Kai Haley

Head of UX Methods and Process at Google

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Creating future-ready cross-functional teams at Google

Kai is an experienced leader in the Design and Innovation Industry, who has developed vision, strategy and launches for both Google product teams and it’s top partners.

As Head of UX Methods and Process, she creates and scales programs to enable the culture and mindsets that drive improved product quality. As one of the founders and leads of the Google Sprint Master Academy, she has trained over 800 Sprint Masters to drive innovation across Google’s diverse product areas. She is passionate about creating and teaching human-centered methodologies that increase cross-functional collaboration to create more meaningful products that improve people’s lives and the world. Prior to leading UX Methods and Process, she founded the Design Relations team to support design excellence on Google platforms and she drove monetization opportunities on the Search Ads team in Google Search. She earned a Masters Degree in Design from CCA, where she focused sustainable design practices and creating positive impact in the world.


[Music] hello everyone so we are late sorry but we are so happy to welcome KaI Haley with us so
wait for it kylie she’s the head of ux methods and processes at Google wow! and her job is to create
and scale programs to enable the culture and mindsets that improve Google’s product quality she’s
one of the founders and lead of the Google screenmaster academy and she has trained hundreds of
scriptmasters at Google to drive innovation across Google’s diverse products or areas but Google has
also been impacted by COVID like just like you just like me and in this toolkit will share with us
how Google has quickly adapted the collaboration and innovation approach during this last month
shifting from working totally on site at Google and they went totally remote so please welcome from
San Francisco thank you I am so honored to be following such incredibly inspiring talks particularly
Surya’s who just came before me and you know what an incredible lineup of speakers so thank you all
for thank you so much Steph for putting this on and having me here today Steph is driving my slide
so just as a note for folks no backwards Steph all right we’ll get we’ll get this i promise so yes I
wanted to talk to you all today about you know how we’ve been fostering future-ready
cross-functional teams the team that I work on right now supports and grows the discipline of ux
across the company so when I first started at Google almost nine years ago now I was a visual
designer on the search ads team and I really struggled when I first joined Google because the ux
team was working very much in a silo and this was the same for the engineering teams and the product
management teams just stay right here while I give you guys all a little context if you can just
make me clear signs so I know I will i’ll just say next also how about that back in 2011 when I was
working on the search ads team we really did struggle to collaborate I didn’t have much access to
my engineers we didn’t sit in the same building I didn’t have visibility into the strategy that my
product managers were setting or the okrs and goal setting that they were doing and it’s really
hard to be effective at driving great products when you’re working in a silo and working alone so I
was lucky enough at that time to participate in what was our first innovation week which then
evolved to become our annual sprint week where we started trying on design sprint methods that we
were developing at that time and I discovered what an incredible framework this was for breaking
down these silos and bringing together you know all of these perspectives getting to the heart of
what is desirable what is feasible and what is profitable for the company so this really was the
beginning of a transformation in the way that I worked as well as the way that many Googlers were
working at the time and I became very inspired by this framework and methodology and started
training Googlers after that next slide what does it mean to be future ready and how does this
relate to cross-functional collaboration yes we all know cross-front control collaboration is
amazing it does unlock lots of great opportunities and potential when you’re able to get teams to
work together but being future ready it’s not about having a magic crystal ball that will allow you
to see into the future imagine my magic crystal ball on this slide it’s really a way of being an
approach to working next slide so I think about it as building organizations that are adaptable and
agile creating the teams that are able to pivot quickly and adapt to changing circumstances being
able to identify when you need to pivot as well as creating an environment that is safe for
experimentation so being experimentation oriented and that also then lends you to resilience so
when you run these experiments and they don’t work to be able to pick yourself back up to embrace
that failure and learn from it as you go and then of course inherent in all of this is navigating
complexity and we’re in ever more complicated times these days and you know that navigating
complexity is its own discipline that you can you know there are lots of great experts who speak
about this but in order to be able to design experiments that we’re going to learn from we really
have to have strong systems thinking and understand the factors that are involved that we’re dealing
with next slide please so many of these can be considered characteristics of a learning organization
and this is not a new concept peter’s saying popularized the concept of learning organizations back
in 1990 and a lot of these he picked out five characteristics six systems thinking personal mastery
mental models shared vision and team learning and these are all things that are you know really part
and parcel of being future ready Steph next slide please so our sprint master academy program and
our design sprints program really focuses on building these capabilities these characteristics and
infusing them in to our product development process so for example we help sprint masters with
building their own personal mastery and deep expertise they work hands-on with product teams to help
them create shared visions to help them learn as they go so all of these characteristics are really
