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Gerry: Hello, welcome to another episode of This Is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion I’m Human-Centered Design practitioner based in Sydney, Australia. Before we jump in, however, as this podcast was recorded in the Sydney CBD I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay respect to their elders both past and present.
In this episode, we caught up with Cyril Secourgeon, the Principal Human Centered Designer practitioner at Westpac group, one of Australia’s big four banks.
We discussed the methods that the wider HCD team in Westpac use to help keep stakeholders engaged. Cyril explains the signs to look out for with engaged and disengaged stakeholders and how to work with them to build trust. He takes us through the project process right from the start of projects, and the engagement dos and don’ts when working in large-scale organisations.
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Let’s jump straight in…
Gerry: Cyril, welcome to the show.
Cyril: Hi Gerry, thanks for having me.
Gerry: So, Cyril let’s kick this off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into Design.
Cyril: I’m a Human-Centered Designer, but I started initially by studying marketing. I was really interested in the class and theory, but then I did an internship and I realised that marketing wasn’t for me.
Gerry: Yes, so back in France…we can hear the accent.
Cyril: Yes, back in France at that time. I did an additional year of study closer to the digital world and found a job which was a hybrid of project management and design/information architecture, and from there I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Gerry: Okay, which is user experience design, back in the day
Cyril: Yes, but it wasn’t even called like that at that time because France has always been a little bit behind Australia in terms of UX, I would say. But yes that was the spirit.
Gerry: Okay, so tell us a little bit the topic that you want to discuss today and how it was originated.
Cyril: A few months ago, I was online and I read an article that was saying that basically poor communication, poor stakeholder engagement, lack of clarity, and lack of trust are the main reasons why a project can derail. I’ve been working in medium to large organization for more than 12 years.
Gerry: How large are we talking?
Cyril: We are talking big banks. So, I was in BNP Paribas back in France, so pretty big size like 40K employees. I’m at Westpac today which is also one of the biggest employers in Australia. So, I’ve been working in these big size companies and I had time to realise how stakeholder engagement is critical to project success. Also, I have time to realise how complex it was, for example in large organisations you often have many stakeholders per project which make the engagement pretty complex, and each stakeholder often has a different level of design maturity. Also, big organisations tend to very siloed which means stakeholder often focus on their own specific goals, the challenge is to get them to converge toward the same vision and objectives.
Gerry: Yes. sure! Alright so, why do you think it is so important to get stakeholder deeply engaged? What are their goals?
Cyril: Well, I think it’s important to me because it prevents the project to derail and definitely increases the chances of success. By having stakeholder fully engaged you avoid any misalignments, misunderstandings, and you get buying on the solution by designing it collaboratively. I also believe that stakeholders often subject matters experts, right, and as a designer would bring all designer expertise on the tables, so by combining the two, it just increases the chances of success and having a quality output.
Gerry: What tactics do you use to enable the collaboration to happen with those stakeholders?
Cyril: So, just before I jump in into details, I just want to give credit to Dan Smith who’s the director of the Human-Centered Design Team at Westpac, basically my boss.
Gerry: Yes, good man Dan
Cyril: Yeah I think you know him already
Cyril: Yes, so he came up with this approach a few years ago and we’ve been using it in the team since then. So, basically we follow the design thinking process, but we put a stronger emphasis on taking stakeholders on a journey with us. Collaboration and communication are very important to us. I give you few examples before the project starts; we write the HCD approach together with the stakeholders. So, If I’m working on the project I would go and meet the stakeholders the first time and we will frame the problem together, we will talk about the scope, and I’ll go away and hand sketch a one-pager with the approach and it will be very visual, if we look almost like Sketch Notes.
Gerry: I was going to ask, what is that going to look like? How did you define that very early stage piece with these stakeholders? You may or may not have that design maturity that [inaudible]?
Cyril: We talk about business objective, essentially, to start with and then from there we can give them some recommendations from the Human-Centered Design perspective. We tried to find a happy medium where, I’d be comfortable starting to work on the approach, basically.
Garry: Okay. So, those things that the stakeholders call out, is there a prioritisation piece that happens there? What are the pieces that can be addressed and the design process or is there any consideration given to it?
Cyril: So, not initially at the beginning of the project but usually we based our recommendations on research. So, once research is completed we often have good visibility on what are the different opportunities and from there we usually conduct some prioritisation session where we consider desirability, viability, and feasibility. This happens with the relevant stakeholders in the room.
Garry: Okay. What are the next steps?
Cyril: So, once we get a detailed report where everyone is comfortable with, then the project can kick off. We usually start a project with a co-design session. We bring designers and stakeholders to the table. It is very good for stakeholders because often their mind can already be set on a solution and by having that co-design session happening, it can be an eye-opener for them.
Garry: Okay, you mentioned earlier when you were speaking before we start recording about the project walls and the weekly huddles and all these certain ceremonies; try to tell me a little bit more what they are and how they fit in the process?
Cyril: Yes sure. For each project, we work on we create a project wall, and we really think this wall has to serve a purpose. On the project wall, you will find the key information that was mentioned in the HCD approach: you will find the project opportunity, the scope, the list of stakeholders that are supposed to be engaged in this project. And from there it is basically a work in progress. So, for example, if we got a researcher working on the project, the first week the wall would be filled in with post-it notes with insights. The following week would be a hand sketch structure of the journey map, and the week after that it would be a digital output of that map. Also, we have weekly huddles happening at the wall. It’s like 30 minutes session where we gather with stakeholders. We take them through the work that has been done in the previous week and we keep them updated on the HCD activities. It is a very good stand up session. It is pretty dynamic. The stakeholders can give us the feedback and also often we see the conversation happening between stakeholders which helps in breaking the silos I mentioned earlier.
Gerry: Yes, so they can come from different parts of the business could have different objectives of the projects. They have to see the evolution of the project in front of their eyes, almost.
Cyril: Yes and it helps them converging toward the same vision
Gerry: Just an aside question, what happens after the research is being completed and the research is on the wall? Where does that go and live? The bin?
Cyril: No, it stays up the wall but when we move from research to ideation we often have two Human Centered Designers that work in parallel, in tandem. Basically, we always kick off with the research and then a Human-Centered designer who focuses on prototyping and testing will then take these insights and feed them into his work. And vice versa after user testing, the Human-Centered designer would feedback some insights to the researcher so that formation can be added to the journey map.
Gerry: So, after that, you mentioned in the show notes here that were we looking at, the face to face collaboration, no emails.
Gerry: To me that’s a little bit stronger than most other points here because a lot of business is digital transformation we going to find those emails back and forth, we going to save paper like. Why no emails? I’m keen to hear your perspective on that.
Cyril: So, no emails might be a little bit extreme but we try to limit the number of emails. That will be more correct. Yes, we really were pushing our the team to face to face conversations with stakeholders. That is where we find the wall being very useful for that. For example, we encourage our designers not to share a link to a prototype or soft copy of the journey map, and instead of having a conversation at the wall. The reason is, in the past when we use to do that the email got shared to other stakeholders or other people that we are not aware of, and suddenly you end up receiving emails with bullet points of feedbacks on things you haven’t ask for, not necessarily very clear.
Gerry: You may not go on the journey as well.
Cyril: Yes, so having a face to face conversation on the wall is much more efficient, in terms of a getting clear output and outcome.
Gerry: So, what you say to stakeholders, like this is a really great prototype, when you show them on the phone, can you send me a copy of that? Cause another team perhaps elsewhere in the organisation might do that.
Cyril: Yes, so when the stakeholders ask for a soft copy or a link to a prototype, we always ask why do they need it. So we need to get a good understanding of what are they going to do with it. If they are going to present it to another team for example, then we should have a discussion of potentially involving HCD in that presentation because obviously, we’ve been the closest to the work. It depends on the stakeholders, some are very comfortable in presenting our work.
Gerry: I think that’s really smart. With hindsight, what are the key learning around the way you’ve been engaged with stakeholders. Maybe, what do you do differently?
Cyril: So, in terms of key learnings, I think getting to know them before the project starts is very important and like creating that relationship and the trust. Developing relationship takes time and something can’t really a force but you can differently influence it and be proactive with it. So, it might just be starting with the cup of coffee with the stakeholder. There is a lot of stakeholders that we work frequently with and we end up developing that relationship like that by working together several times.
Gerry: Yes, at a human to human level.
Cyril: At a human level, yeah. The thing with the relationship is that there is increased trust. When there is trust people work more effectively in more easily together. It’s also important to understand what’s happening in their world, so we know what we can ask or expect from them.
Gerry: So when you say their world, do you mean I would their whole world not just the work world.
Cyril: Yes, so it would depend on the personality of stakeholder and how close you could get to them, in a way.
Gerry: You may only have 20 minutes a week for somebody’s stakeholders because they are pretty busy.
Cyril: Yes, at the end of the day, it’s a human contact so sometimes it clicks and sometimes and it doesn’t.
Gerry: Yes, It’s [inaudible]; I guess it is kind of important to the designer to have that and EQ to be able to tap into that.
