authority, Keith Ferrazzi discusses creating a “Relationship Action Plan” for each person — that’s how meaningful building and maintaining relationships are to success. If this type of artifact doesn’t exist, take the time this week to create it. You’ll be surprised by what you learn and how much more intentional you will become in building solid relationships across the enterprise.

February 26, 2023

Increasing Influence: 4 Ways To Create Strong Partnerships And Alliances Across The Organization

People often overlook their relationships and networks’ importance in achieving positive outcomes.

Stop wasting time thinking you must do it yourself, and start making the time to invest in your relationships with peers, partners, and stakeholders. Not only will it enrich your experience and give you tailwinds, but many things you’re driving hinge on your ability to influence others — especially any change management or transformation work.

Here are four ways to expand your network and organizational influence:

1: Create connections that go beyond the basics.

Leverage 1:1s to understand partners’ and stakeholders’ visions, goals, and mindsets.

Find out what’s essential and drives them. Share what you’re doing and how you want to partner to reach those goals together. Think through a plan to get there. Take a similar approach with your boss (and their boss and peers) as you build your relationship.

Create forums or small groups to go deeper on topics and create an environment to share ideas, input, and feedback.

Many times, larger meetings aren’t the place for deep discussions. Create a space where you can have them with groups of 3–5 people. Ask for and share feedback once you’ve established a repertoire.

This step is a litmus of how well you’ve created an environment of openness and learning.

Align on shared outcomes that you work towards together. Instead of staying heads down in your world, spend time collaborating with partners and peers. Align your goals with what’s essential to the business — move the metrics that matter.

Cross the finish line together and continuously nurture these relationships.

2: Bring your systems thinking and enterprise mindset to the table.

Having a point of view within your area of expertise will be natural, which is required to gain credibility as an expert at what you do.

But where real enterprise operators are a cut above is when you lean into conversations outside your wheelhouse. Have a point of view on business topics and adjacent spaces that aren’t your discipline. Demonstrate across and up that you are thinking about the business and understand how functions come together across the enterprise to deliver value.

Make it evident that you are paying attention to the market and trends that could impact the company.

Establishing yourself as a functional expert is one thing, but showing up as an enterprise leader who understands how things connect will get you the street cred required to get included in strategic conversations and sought out for your opinion beyond topics around your discipline. Be prepared for meetings, and make sure you’re contributing.

Take inventory if you find yourself in meetings where you’re not talking.

3: Share thoughts and approaches early and often with others.

Don’t keep everything to yourself until it’s polished, waiting for a grand reveal.

Instead, invite peers and partners to contribute to proposals to make them better or highlight something you’ve overlooked. Strengthen your pitch by getting input and feedback from others. When others contribute and share diverse perspectives, the proposals are more robust and well-rounded, and others view your open and collaborative nature as something to reciprocate.

Socialize ideas before large meetings through 1:1 conversations.

“Warm the room” by having champions for your ideas and proposals before stepping into the [virtual] room. Meet with key stakeholders and showcase that you’ve addressed their concerns so they can provide support. This approach turns what would typically be a high-pressure approval meeting into a discussion of next steps.

It will feel uncomfortable at first — work through that apprehension and do it anyways.

4: Team across the enterprise.

Offer to lead or help on a program that cuts across business groups and is of strategic value for the company.

Use the opportunity to meet people you don’t usually work with and expand your network. Gain visibility on a company priority, and show up as an enterprise leader concerned about outcomes that have an impact. If someone else is on point, be a strong contributor and use that experience to build stronger connections with the people in the core team.

Keep those connections even after program completion, and find ways to broaden your network’s reach continually.

February 5, 2023

The Path Forward: 3 Ways for Leaders to Shape Design’s Future In Business

Photo: Carrie Johnson

What got you here won’t get you there.

Standing on the precipice of a new future and looking toward the horizon, it’s clear the landscape has shifted. And will continue to evolve. Design leadership is change management — and it’s time to transform ourselves.

