Future Fridays & Tactical Tuesdays: MetaCX’s Approach to Product Design
The creative persona has typically been stereotyped as someone who will bust into a room and set up the scene with visual aids, all in the service of making a dramatic revelation where everyone applauds at the end of a lavish presentation. The said creative will nonchalantly wipe his black-rimmed glasses and bask in the quiet confidence of a job well done. He’ll leave behind a 100-page solution for the team to admire.
Perhaps that “Mad Men” inspired stereotype has been mostly retired, especially in the digital product world. Product designers today expect to deliver more than creative, beautiful, and slick artifacts crafted in a vacuum; they want to and are equipped to provide strategic value that will ultimately benefit the business.
A critical role that designers must embody to be more strategic in an organization is to sell. The term “selling” can make some designers cringe—to creatives dedicated to the craft or empathizers who are simply trying to make the world a better place, selling feels like it spoils the discipline. I, too, grimaced at the idea of having to sell my work. If I’ve designed the “right thing”, everyone should jump on board, no questions asked—right?
To think about it in a different lens: selling doesn’t have to be a transactional process. Instead, we can listen to people’s needs—both the customers’ and the business stakeholders’—and create a mutually beneficial plan of action that aligns to common goals and objectives. To sell your design means to bring people—both internal stakeholders and your end buyers—along on your process so that key decision-makers can contribute along the way and you can establish ownership and accountability. Selling your design is a process where when you all finally arrive at the solution, everyone quietly nods instead of the shock-and-awe of a curtain reveal.
Future Fridays and Tactical Tuesdays
Here at MetaCX, we’re regularly “selling” our designs. As a foundational startup team, we have the opportunity to define from the ground up. Every week, design has the floor for an hour and a half, two days out of the week. We bring together a team of executives, key product people, engineers, and customer-facing roles to constantly challenge our vision for the current and future state of our product.
MetaCX was founded on a big vision. During the initial engagement, we consulted with DesignMap (I led the team at the time) to create a visiontype. In this very early phase, so much is unknown and all ideas are abstract. This approach helped us put our ideas on paper. MetaCX was founded from that ambitious, blue-sky concept, and a handful of visiontypes have followed the first. Thus, setting the stage for Future Fridays.
Every Friday, we host and facilitate “Future Fridays” as a space to discuss pressing topics, particularly hairy problems, and share future product concepts. These are driven by known or anticipated customer needs, business strategies, and sometimes by sheer desire to simply experiment. We get a lot wrong and some concepts need several Future Friday trials. In Future Fridays, we get to share a vision and story that gets everyone rallied together and excited for what’s to come.
When something really hits the mark from a Future Friday design, we make a decision to prioritize it in the product roadmap. Once something’s been committed, we leverage design to flesh out use cases derived from the initial concepts, which results in a draft of the product definition. We share the work-in-progress during Tactical Tuesdays, get initial buy-in from the executive team, and have product and engineering weigh in and collaborate. Some product designs may take only two rounds of reviews before we’re ready to build; others can have many more revisions due to a variety of found constraints and feedback. Tactical Tuesdays lets us get in the weeds and ask exactly how a Future Friday concept will come to life.
Design-Driven Product & Organization
Perhaps the most valuable outcomes of Tactical Tuesdays and Future Fridays are not actually the concepts and solutions we review, but the questions that arise out of them. Having these continued conversations keeps us challenged and forces us to think critically about the designs, the product, and even the business.
I summarized my last piece by describing the value of design at MetaCX. Although design is at a privileged position in this company, we continually strive to earn our place as a forcing function for the platform and the organization. We’re always looking for ways to improve and make the platform better, in service of the people who can benefit from MetaCX.
So what’s with the names? Categorizing these recurring meetings makes it feel more like an event. The specificity of “Future Fridays” and “Tactical Tuesdays” set the tone for what kind of mindset people should bring. Although “Well-Planned Wednesdays” doesn’t have the same ring to it, it’s a candidate we’ll bring into a Future Friday and keep iterating on.