Plenty of articles have been written about Twitter and what it's like to work at the social media giant. But few posts have pulled back the curtain on their Design and Research Operations as much as this interview with Jennifer, who works on a new team responsible for bringing process and visibility to design work and research.
Jennifer will be speaking at the upcoming DesignOps Summit in New York City on November 8, 2018. Her talks will focus on a few of the topics discussed in our interview, including tips for growing teams and building excellent design culture. Let's dive in:
Sofia: Can we talk a little bit about how your role at Twitter, your team, and how the design and research teams are structured?
Jennifer: The operational side of design and user research at Twitter is new. I am the Senior Design Program Manager, Product; we have a Director of Strategy and Operations, and we recently brought ResearchOps into operations and strategy as a whole, so it was interesting you mentioned that. We are building things out. I have previous experience in operational and strategic roles coming from the finance sector. I've worked at Bloomberg LP as a Global Project Finance Manager, so I was a technical program manager, working on engineering projects. And then I've also worked at Slack, and at Slack my role was Design Studio Manager, so really around the key operational things that happened within the studio itself, working with product designers as well, but also honing in and focusing on communication brand designers.
At Twitter, a typical week of work for me would be arranging focus groups and trying to find ways to enhance knowledge sharing processes. I'm also launching a program management framework to help us define different health indicators for projects, and I manage our Design System. I also work on internal events that support our design culture, like design days and other event-driven initiatives.
Sofia: Since Design and Research Ops is very new, who supports that function at Twitter?
Jennifer: We have a Director of Operations and Strategy who reports to the Vice President of Design and User Research, who reports to the CEO of Twitter.
Sofia: Where do you see ResearchOps fitting in? Do you see it falling under DesignOps, or do you see it as its own separate thing?
Jennifer: I kind of see it within DesignOps, or within operations as a whole. I think it's important because researchers and designers work so closely together, and so their operational needs are really for the most part very similar. Thinking about how to create visibility within projects, thinking about resourcing issues, thinking about how to build out different processes that will make things more effective, and also doing the kind of things that are really required to make sure that people are getting the best work done. I don't really like the phrase, "Doing all the things so they can concentrate more on research, more on design." It's really about doing things so that people can do better work. Not just do the work, but do better work, and to think more collaboratively and to actually have key points to share, have the right types of tools and things like that.
Sofia: Why do you think DesignOps and ResearchOps are now a hot topic?
Jennifer: Tech is still a new field; there are some of the giants like Google that haven't even been here for a long time, and a lot of tech companies are new. Even if you look at a company like LinkedIn, a lot of these places haven’t even been around for 10 years. And so I think as companies scale and grow, they start to realize that there is a need for this.
I came from Bloomberg, and rigor and evaluation through program management was a cornerstone of Bloomberg. There was a program management office (PMO) at Bloomberg that did this. But Bloomberg is also a company that is a lot older than most of these tech companies, and one that has already gone through very high scale - not just high growth - but very high scale, so has built out those systems.
I also think engineers have always been at the helm of a lot of innovative things within business and technology, but as design and user research gains its footing and really has strong ROI, then you start seeing how folks are understanding the importance of these things.
Sofia: From your previous roles, what were the things that you felt that worked well and that you are now implementing at Twitter?
Jennifer: Well, I have a lot of different backgrounds. I think the most important experience is the work that I did at Bloomberg. I always like to say that I come from the Bloomberg world where management and visibility and process also equates to excellence. And so for me, I think some of the things that I've learned that work really well is when you have a central location and a database for projects so people are very clear on the visibility of projects and also clear on the resourcing.
I think other things that work really well are key and strong documentation around the things you do, and then having a clear understanding of why you have certain meetings and what those meetings are for. I'm trying to bring some of these very strong standards to this role at Twitter.
Sofia: For designers and researchers who may not have the resources and infrastructure Twitter offers, do you have any advice on how to start building the foundations of ResearchOps and DesignOps?
Jennifer: I think the most important thing is to get solution buy-in from the top, because what you're trying to do essentially is a cultural shift. You're trying to introduce a new element to the culture and your job is the introduction of a new element, which is an operational role. So it's important to get solution buy-in from the top about the things that you want your job to accomplish. Sitting with the folks like design managers, identifying your strong allies, and then working with them around what are their problems and how your role fits into that I think are the key first steps.
Sofia: How will DesignOps and ResearchOps roles evolve in the next 2-3 years?
Jennifer: You're going to see how operations can work with culture, and how to enhance culture within the organization; how operations can work with project management and program management and building tools, learning how program management can help identify the best in practice in the design and user research world.
I think it's going to evolve into different umbrellas around how to really have an excellent design organization; you're not building this just so that people can design. You're trying to build excellence and you're trying to get people the best tools, the best research, the best knowledge out there. It's going to grow and expand into design orgs, allowing them to have the best knowledge, the best knowledge sharing, as well as be more organized.
Sofia: You’re growing the Ops team at Twitter - what are you looking for in a team member?
Jennifer: We're looking for people who might have a background in consulting, working with a big enterprise kind of company or even an agency, who's very strategic in nature; someone who has a strong sense of the importance of process, but also knows how to do process improvement. And someone who's just really eager and ready to join a team that's new, and maybe five to seven years of experience. It's a great opportunity and if anyone's interested, you can reach out to me directly on LinkedIn.
I love working at Twitter. It's amazing. Such a great culture. I'm so, so thankful every day. Everyone wants to see positive change. We're one of the older kind of tech companies leading on that side, but there's just been so many interesting things happening. So it kind of feels like a startup in design, because we have so many new people.
Sofia: How much do they have to know about design and research?
Jennifer: They should have an understanding of design and research. They don't have to be designers or researchers themselves, but they should have an understanding of the culture, of the language, and of the skill sets needed to do the excellent work in those fields, and really have a love for design and creative and for the kind of things it takes to be a great researcher as well. And they will be learning those things. That is definitely an important element. We want a good cultural fit. We also want someone who's going to come in and kind of shake things up.
Sofia: What is design culture for you, and what makes one that is excellent?
Jennifer: I think you really can gauge if a design culture is excellent based on a new hire. When you bring somebody new into the organization, do they know exactly where everything is? Do they understand what their role is going to be? I feel like that's the best way to gauge excellence, is by the new people you bring in and how they feel one week to one month into their experience. Are they clear about what they're going to be getting themselves into? Or does it just seem like it's just one big craziness?
We are hiring all the time, there's so many new people, so as more new people come in, we want more and more people to say, "Wow, I'm so glad I joined. Wow, I understand this. Wow, you have a really good framework that I can work in and it's really helpful."