Design leaders in this new future can no longer focus on the desirability circle of the HCD Venn diagram and expect other disciplines to handle viability and feasibility completely. Our leaders and teams need to be multi-lingual — it’s time to lean in.

Companies need and want catalyst leadership, but there’s an apparent mismatch in expectations.

Here are three ways to shape design’s future in business and thrive as a leader:

1: Develop an integrated skillset and leverage technology.

Bring together new domain knowledge and emerging technology to become a powerhouse.

T-shaped leaders move beyond design disciplines in this environment. Business and technical acumen are required. Emerging technology is embraced and leveraged.

Designers need to understand the human insight and business aspects of the work, including leveraging data that drives business, data science, and AI/ML. Forward-leaning designers must learn to use AI-assisted tools to increase space for more strategic work.

Fuse the strategic design and business strategy toolkit. Envision experiences through service blueprints, develop approaches through future casting and opportunity framing, and map directly to ROI.

Make the future tangible through visualization, mapping, and prototyping.

2: Demonstrate business fluency and impact.

Show up as a business operator that’s driving sustainable growth.

Gain a deeper understanding of how the business works and how it makes money. Discover how value is created and what’s essential to the company. What are the most significant external and internal threats? What is the business strategy, and are you more focused on exploitation vs. exploration?

Focus on the metrics that move the business.

Don’t waste time developing a new set of metrics outside the business’s goal. Align on shared outcomes. Develop a shared vocabulary that grounds discussions in reality vs. theory.

Design leaders require business fluency and the ability to directly connect the work to the impact it’s creating for the business. Otherwise, they end up focusing most of their time down instead of across and up, lacking comfort in business conversations and accountability to metrics that move the needle.

Directly connect the work to the impact and ROI.

3: Architect a culture of system thinking, experimentation, and collaboration.

Become the orchestrator and organizational designer.

World-class organizations will move beyond the basics. Develop embedded capabilities and practices like service design, experience strategy, design technology, and experience architecture. This also requires hybrid leadership.

Define, hire, and develop talent along a spectrum from craft to strategy.

There’s a skillset distinction between shipping products, building platforms, and defining and mapping business systems and opportunities. The right talent and alignment are needed for strategic design, with accountability to deliver outcomes. Create integrated processes, mechanisms, and operating models leveraging cross-functional teams.

Strategy and organizational operating systems are connected.

Develop strong advanced product teams with portfolios aligned to the company’s strategic intent and clear accountability to budget and outcomes. Adapt your organization to what the company needs now while building the capability to create value for the future in adjacent markets.

Build a culture of hands-on experimentation through prototyping, modeling, testing, and iterating.

This is an exciting time where design leaders can shape the future of business if they are ready for it. It requires an integrated skillset, business fluency, and a culture of experimentation. The time is now.

September 1, 2022

Design Hiring in 2022: Elevating culture to attract the right talent

Thanks Andrew Hogan and Figma for highlighting my post “10 Truths From Building Design Organizations at Scale” in your 2022 Design Hiring report, Elevating culture to attract the right talent. Great insights and perspective throughout — very timely and relevant.

August 21, 2022

Design Your Week: 3 Time Management Routines For Design Leaders That Keep Your Focus On Business Impact So You Can Drive Your Most Important Priorities 

Leading large Design organizations, I’ve realized one of the most important areas to gain leverage is through time management. I’ve prototyped many approaches to streamlining my days, maintaining focus, and getting results.

I’m going to share three routines that will provide leverage, allow you to scale, and drive impact for the business. I’m inspired to share these because I’ve used them myself, and reaped the benefits.

With these routines, I hope you’ll be able to achieve 10x results.

#1: Audit your calendar and align your schedule with your top priorities.

Make sure the meetings on your calendar move you forward on your most important goals. After you’ve defined your ruthless priorities, map out how meetings, reviews, and worksessions move those programs forward. Audit where you’re spending your time and remove as many unnecessary meetings as possible — aim for a minimum of 30% reduction. Time block your schedule to reduce context switching.