infused into our product development process through the design sprint process and through these
critical sprint masters that we train to help lead teams through the process next slide please and
one example syria also shared an example of having to pivot and change due to these very
unprecedented times when we were all literally grounded back in march we really had to pivot quickly
we had critical sprints that were in flight that sprint masters were you know ready to get on a
plane to australia ready to get on on a plane to singapore you know to to work in person on you
know really important projects and we tended to think up until this point very much about design
sprints as an in-person activity we would rely on getting everyone in a room together and having all
of the benefits that come with working in person so we didn’t have that much expertise in this area
next slide please we had deep mastery at designs rinse as I mentioned and since 2014 when we started
the academy we trained thousands of uxers and we have an incredibly engaged community of 400 expert
sprint masters who are running sprints across all of Google’s product areas next slide please but
remote sprinting was pretty new to us we looked across the organization and we said hey who is
anybody doing this i’d run a couple out of necessity in general we kind of saw them as like last
resort but we realized this was something we were going to have to learn really quickly we’re going
to have to pivot our practice and then scale our learnings as as fast as we could next slide so in
order to do this we we took one small step was a small experiment and we said hey let’s get everyone
together you know with our first week in which we were required to work from home and you know
surfaced and invited the sprint masters who had been running remote sprints to share their their
expertise to share their learnings and this quickly turned into a platform and a weekly session
where we could bring in experts from outside and share as people were learning inside the resources
and tools and templates that they were building as they were rapidly transitioning their practice
from in person to virtual so we were able to amplify the knowledge that we were creating and and
and scale it you know across our 4 000 person organization next slide please and one of the things
that we discovered through this process was that we couldn’t we couldn’t just take our traditional
full day multi-day design sprint whether we were running three days or four days or five days we
couldn’t just translate this into the virtual environment and just hold a video a collaboration
session for for eight hours a day this just wasn’t humanly possible a couple sprint masters actually
did do it initially and found that it was not the most effective way to work not just for the
distribution of time but also for all the other demands on people’s lives and what they were going
through and still are continuing to juggle these days next slide please so we were doing and we
still are doing some where we distribute over time zones in shorter time sessions looking at how can
we you know set this up to be human and to to combat video conference fatigue but but what we
really discovered next slide please is that it’s about more than just distributing the time time is
operating really differently has been operating really differently for all of us when we’re you know
having to shift the way that we live and work into our homes and juggling things like homeschooling
and caregiving so we have less time but in the virtual environment we actually were discovering that
it was taking more time to do everything than we would find in person so a very interesting
contraction of time happening next slide please and we had to go kind of back to the beginning and
think about you know what what is the the what is the design sprint afforded us and in the past it
was really this container this brand a calling card that would get us in the door and allow us to
get everybody together in a room and then you know we would we could work it out once we got in the
room we would do a lot of advanced planning user research problem framing you know talking with our
stakeholders making sure that we’re using everyone’s time really effectively but sometimes next
slide please we would find that actually this is what we were doing when we got into the room we did
similar to some of surya’s wonderful illustrations a lot of the process ends up you know being
pivoting on in the moment while you’ve got all the important and the right people in the room to do
the work so we actually had to to step we had to look at what are our real goals and our very very
crisp goals for every session that we’re holding next slide please and i’ve been thinking about
this as this concept of atomizing the sprint what are what are the goals of each of the activities
in the sprint and how is that getting us towards a larger goal can we break break down that larger
goal in a way that we can make progress more effectively with people’s time next slide please so
this means really crisply focusing on the goals for each sprint per session and that’s not always
about product outcomes a lot of times it is but we would get benefits from getting everyone in a
room together like shared vocabulary knowledge sharing increased collaboration and sometimes you
wouldn’t set that out as the goal for the session but now we had to be even we have to be even more
intentional about designing these sessions for the needs of not just the product but also the people
next slide please we also had to get the tech and the tools right so the sessions would go smoothly
there’s always going to be something that goes wrong but we need to build the confidence in the in
the technology and a lot of that was getting comfortable what are with what are the different tools
I know a lot of folks have had many discussions about what are the tools to be used and what tools
are available but you know this was something that we had to onboard ourselves to very quickly next
like to please and as I mentioned designing for the the the humans that we’re bringing into the
sprint because really it is all about the people co-creating together building relationships and
connections together so that they can be more creative and collaborate and problem solve together
and recognizing when sometimes we really need that sprint to improve that the the the conversation
to improve the collaboration not just for the outcomes so this is something that maybe in the past
