I frequently see UX people in a leadership role, even if they are not team leads or managers. They still need to guide their teams or even to change processes and culture to achieve a better experience. That’s why I decided to go to Stretch conference again after 2014. It offers a good mix of talks about personal and organisational improvement. Besides enjoying nice networking (hello prezi people!), I made some notes (see below) on the talks I liked the most.

Overall the immediately useful stuff similar to last year were the personal improvements techniques, like Rambala’s non-violent communication style, and Clear’s tip on starting something for just 2 minutes and use motivation only for continuing. These are things I can get back to later. It’s hard to build a habit of using these, unless I realize I have an issue I need to solve where these are handy.

One of my biggest challenges these days is how to set up a new UX team in an already established development organization. Both Pflaeging’s and Pelrine’s talks provided some clues on this. The “peach” model reinforced that pushing forward with cross-functional teams having direct contact with customers is the way to go, we could even look for at least loosely including support people besides developers, PMs and UXers. I’m also more confident that creating a good functioning and self organized UX team is not dependent on processes, and trying to create bigger diversity is the right direction. But many things remain to do here, like setting up a better environment for us to work in.

One week after the conference I seem to think most on Norton’s talk about the experimentation mindset. This is something we already do based on the Lean UX principles, but now two points are clearer. First we need to state and then challenge more frequently the assumptions around us - product related and also those embedded in the organization. Second is that creating rules on how to best do things will never teach and level up people. We should rather look for tools that support experimentations. For example easy access to A/B testing and simple user research - the UX team acting as advisor rather than gatekeepers.

See you next year!


My notes

Day 1

  • James Clear (http://jamesclear.com/) on small habits. Some great tips on personal improvement, and an inspiring bit about how small improvements every day can result in exponential results over time. I liked his tip on just doing the first 2 minutes of a new thing you want to try. You’ll need less motivation to continue after you already started. His blog is also great, I’ve been reading it for a while.
  • Niels Pflaeging (http://www.nielspflaeging.com/) about how to set up organizations for complex problems. He talked about how pyramid organisation model hadn’t worked in the past 50 years (“zombie management”), and most organisations already work under a different principle (even if they don’t admit it), the “peach” model. This would be a new management paradigm. Here a “core” provides services to a “periphery” that is in direct contact with the market. Decisions are made inside the teams (that are in connection with their target). Based on this he called many existing practices “bullshit” (like sales team, departments, salary ranges, org charts), as they try to establish control, or rather an illusion of control which is either not there or not serving the company goals (creating business / value on their target market).

Day 2

  • Doc Norton (http://www.docondev.com/) on the experimentation mindset. The core of this talk was that to grow to be an expert in your field from a proficient level (based on Dreyfus model of skills acquisition), you cannot learn by continuing with best practices, and try to do better. You need to start on experimenting for yourself, since that is how you find out what relates to your specific problems and what not. You need to find out when can you break the rules and when you cannot. The general issue with most teaching is that it focuses too much on implementation, on how to get things right, rather then teaching people how to get stuff right with experimenting. This also means, that we need to step away from “single loop” learning (looking it at the outcomes, trying to do better the actions) to “double loop” learning (also challenging the initial assumptions by exploring different ways of doing things).
  • Christian Hausner on teal schools. He explained how their school in Berlin tries different different methods to build the school that is better for the students by challenging many assumptions in the current school system (like age based classes). I found this talk quite interesting as it showed how other organisations try to break out, and it also reflects similar efforts from companies.
  • Joseph Pelrine (http://www.metaprog.com/blogs/) on self-organizing teams. Pretty great speaker (he gave also an encore talk in the afternoon). He made point on the difference between complicated (like a machine) and complex (like any system with people). What do we need to do to have an organisations with self-organizing teams — change the triggers that affect them to make this happen. You could change the people or change the environment, but since it’s a coevolution, you have to do both at the same time. For such complex problems, it’s hard or impossible to get self organising teams with rules and processes. You can try to change instead the attractors, boundaries, identities, diversity or environment (based on the model of Dane Snowden).
  • John Blakey on trust. I’m usually more interested in developing trust between departments, but there were many great points on personal trust in this talk that can be also applied more generally. The three pillars of trust would be ability, integrity and benevolence, these three don’t add up, rather multiply to result in trustworthiness. A leader should have three habits for each of these pillars: for ability: deliver, coach and be consistent, for integrity be honest, open and humble, and for benevolence be kind and brave and evangelise.

Day 3

  • Éva Rambala (http://rambala.hu/) on non-violent communication. This was without doubt the funniest and at the same time the most immediate useful talk. She presented the framework on how to communicate with each other in a better way on both sides. The term NVC is a bit misleading, I thought this type of communication is very useful in all kinds of discussions, like how we do design critiques.
  • Niklas Modig (http://niklasmodig.com/) on lean operational strategy. The key idea was here that how we think on efficiency. There are two strategy: flow and resource efficiency, the first is about minimising waiting times (by not maximising out resource usage) that leads to under used resources, the other is about maximising resource usage. Most businesses favour the second one, since financial measurements can be better defined this way. But due to a number of reasons there is the efficiency paradox that results in the flow strategy being better. One of the reasons is that resource efficiency tends to create silos that makes departments care more about their part, and not the whole process (that would be important for the customers). We also got a free copy of his book “This is Lean” on this topic.

The talks are also available on the conference’s ustream channel.


As last year I collected a nice list of reads for the coming year: