When building products, trust is the key to better collaboration
Loom’s VP of Design, Joshua Goldenberg, suggests finding your engineering soulmate and other tips for working as a unified team
If there’s anyone to ask for tips on how to collaborate harmoniously with your team throughout the entire build phase of creating a new product, it’s one of the people who helped design the fastest growing business collaboration software of all time — Slack.
We’re talking about Joshua Goldenberg, the current VP of design at Loom who's been a design leader for over 25 years. Josh has seen first-hand how the design team’s responsibility extends far beyond the handoff. Throughout his career, he’s invested heavily into learning the art of cross-functional collaboration and building high trust teams.
Here is some of his best advice in his own words.
Find your engineering soulmate
To do the build phase really well, as an IC designer, one of the things I always did when I joined a new company was to find my engineer.
It could be more than one, but I would take the time to try to seek out, “Who is the engineer that I should be best friends with?”
Who is going to be able to sit next to me for days and days on end and nail the details? And this isn't a person who's just going to execute what I tell them to execute. They're hopefully going to be brilliant and have a great understanding of how the system is built. And they're going to give me a lot of feedback on how I'm thinking about it incorrectly and what I should change.
If we can do that together — and that begins with identifying those folks who are going to be your design allies in engineering — that's a great setup for having a good build experience that will produce good outcomes and the kind of work that you will all be really proud of.
Build an environment of high trust
It's not exclusively the design team’s responsibility to build the product. The PM and the designer and the person who drives engineering all do that together. Every business unit in the rest of the company has a stake in the product, too. They each play into the process with their own expertise.
Finance is interested in how we're going to price and package the thing that we're launching and how that impacts their plans and projections. We're collaborating with marketing to figure out how it’s going to appear on the website and how do we talk about it? Writers, both from a product and brand perspective, have to think about how we cast it, what it's named, what its voice and tone sounds like.
Salespeople are going to have to figure out how to sell it. They’re going to have to understand why it exists, who cares about it, and how to talk about it from an SMB versus an enterprise perspective.
That just goes on and on, through every single business unit in the company. The part that is on design’s shoulders is visualizing the product and then making sure that everyone is able to add their context on top of that.
My hope is always that there is a really collaborative, tightly-woven team that does this stuff together. So, if a feature team or a product leadership team is bonded really well and works fluidly together often, all of these plans can happen together. Each member of the team represents their discipline and brings their context and perspective to the table for the other business units.
This phase, more than any other, is really an opportunity for inclusion and a shared sense of ownership. Really successful teams are coming together earlier and earlier in the process.
Joshua Goldenberg | VP of Design at Loom
We had a big rebrand project at Loom and we involved the CEO in tight feedback loops throughout the process. Including the person who ultimately owns and is responsible for the brand in the loop was just really fluid and high communication.
This phase, more than any other, is really an opportunity for inclusion and a shared sense of ownership. Really successful teams are coming together earlier and earlier in the process. Thankfully, they’re breaking down the old misconception that design’s responsibility ends after the handoff.
Stay engaged throughout the entire process
As you get closer to launch, and as you progress toward putting your product out in the world, everyone's going to have to be armed with the right information to get their jobs done.
If we have a high functioning partnership, we can support sales by making sure they have really well-designed materials that resonate, that have a through line from the work that we've done, to get it out into the world from a sales perspective that makes sense.
I think the outcomes are generally better when the level of collaboration stays high throughout that whole process. Whether it's virtual, over Zoom, or in person in an office or asynchronous, the most important thing is that design and engineering are still shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the end to end build process and that they’re consistently iterating in small loops rather than big, long loops.
And one of the ways you'll know this kind of collaboration is happening is — on the day that the switch gets flipped on — the designers are in the launch room alongside engineering, sales, marketing. That the whole team is all present for that launch moment. That's a good sign that the right kind of collaboration has happened.
It’s useful to keep in mind that sometimes the thing that you put out there is sort of a new baseline and you shouldn't necessarily lose faith in it on day one. It's just a new thing to start improving and your job is getting it over that initial hump and into a more successful space.
I think it's easy to forget, in the moment, when you start to feel that sense of panic if things didn't immediately go your way. Now you have a new set of iterations in front of you with which to improve.
You don't actually have to fix anything in that moment, that second. Sometimes, what you discover is that there's a longer tail where you've actually impacted something negatively in the short-term, because it's a change and people are getting used to it, but then things go your way over a slightly longer period of time.
If you relax for a moment, you may find out that it's not nearly as bad — and maybe better — than you thought it was.
Turn hesitancy into opportunity
You don’t have to have an iron-clad belief in the thing that you've made. If things haven’t gone your way, you can bring some curiosity to the room and investigate where hesitancy and doubt is coming from.
What are people nervous about? Why is there hesitancy? Invite those questions in rather than letting your internal freakout just play out. You can help build confidence in the room by asking lots of questions and helping to surface the source of people’s doubts.
Whatever the issue may be, turn that into something that you can iterate on.
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring snippets from our podcast: By Design — a show about designing exceptional digital products and experiences. Each episode, our host and co-founder Josh Brewer dives deep into every stage of the product life cycle along with industry experts.