we kind of got for free when we would get together in person and now we’d have to spend more time
planning and prepping for it next slide please so the outcomes from our quick pivot earlier this
year was we developed these really quick reusable templates and tools for everyone across the
company to use and we allowed folks like the cloud ux team to you know better identify opportunities
to meet their customers needs with sessions focused on empathy mapping next slide and aligning a
team on the product mvp so not running the whole sprint all the way to the prototype and user test
but really narrowing in on what we need right now is to define those critical user journeys together
collaboratively and the Google health team did this earlier this year next slide mapping assumptions
to find gaps and understand what we don’t know the the Google classroom team used this this spring
as well to help you know the identify these gaps so they would know where to invest their resources
next slide please and there were teams even setting long-term visions and road maps in longer
sessions over multiple days and really looking at you know who needs to be involved in these
conversations how do we spread these out to get the outcomes that we need next slide please and even
some of these more softer benefits such as helping a team form helping a team create a shared vision
or a shared understanding of their value proposition and doing fun activities in tools like mural
next slide yes so with all this we were able to keep our team sprinting we were able to keep our
velocity and with we had over over 60 percent of our teams um actually continued to run sprints and
participate in sprints and one of the the questions in the chat is you know how could we be focused
on not in person on only in-person collaboration and I will say we have many different forms of
collaboration across the company design sprints are a specific type in which we really got the value
out of bringing people together synchronously but we use many different techniques for asynchronous
collaboration so I just want to make sure people get the picture that it’s not like we’re this was
the only method that we had or do continue to have we use lots of amazing Google tools for this for
asynchronous collaboration across the globe but one of the things that I mean we did end up finding
some great benefits you know to build on what syria was saying about this being a real opportunity
time we found that this did allow us to have even more engagement from engineering and product
because this became a relief from their um daily activities that they were doing an opportunity to
work in a different way we were able to include people that maybe couldn’t get on a plane and fly so
folks that have other restrictions in their lives and weren’t able to actually participate in person
so this really made it more inclusive as well as the this did working digitally you know could also
becomes a leveling ground and creating space for more quieter voices we found this to be a big
benefit that people are able to contribute more broadly across and then of course the sprint
documents itself when you’re um you know working in a digital tool and our sprint masters are have
been pretty happy about that there’s a lot of upfront work even more upfront work to design our
sessions but in the end we save some of that when we have to share and document and spread the
learnings from the sprint afterwards next slide and from here in addition to spread spreading and
scaling this across Google you know many sprint masters have also been contributing back to the go
back one more back to the community running sprints for things like the california public school
system we ran a five-team sprint to help the california schools determine figure out how to go back
to school with distance learning this fall we worked with the new york city public services group of
non-profits to increase access to employment opportunities and public services and we’ve had teams
working with focused on equity health research to improve access to health opportunities so lots of
great impact from the the increase in our skills remotely and virtually to be able to reach out
beyond the the confines of our of our own locales um and to pivot and continue to learn and grow as
an organization and thank you and thank you to the Google emojI team which is my next slide because
I love love the the beautiful emojis that they create Steph for driving thank you so much KaI of
course you can mute yourself and clapper amazing yeah so as I was trying to I was trying to follow
up on the slide like but it worked so I couldn’t follow the chat is there any question for KaI
maybe you can open your mic and ask the question directly so one person asked about the soft
benefits of in-person sprints in the chat I’m not sure if soft is the right word but it’s the what
happens when we do have time and we make time and space for conversations that don’t happen because
you’re you’re not always in the same office or you don’t have a chance to run into each other in the
in the kitchen or you know the water cooler as they say so we get that space and time for people to
share their perspectives and the collaboration methods really make room for those conversations as
well can I ask a question about I’m sure it’s secret but what are the topics of these prints are
they about products are they about the way you work now because of COVID can you disclose a little
bit about what kind of challenges you have yeah i mean historically we’ve used prints for all kinds
of things right we’ll use them to you know foundationally to improve our products and make our
products more user-centered but we also use them to improve processes so in terms of you know in
this time people have definitely turned to this methodology to help them figure out how do we better
you know support our employees at home how do we better communicate you can use the you know that
process to problem solver to co-create together solutions as well as defining product vision you
know improving your critical user journeys and things like that which tools was another question
that just popped into the chat do we use during sprints in in virtual sprints now we’ve been using a
variety of tools including mural as well as Google slides and Google drawing and of course meets and
and that’s you know for the collaboration we need a collaboration canvas for prototyping you know we
