Steering a Giant Ship

"Do you feel like what you do has purpose?"

"Loe-what do you think about this UI solution?"

I was asked these questions recently and my answer left the asker feeling a bit lost. 

The truth is, anything you do-whether it be UX design, product management, marketing, sales, or customer success is meaningless unless your whole team or company is bought into the same goals and prioritization of those goals. At Hubspot, it would be like 1500 rowers on a giant boat with different sections trying to forge their own paths without communicating with the rest of the ship. You mind as well jump out and swim to get anywhere.

I see this happening a lot at larger companies and the truth is, it's really really hard to get everyone to row in one direction. The larger the company gets, the longer it takes to get buy in and to execute on the cohesive plan. Just think about playing telephone with 10 people vs. a thousand people.

Example: Let's say you're Salesforce or Marketo. Your product has kicked ass and now it's huge. It serves hundreds of thousands of use cases and the codebase is, well, (in Silicon Valley standards) old. You kept building on your original code base because every new addition met the needs of your customers at the time. It was enough and a rebuild was too costly in comparison. 

Eventually you plateau and you find yourself in a position where you have to rebuild your entire codebase to survive. You can't scale on your old framework and you can't slap on some new technology because you'll break things. You have to update everything and that means migrating all of your customers and use cases onto new technology. You can't do this as an Engineering team. You need Customer Success to prepare and customers for the change. You need your Education department to help customers learn about why you're doing it. Sales needs to coordinate with you so they can adjust their pitches and prepare old accounts for the migration so it doesn't impact their renewals. Marketing needs to create new content to support sales and they'll need to update their marketing materials.

Even within your Engineering department, there's a ton of complexity. Instead of building your product one thing at a time like you did when the company was new, you're building a giant, complex product with a ton of people at the same time. And you're trying to do it as quickly as possible.

This is a more extreme example-but the truth is, this sort of cross functional involvement should happen all the time as you build and update your product. If I update the text on a page to improve the user experience and my knowledgebase team doesn't update their help articles, my design update is meaningless. If I fail to pass on this update to my entire sales team so they're prepared to demo the new UI smoothly, it's also meaningless. Not only is it meaningless, it's detrimental to the company. I'm sabotaging my team and my customers by not keeping them in the loop.

So what's the solution? I wasn't quite sure I'd have one for this post until I discussed it with Chelsea Bathurst and Quintin Marcus, two of my fellow Hubspot designers and extremely good looking friends.

Here's what we came up with:

Collaboration and communication should be a highly valued asset at the company. It should be something that's imperative to a new hire's list of skill sets. It should also be something that's measured on the individual and team level so employees are rewarded for not only problem solving and producing on their own-but doing that with their team, their department, and departments across the company. It should be equally important to the quality of that person's individual work. If they can't work with others, again, that awesome work is useless.