How UXDX’s co-founder, Rory Madden is helping companies shift from building their products through projects to building a culture of autonomous product teams.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Rory Madden: Our family has actually grown during the pandemic. Our daughter was born last April, so there has been a huge adjustment anyway – the pandemic just added a few extra complications. Even though this is a terrible situation, I like to look at the positives – I’ve gotten to spend a lot more time with my daughter during her first year than I would have otherwise, which has been great.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded UXDX?
Rory Madden: I started my career working for IT consultancies, where I implemented large IT systems in some of the world’s biggest companies. We had very detailed methodologies for running projects, and that structure gave me the confidence that we could deliver anything and build any product. While working on these consultancy projects, I always thought that the people giving us the requirements knew exactly what they needed, but there were always change requests at the end of every project.
When I first branched out into the startup world, I launched a genealogy startup. This ultimately failed, not because of any issues building the technology, but because the customers didn’t want what we had built.
Being on the other side of the table made me realize that it’s impossible to give requirements from the onset because you don’t know how people will use the product or how things will interact with each other. This is what started my journey into understanding UX and starting to treat everything as an experiment. Small, regular cycles of research, ideation and validation.
After my startup failed, I returned to the corporate world for a few years and saw that software teams were still making all of the same mistakes that I had been making previously. I knew that changing this wouldn’t be easy because companies have been successful with the old ways of working, albeit not efficient, and there was also no clear roadmap on how to shift large scale enterprises to agile product teams. This is where I developed the idea for UXDX.
Our focus at UXDX is helping companies shift from building their products through projects to building a culture of autonomous product teams who solve real customer needs in a way that works for the business. We do this through events and conferences by showcasing companies who successfully made the shift and highlighting the challenges they experienced along the way.
How does UXDX innovate?
Rory Madden: The main way we innovate quickly is through our cross-functional team. There is almost no bureaucracy, allowing people to move past their traditional role boundaries and make way for real innovation. We also talk to our customers to figure out what they need and how we can solve their problems, which has led to a lot of changes over the years; From how we structure our agenda, how we position the events, to the new products that we will be launching shortly. Finally, we are small, so we need to focus ruthlessly. We will stop doing something as quickly as we start if it doesn’t work and we don’t do things for its sake.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect UXDX, and how are you coping?
Rory Madden: Not being able to run physical events during a pandemic has significantly impacted UXDX. Our team was due to fly out to a community event just as countries across Europe began announcing that they were closing their borders. We had to pivot that particular community event online in just 3 days. It went okay but highlighted what areas we needed to improve. We asked attendees of that event for their feedback, and from this, we experimented with a few different formats. We eventually settled on releasing pre-recorded talks of all the speakers ahead of the events and then live-streaming firesides, panels and conversational talks between speakers on the event day. This allowed for conversation to flow during the live events and for attendees to get fully engaged by sharing questions about the talks watched the day before. Although our system is working, we will keep experimenting and making things better for our community.
On the flip side, COVID-19 has shone a light on how companies need to change their practices to survive and thrive in a remote world. The old ‘top-down command-and-control style of management doesn’t work. More companies will need to learn from the lessons of those who have already made the shift to product teams. If you’ve found yourself in this position, you should definitely check out one of our events!
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Rory Madden: When the pandemic hit, hundreds of people had already purchased tickets for our in-person 2020 EMEA Conference. When making the switch to online, we decided to offer ticket holders a full refund or access to the conference online as well as a free ticket to our 2021 conference. Out of all the ticketholders, only 9 people asked for a refund. It really was a great validation of our amazing agenda that clearly delivers real value to our loyal attendees.
The other big decision was, how do we run an online event? We had two main options, use one of the new tools on the market or build our own online platform. In the build-versus-buy debate, I advocate buying when the product is not your core differentiator. However, when it is your core product, I think you need control. We didn’t want to get locked into a platform, and we wanted to be able to adapt quickly to the customer needs. Practising what we preach, we went with a very minimal product for our first few events to minimize assumptions and increase learning. The product has improved massively over the past few months, and we’re really proud of how it’s turned out.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Rory Madden: We use a lot of different systems, but our main system would be Airtable for our core operations and customer data. This is our single source of truth. We connect it using Integromat to our ticketing platform, our newsletter platform, our 2 CRMs (different audience segments) and more. While our website and platform are customs developed using GatsbyJS.
From the management perspective, we follow a very lean management philosophy. People pitch for what they need, we run a small experiment, and we then double down on the ones that work.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Rory Madden: For most conferences, I think the traditional answer would be other conferences or training companies, but for UXDX, the biggest competitor is doing nothing at all – not going to any conference or any training course. And this became a bigger challenge in 2020 as some people struggled to see the benefit of an online conference.
The team have done an incredible job at convincing these people of the value of attending UXDX by breaking down the customer needs into five core areas and targeting each one:
· Inspiration / motivation
· find out what the competitors are up to
· improve skills
· meet people / expand your network
· have fun
If we can solve these problems, then we will always be in business. And people have shown us that they believe we are solving these use cases for them.
Your final thoughts?
Rory Madden: A lot of the world’s largest companies started in recessions. Difficult times make companies focus ruthlessly on customer needs. COVID-19 has been very difficult, but it has helped us focus, and I think we’re better at solving our customers’ problems. We’re stronger as a company, and we are well-positioned to grow in 2021 and beyond.
If you are looking to learn more about cross-functional teams and hear from some amazing local leaders, join us at one of our free local community events, register here but make sure you don’t miss out as tickets run out fast!
UXDX USA: https://uxdx.com/usa/2021
UXDX EMEA: https://uxdx.com/emea/2021