Cyril: Yes, it’s a very good point.
Gerry: So, I guess it sounds like you’re treating them almost like an extension of the team, so you are bringing them into that process. They are almost partners so that is what I’m hearing, it’s that correct?
Cyril: Yes, that is totally right. We should and we always have treated stakeholders as partners, and vice versa, because we do have the same goals we do share the same vision.
Cyril: It is important to treat them as partners, also something that’s pretty important is to keep the momentum going to keep stakeholders engage. I know in HCD, we move at a pretty fast based on project it is not just because of budget limitation, but it’s also because this fast phase helps us keeping the momentum and keeping the stakeholder engaged.
Gerry: And, to bring more value as well.
Cyril: So, for example when we conduct user testing we do that within one day, six session on one day. And then we only have six or seven days in between the two rounds of testing, which might sounds a lot, but actually there are a lot of things that need to happen between these two sessions.
Gerry: Does that fluctuates the number of participants depending on stages of testing that happens in the journey? As the more fidelity, [inaudible], more testing partner, for instance?
Cyril: When we test with customers we usually limit up to six, knowing that the minimum that has been mentioned by Jacob Nielsen is five people. Basically, that is how we can uncover 80 % of the usability issues. So we usually stick to six but then it can vary. For example when we do research, obviously, sometimes depending on the number of segments we have to approach, sometimes we can go more than six people.
Gerry: Depending on the accuracy that is required, I suppose.
Cyril: Yes, as well.
Gerry: Okay, so, just to go back to the original question like, what’s changed with hindsight, how we this framework evolve overtime since when you started at Westpac to now? What are you doing differently?
Cyril: When I joined Westpac as mentioned, this engaging framework was already in place, but I guess myself and the other designers in the team, as a team grew we brought on our experience on the table and background and then we basically help this approach evolve and adapt to the daily challenges were facing.
Gerry: Yes, it’s like your own playbook.
Cyril: Yes, we definitely own this framework and we’re always tweaking it and adjusting it. Also we gets some stakeholders that we work a lot, which means it makes things easier then we don’t have to go through the whole framework by the book, every time.
Gerry: As the maturity increases.
Cyril: As the maturity increases.
Gerry: So, what kind of involvement do you have, because as people in culture, and also like it’s just having it increase the design maturity, because the lower design maturity organisation we going to work harder to get those things across the line. So, any collaboration up to between the HCD team and the training and Operations level of Westpac to upskill the organisation to become more design mature.
Cyril: No, unfortunately, we don’t do that. We are big believers of starting from the ground and going up. I think It is a long and slow process.
Cyril: It is proven to work. We’ve got some areas in the business where we frequently work with them so we’ve seen that level of maturity definitely increasing. Part of the challenges of the next few months may be years is to tackle all the areas of the business where we know that the design maturity level is pretty low.
Gerry: Yes, I work in organisations similar sizes ways back and before. What always shocked me was whenever I work to some designers and some non-designers they always thought that the stakeholder engaged was really high. What I’m keen to hear is your understanding of what does successful engagement looks like? What are the signs to look for?
Cyril: Well, for us I think during the project when we see stakeholders having conversation at the project wall without us being around, then that is a good sign of success. They are really using that framework in place. Even better, we often live post-its and a pen blue tacked on the wall. That way we can collect feedback from the stakeholders but as well the rest of the project team, like BAs or PM. When we find post-it notes filled in with questions, then it is a pretty good feeling as well. I guess at the end of the project, another sign of success will be for stakeholders to come back to us for another project, asking for more.
Gerry: Yes, referral.
Cyril: Yes, referrals. If stakeholders we work with turn into promoters and recommend us to other stakeholders, which actually happened a few times, then it’s a pretty good feeling.
Gerry: We kind of touched in this area earlier in the episode, what would’ve you done differently so far in the framework?
Cyril: Look, I think there have been few projects where we really push hard to get in because we thought it was the right thing to do and we managed to get in but in the end it was a bit of an uncomfortable situation. Because some of the stakeholders really don’t want to us there. I think it has some kind of impact in the final output. Now, we try to really focus on the project where the team is set up for success. Projects where we’re really wanted there.
Gerry: Yes. It is like a walk in the park working this large organisation working on design teams. It can be quite difficult and you can obviously, it is human, just get people you don’t click with and they don’t understand the process. So is there any advice you can give to people who are listening, and how do you get around that?
Cyril: Yes. So there’s different types of difficult stakeholders. The ones that don’t really believe in the human centered design process. In that case, what we do is we use the project walls again. If you have a project wall in your company I highly recommend you to use it to pitch to stakeholders.