The reason you audit and align your calendar is to eliminate anything from distracting you from the priorities that will move your team and the business forward. This exercise has one of the largest impacts on your performance because it’s where you spend your time day-to-day. You never get more time in the day, but ruthless time management will help you get the most out of each one. Take back your schedule.

#2: Start every week with a planning session and end with a review.

On Monday morning, set aside 30 minutes to plan for the week ahead. On Friday, spend 60 minutes on a weekly review to recap the week, assess progress, and reflect on learnings. Making space for planning and reviewing will increase your velocity and progress against priorities. It will also highlight anything that’s creeping into your schedule that needs to be removed.

#3: Design your meetings for outcomes, and expect the same from others.

Meetings should only be to debate, decide, discuss, or develop your people. When you do require a meeting, make sure it has an agenda and clear outcomes. Otherwise, decline meetings like it’s your job. Everything else can happen asynchronously with digital tools.

I hope these routines give you the impact that they’ve provided for me. Reach out to me with any questions!

July 23, 2022

Elevating the Customer Journey

Appreciate Fast Company including me and other industry experts for our perspectives on how consumer psychology can help you identify ways to exceed expectations and drive customer satisfaction.

"Deep customer insight stems from understanding the needs, wants, and desires of the humans you’re designing for. The strongest design and product leaders use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, connecting behavioral and interaction data with ethnographic approaches like in-depth interviews. The quantitative data can tell you the “what” and “how many,” but the qualitative gives you the “why.”

July 13, 2021

Driving an Experience-led Product Development Process

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

I prefer an experience-led product development process. I could probably write a book on this one. For now, I’ll provide the core of my POV.

An experience-led process yields better outcomes. It de-risks going to market by ensuring you’re solving an actual customer problem and people desire what you’re bringing to market. It’s a measure twice, cut once approach where you avoid building things that no one wants.

Experience-led means the technology is in service of the experience, not the other way around. MVPs aren’t determined by what engineers can build in three months. If you’re only delivering the minimal, you probably aren’t delighting anyone.

Experience-led product development requires a cross-functional team and leverages human-centered design. It produces concrete artifacts that set the north star vision, materials to socialize, and aligns people through a shared understanding. It makes the future tangible.

A key artifact is the experience roadmap, outlining the path to the north star. It’s broken into experience releases that show the services and features required to power that experience. This keeps the team focused on customer value and impact, not just shipping something.

Experience-led means you widen the aperture at the beginning of the process to be inclusive. Not at the end.

Experience-led means you’re not working on features or pages, you’re thinking holistically about end-to-end experiences. Customer journeys are a thing.

Experience-led means the prototype determines the requirements. The actual experience you want to deliver is then deconstructed to figure out what to build first. The whole, then the parts.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, let me know.

May 1, 2021

How Design Creative Summit

I’m excited to join an awesome lineup at the HOW Design Creative Leadership Summit — focusing on emerging challenges faced by leaders in design, product, and engineering. Increase your impact by becoming an in-house intrapreneur and staying creative, productive, and sane as a leader in our new remote world.

I’ll be joined on the virtual stage with Maureen Carter (she, her, hers)Ryan RumseyArianna OrlandRania SvoronouChris WilkinsonFelix LeeDan Mall, and Stephen Gates, sharing insights and approaches on how to lead teams to get results. 

In my talk “Leading Innovation: Making Design Your Competitive Advantage”, I’ll share insights and frameworks of how to spearhead design-driven culture, followed by a 30-min Q+A.

February 1, 2021

Expedia Group Arrivals

I had the pleasure of being featured on the Life at Expedia Group blog as part of the New Arrivals series. In this interview, I talk about my journey into Experience Design, what excites me about Expedia, evolving us into an experience-led company, and the impact I plan to make this year.


Design leadership and operations, building world-class organizations that integrate human-centered design to drive product innovation and customer-centric culture.

© 2023 kobewan

The present is a beta of a better future.