Journeys, not moments

From Designing Atlassian – Medium

Eight months ago, I took a leap in my career and created a new team. Together we’re rewriting the way Atlassian approaches product content.

What’s in a name

My team consists of individuals who are experts in technical writing, UX writing, and UX design to help customers from through all our products. We believe that content-driven experiences are critical to helping users experience value.

When we created the team, we wanted to recognize and embrace that we are all designers. Some of us design with words, information, and content; while others use imagery and user interface elements. We all have to define the problem we’re solving, understand our users and their experience, and help them achieve their goal as effectively as possible. Once I recognized this combination of skill and purpose, I changed writers’ job titles, and the organization name itself, to Content Design.

Principle 1: Content delivered along the journey, not just moment-by-moment

Building a new group within a 220+ person design organization is no small task. I began by defining organizational principles.

My fundamental organizational principle is: users experience content along a journey, not as isolated moments.

Content is what connects people from wherever they start, to wherever they want to go. The promise and message that users hear from colleagues, or through marketing, has to be reflected in our products. In-product UX copy, help messaging, and navigation gives them a sense of place and a map to where they want to go next. Deeper documentation and training gives them the confidence and knowledge to become masters in using products to help their teams work better.

Historically, Atlassian focused technical writers on specific moments. We delivered feature-driven documentation, or a word here or a piece of UX copy there, in reaction to a request by a product manager, developer, or designer.

I wanted us to change that.

I wanted to think of how content carries our users from wherever they start, from a web search or being invited into a Jira instance by a colleague, through wherever they’re going. A user’s journey builds on their diverse past experiences and beliefs, and moves towards their hopes and aspirations. We cannot craft effective content without acknowledging this full journey.

Principle 2: Expertise is essential

I developed a second organizational principle to address Atlassian and its diverse product set. I believe our organization needs to honor and leverage our content team’s deep subject matter expertise in our products. A content designer who is an expert in Jira and its users will be stronger and more effective than one who skims from product to product, being a jack-of-all products, and a master of none. I believe that having a single co-located product team consisting of UX designers, content designers, product managers, researchers, and developers working on the same problems together creates a stronger outcome than individuals parachuting in and out of projects.

Principles become an organization

To build these principles into my organization, I intentionally embraced a deep vertical structure in the team. I embedded content designers in their product groups, building those steady partnerships. But I also intentionally created a horizontal set of team members who could span across the journey with improvements in tooling, standards, and platform components. I began investing in a nascent service design practice to deliver not just content, but content-driven experiences in key journeys around evaluating, purchasing, and migrating from one product or version to another.

Wins are journeys, not moments

Once I built a framework for our new group, I began to focus on building a team culture.

I began by collecting stories in skip-level 1:1s, asking for them to share their wins, their ideas, their struggles. I got to know the team, which was large and scattered across the globe. I learned that visibility was an issue, and that team contributions weren’t globally recognized.

So I began sharing their wins across Atlassian using our internal Confluence site. I felt proud of what I was doing — listening, sharing, and celebrating accomplishments.

Recognizing the organizational journey

After attending a Design Leadership Camp, however, I realized I was making my team into superheroes. I was celebrating their wins as if they were done in a moment — swooping in to fix bad UX copy, or a rushed release — not through the journey. I shared the before and after of their work, but ignored the painstaking effort it took to get there.

The partnership with designers, product managers, engineers, and our end users is critical to making empathetic and effective content-focused decisions. Their work is a struggle and journey through hard work — not an isolated moment of winning. I’ve now pivoted to talking about their process alongside the wins.

Organizational change is a journey, not a moment

Eight months later, I’m proud that my initial organizational decisions are slowly bearing fruit, and that the team is continuing its accelerated path toward meaningful customer impact with great content-driven journeys.

But I’m frustrated that we haven’t yet solved core issues around process or prioritization. While I know some individuals are thriving, many of the team still struggle with being brought into the design process too late. Others are challenged by being spread too thin.

So from today onwards, I will do two things differently:

  1. Tell stories that showcase our process and collaboration as part of our wins.
  2. Forgive myself: I couldn’t come in and solve everything at once. Change is hard, and takes time, constant reflection, and humble improvement.

Organizational change, like content, is experienced as a journey.

I look forward to the next stage of this journey — bringing in more strategy, process improvements, and focus to enable our team to do the best work of their lives.

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Journeys, not moments was originally published in Designing Atlassian on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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