have all the standard prototyping tools that that teams will use for digital products so you know
it really is dependent on the the the problem space that you’re working in if you’re designing a
digital product versus a process versus a physical product [Music] sabrina do you want to ask your
question oh sure thank you hI KaI nice to thanks thanks for your talk I would have a question are
you other remote design spins have another impact to your solutions and products do you already have
an evidence about that so it’s a it’s an interesting question because you know we we always talk
about the impact of design sprints and how long does it take to see the evidence and so we are you
know five or six months into this right now and our launch timelines are you know relatively longer
than that but what i will say is the evidence that we’re seeing is around being able to maintain our
our velocity maintain the the speed at which we’re working which is one of the things that we we
rely on design sprints for alignment and shared vision but we also rely on it as a way a method to
make a a way to make decisions faster to get evidence and data to support you know or to make sure
that we’re investing in the right products so we are still able with remote testing and remote
design sprints to continue working in the way we would normally you know on the the similar
timelines hopefully that answers your question the evidence is coming the projects are being
launched yes yeah it’s exactly the same here you know even on shorter timelines it takes time to
really measure because you have what you get at the end of the week but there is what you get after
a month or years there is a question from sherun well pronounced appreciate hI el great to be here
I had the outside in question as an outsider let’s say we look at Google as let’s say digital first
digital only in everything and you gave us the impression a little bit that Google had to handle
let’s say the reality of going from all in-person sprinting and collaboration to a more virtual
style was that a surprise was it a wake-up call how is Google looking back at let’s say the notion
of having to change that way of working and being so in-person oriented being such a digital and
virtual company well I think it’s it’s less about being digital and virtual and more about being
global because as we can see here we’re all operating on different time zones and when you fly
somewhere you normalize your time zone we’re all there together we’re all working right now we can’t
ask people to work all night long so we actually have to converge at space or I mean time right so
we have to converge time and that was really where we found the big challenge less around you know
having the right tools because we were able to get up to speed and have the right tools and have the
processes to do the work and more comes comes down to the humans where we have people who have lives
in different places around the world and to bring them together in a way that it is respectful of
you know their work-life balance all of these are the things that I think are are much more
challenging to resolve than the the digital aspect or the the technology aspect of it it just comes
down to the fact that in order for me to you know get to be on for the first speaker this morning I
had to wake up at like 6am where it’s dark out and you know and so yeah no no I’m happy to I guess
I’m just saying that it’s it is a a moment where you you realize you know we we can overcome space
but we can’t always overcome time we have a question from mikhail or michael villamI yes [Music] my
question is more about how you manage your try to influence the difference in motivation from or the
implication of the participants during the during sprints especially now that they are they’re
trying to they’re going to remote I know some people are not really sometimes motivated at the
beginning and how do you try to [Music] let me see if I if I got the question how do you manage
people’s motivations in the sprint to get them to be engaged and influence their participation is
that what you’re yeah because sometimes you have people that are very motivated and they have
control remote or through a screen and some others really prefer the in person so you notice
different motivation between the two people so how do you do you have tips to manage yes actually
that was one of the areas that we we really did spend some time leaning into which is how do you
create a sense of connection and safe space virtually which is it’s a different than when you’re
doing it in person so trying to we’ve we’ve been training our sprint masters in virtual
facilitation methods mindfulness improv even to try to you know set the the space in virtually that
cree that creates a sense of safety for people to participate you know we also rely on each
person’s participation because in that’s one of the best things about the sprint process is it’s
very clear when you don’t contribute so each person has their turn each person has their ca their
their individual creation so we don’t actually struggle so much with that participation once you
set those ground rules but but but we you know there are folks who are less engaged that have can
be less engaged if they don’t have a really strong connection to the context of the sprint so the
other thing that we’ll do is make sure that everyone who’s participating and attending is is really
critical to the outcomes or you know really understands what their role is and a lot of times that
is helping to define their role for them and let them know what the expectations of them are when
you invite them to the sprint and I will often do that in advance when when we invite people in
does that answer your question great amazing we have a question from kate hello thank you KaI for a
great talk appreciate your your time and your expertise so my question is around how do how do
design sprints fit into the rest of your team’s road maps so when you’re getting these cross
functional people together like developers and data people they all have their different road maps
and plans so getting everybody to align to a sprint how how do you go about doing that yeah it’s a
great question and I I think over time we have gotten a better a better approach to it which is I
think really something to be thought of at a cultural level across the company there are specific