Gerry: How many walls do you have? It must be like the maze prison in Belfast.
Cyril: [laughs] It depends on the floors and the buildings. We might have at least ten to twenty walls, I would say. It keeps increasing. There is a wall war going on because everyone wants a wall.
Gerry: Just like Game of Thrones, the Wall. How big are these walls? I can’t believe we are talking about the wall size but.
Cyril: Yeah, I know. So the height depends on the height of the ceiling obviously, the width is usually between one and two meters. But, it really depends on the project and the amount of information you have to put on the wall.
Gerry: I half expecting to come over and visit someday and see it like a maze. Dan Smith in the middle sitting in the big chair saying “We’ve been waiting for you” [laughter]. So, can you tell us a little bit about different stakeholders?
Cyril: Yes. When they are not convinced with the process we usually take them through these walls. We try to reassure them, and educate them on the HCD approach. We also refer them to other stakeholders who worked with us in the past so that they can get feedback from the people that speak their own language. There’s also some stakeholders that don’t really have time or are not really interested in the work you are doing in their project, which can be a bot of a shame. It’s something that is very important to remember: primary stakeholders share some responsibility in participating actively. So, as designers, it is our responsibilities to make sure we give them enough space and time to provide feedback and to be engaged. But, if they seemingly engaged at the end of the day we’ve got a timeframe that we have to respect.
Gerry: Coming to the end of the episode Cyril, I just got one final question on this topic. What improvements would you like to see in the next 12 months to this framework? What have you identify as potential pain points, to use the design terminology, in the frameworks and how do you address them?
Cyril: As I mentioned briefly before, we’ve managed to set a good level of design maturity with one area of business banking. We need to increase some areas in which the stakeholders are not really familiar with the design thinking process. It is going to take time because it is a slow process but we know that it works.
Gerry: Do you have materials that you send out to those people like low design maturity, like partners that you send them off to get them educated?
Cyril: No, again it comes back again to face to face like having these a conversations and taking time to seat with them to take them through the walls. We know in large organisation, I don’t know in smaller sized ones, every time you send a document to someone and it gets lost and not being read so it is better to have that in a conversation.
Gerry: Ok. What else?
Cyril: One of our challenges is to make sure that the HCD framework is conveyed to everyone in the team, and make sure that they are using it. Because the team keeps growing. A year and a half ago it was just Dan and myself, and now we are almost fifteen. It seems obviously growing.
Gerry: What’s the team made up of in terms of skills as oppose to roles?
Cyril: We’ve got three HCD Principal and we got Service Design leads we usually work with them on big complex projects that don’t usually happen in the building we’re located. We have a lot of Senior Human Centered Designers. Some of them are more specialised on research, others more on prototyping and testing. It is a good and healthy mix. We’ve got end to end Human Centered Designers as well. They can move from research to prototype and testing easily.
Gerry: Alright. Usually Mark does this, the three questions that [inaudible] but Cyril, what is the one professional skill that you wish you are better at?
Cyril: I would say public speaking. It is not necessarily a skill that I don’t have but a skill that I’m trying to improve. Luckily, with my current role I am more exposed to that, so that’s a good thing.
Gerry: Okay. What is one thing in the industry that you wish you’d be able to banish?
Cyril: Definitely, I would say waste of information. And by information I mean research, insights, data, etc. I think people like starting from scratch instead of leveraging existing information. When they do leverage existing information it is often overlooked and on the worst case scenario it is ignored. It does have an impact on the quality of the output.
Gerry: It also reduced the trust of the stakeholders. [inaudible] I’ve seen that, as well. So what is the message you’d give to emerging human-centered design talent for the future?
Cyril: Actually, I have couple of messages. The first one would be, being a designer is much more than being good at design, the process, the tools and the methods. Just think about growing your soft skills as well. We’ve talked about stakeholder engagement today and soft skills are very important in order to engage stakeholders properly. Second message would be, actually around the portfolio. I do a lot of interviews and often in portfolios, I see lot of pretty pictures. They often focus on the output, which is good, but what I think a lot of recruiters are interested in would be to get an understating of the process, the methods they’ve used, the challenges they have faced, etc.
Gerry: So, it is really important for young people coming through– they are going through to that process, to document it, and also to seek approval from the employers to be able to use that work publicly.
Cyril: Yes, totally.
Gerry: Cyril, thank you so much for your time today. I know you are really, really busy and I really appreciate the time. And I know that the listeners really appreciate the time for sharing this information. It’s been absolutely brilliant. Thanks for coming up in the show.
Cyril: Thanks so much for having me Gerry.
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