times in the year where people will say what we need to do is spread a sprint now because we’re
going to be doing our resourcing or we’re going to be doing our road mapping so we’ll actually find
an increase in requests for sprints usually towards fall planning when people are thinking about the
next year and they’ll bring everyone together to align on you know what is our vision going to be
for next year so we’ll set the sprints specifically in the calendar to influence those roadmaps so
rather rather than say randomly holding a sprint and then being like oh sorry the roadmap’s already
set and this is actually one of the things that we advise in our training is to always have a
conversation with the product team and understand the road maps already in place and and make sure
that that sprint is going to be pushing those goals forward and is being held at a time when the
outcomes will be actionable so we usually find at least in the beginning of the year and towards the
end of the year are kind of the hot spots for when people decide to run bigger sprints but there are
teams that work in more regular sprints that are maybe more iterative rather than vision long term
vision setting or roadmap setting so it again it also depends on the type of sprint that you’re
running and what the end goal of it is do you want to ask your question I I think you know the the
previous question was sort of similar to mine but I could just repeatedly see if there’s I could
address a topic from different angle is my sort of like my well concern with designer sprint is the
goal setting i’ve been in those design sprint workshops that clients we didn’t properly address the
goal that we want to achieve and it was absolutely a waste of time so how do you avoid such
situation like I mean I know it’s a big topic maybe like if you have like some you know hard-earned
tips to share very concert defining goals for the design experience that would be really valuable
for me thank you yeah one of my favorite relatively new tools is problem framing so even running a
shorter session in advance using some problem framing methods jay malone has a nice one from new
haircut and setting the time in advance of a longer sprint to bring together a couple of higher
level stakeholders to really frame the problem because i have certainly as you mentioned been in a
sprint where we didn’t do enough of that in advance and we didn’t have the right people in the
conversation when we started the sprint because we hadn’t narrowed the focus down early enough so if
you if you aren’t able to get a really clearly defined problem through stakeholder interviews and
conversations with your with your team actually hosting a short session can be really valuable
before you launch into a bigger sprint amazing jackie do you have a question for kay sure KaI thanks
for your time today I’m just wondering do the sprint masters sit as a centralized resource or are
they embedded in the product teams so they’re it’s an interesting model they’re embedded in the
product teams but they are encouraged and very frequently do run sprints for other product teams so
acting kind of like a centralized volunteer crew and one of the principles of Google which I really
love is embracing mobility and so people do move from one product to the next do you spend a couple
years working on photos and then feel like you know you’re really interested about math on maps or
something like that so our sprint masters are you know experts that get a lot of value from working
with other product teams this helps to build your relationships it helps to cross pollinate ideas
across the the organization and so it kind of becomes this added benefit to both the sprint master
and the product teams that they work with because they can be an outside they can bring an outside
perspective to the challenge often it can actually be quite hard to be a facilitator for in your own
product area and I think I see one about facilitating and taking part i’ll just jump onto that we
highly recommend that facilitators do not also act as sprinters in the sprint I personally have done
it myself and we have a number of sprint masters who are say the only ux designer on their team and
they’re asked you know to fill in for that resource it’s unfortunately it’s really hard to be a good
facilitator and a good participant at the same time so we generally recommend you don’t do that and
if you can recruit somebody to be that essential ux resource or or if it’s your team to recruit
another facilitator and that’s where our volunteer group really comes in handy if I need a sprint
run I can just email the group and say can somebody come help I need to participate in this one
great I have one last question is do running design sprint help you kind of recruit the right
profile at Google like is it making designers or people excited to be on sprints or engineers is it
a help for you is it let me just make sure i understand do people enjoy being on sprints is that uh
contribute to their job satisfaction yeah if it helps you to find the right profile that people want
to join Google because they can be part of sprints I think ultimately it is a better way of working
which is part of why I’m talking to all of you guys today because it’s really to change the way that
I work so having the that as a way of working and having people understand it as a way of working
helps when people come to Google because they’ll they’ll know that you know we have really great
ways of collaborating and we do encourage those relationships across those silos that I was
mentioning like 11 years ago we had really much more challenging silos than we do now we have
really strong ux support we have strong relationships with our engine product team so my hope is
that that is something that other people also look for and benefit from so the design sprint
process enables that and makes it a great place to work great thank you so much KaI for for
everything for your time for the presentation for going over the technical challenges we did it
thank you so much I’m asking everyone please unmute yourself big round of applause for Kai it’s
amazing to have you on board yeah thank you Steph will you stay during the the networking session? I
will be there amazing continue the conversation so so see you there in the room and we’re gonna
take a short break of half an hour so we meet at 30 plus and our next speaker is mr jake knapp who
is the creator of the design sprint at Google see you soon [Music]