10 Lessons from a year of leading enterprise design at Kalibrr

For the past year, I’ve been working on several fronts as an embedded designer in our Enterprise squad. At Kalibrr, “enterprise” refers to one of the market segments we prioritize. For our product organization, it also means designing for the recruiter side of our platform. Since we’re a talent marketplace, the other side of the coin is our candidate side. At the moment of writing, our candidate side has taken a back seat for the enterprise squad and one more innovative squad focusing on new *exciting* things.

What’s a squad?

A squad is a fully autonomous cross-functional team. The squad can make decisions on their own and move fast as they want to. Generally, to create this type of decision-making, we have a product manager, a dedicated designer, and a senior engineer who handles 3–5 junior engineers. We can make decisions and make changes without relying on hierarchical structures that typically slow things down. This model has been adopted from Spotify’s Agile engineering teams. I believe the two best benefits are 1) eliminating decision-making dependencies and 2) improving everyone’s motivation. Both are crucial in building great products.

What’s the designer’s role in the squad?

In order to have excellent execution, at the heart of everything we do at Kalibrr is the user. We care deeply about making sure that we solve for the user. What job is the user trying to get done? What pain points are we trying to alleviate?

My role exists to align everyone in the squad and point us in the right direction. An autonomous group of individuals who are not aligned on solving the right problem for the right user is at best, just doing things randomly.

What’s in this article?

In this article, I’ll talk about my experiences about the past year working in this context. It’s a living document of learnings that I hope will help you become a higher-caliber designer.

Ready? Here we go!

🕵🏼‍♂️ 1. Do user research to inform product strategy — use strategy to inform design decisions—then use design decisions to solve your user’s problems.

Designers shouldn’t be order takers. The ideal state of affairs happen when designers can directly influence the business by shaping its core product strategy.

That means informing that strategy through our own strength — empathy for the user. We champion the user and make sure that every stakeholder involved has a clear idea about what their problems actually are. Think about their needs, wants, motivations, and pain points combined. This means doing fundamental user research on who the user is. We communicate the results and help our stakeholders make user-centric decisions.

By championing the user as pre-work, you are in a position to co-create the product strategy with your Product Manager. Where can we take the product moving forward? If you’ve done your homework by understanding the customer really well and analyzing all your internal and external data, you can figure out the vision for the product. You present that to your major stakeholders, and get buy-in.

Once that’s done, this means that every design decision moving forward should be informed by this product strategy. Inspiring, rallying, creating urgency and alignment with the engineers, product managers, designers, and other teams is the real work from here. It’s the real designer grunt work — not easy, but extremely worth it.

Why?

At the end of the day, you’re building the product for the user. The main reason why you release every feature is because it’s solving the user’s problem. In our case in the Enterprise, that’s your frontline enterprise recruiter handling hundreds to thousands of applications every week. That one recruiter can influence the lives of hundreds of people. We’re designing for people and their future.

🖤 2. When reading customer feedback, read between the lines — understand the heart of the problem.

A common pitfall for designers is to take customer feedback at face value. Users don’t know what the best solution is to their problem. When they suggest something, they’re improvising and giving a workaround to a deep-seated problem they’re experiencing. As designers, we should try our best to understand that and get to the root of the problem.

You can use things like cause and effect, frameworks like the Ishikawa Diagram, or even something as simple as the 5 Why’s. Doing this makes sure that you aren’t just reacting to whatever the customer says and you’re really analyzing what they need.

Understand the user’s context. It will enable you to deliver the right solution.

🤨 3. Create, understand, and validate your personas.

Personas are a great artifact to foster empathy and drive alignment across the organization. When done right, it humanizes product development. When done right, people can step into the shoes of the users, and have an emotional ride into their experience. This is extremely valuable to maintain a user-centric culture.

Personas have their use, if the organization understands how to use it. As designer, your main role is to accumulate the stock knowledge from different teams and departments and turn those into proto-personas (sorta like your empathy map which contains tons of assumptions). At some point, you’ll want to make these personas data-driven and validate them completely, because hypothetical personas are useless.

🤑 4. Define what your ideal customer profile is.

Analyze who your customers truly are and what type of industry they are in. And most importantly, how much you want them to pay. If you can figure this out as a designer, you can craft a strategy that is both grounded in the success of the user and at the same time, the success of the business. This serves as a form of empathy to departments like marketing and sales, because now they can use that to target and qualify leads. A good UX designer understands the business implications of the strategy he creates.

🔨 5. Nail your value proposition.

Strengthen your value proposition. Why would people come to your product and not go with anyone else? What is your product’s reason for existence? What problem is it trying to solve for people? If you could answer what truly makes you unique — or craft a clear, concise, yet compelling statement of where you want to take the product—then you’ve taken a major step in defining your future.

💁🏻‍♀️ 6. Clear executive hurdle and get key people on your side.

Getting key people on your side is an exercise in persuasion, negotiation and influence. By pursuing your strategy, you’re actively choosing to focus and eliminate all the distractions not aligned with what you want to do. Why is that? Is the quantitative and qualitative evidence you presented sound enough to support it?

Did you communicate your vision clearly and captivatingly? Did you deliberately practice on your presentation to make sure that there are no loopholes? Is the entire strategy cohesive? Are there any loose ends? If there are, seek feedback from more people and refine the strategy and presentation.

If you’ve done your prep work, you have a solid foundation to stand on. Then, it should be easier to convince major stakeholders to buy-in on your idea.

🚨 7. Design should NOT be a silo — get ready to influence sales, customer success, and other departments.

Whatever strategy you come up with will inevitably influence not just the product organization, but everyone else. That means your customer success teams, marketing, support, and sales. Are you actively thinking about the implications of the product roadmap to their work? Are you actively trying to empathize with them and how they will sell the product, or help customers who will request it? Will your vision help marketing tell a compelling story and create a strong brand presence around it?

These are all important considerations that go beyond the user interface design work. Think farther ahead.

Mark’s Kalibrr Design article on classifying UX Designers as “bards” of the team is a great read on this topic.

💵 8. Multi-billion companies can change their product preferences as long as you nail your core product.

If your product is genuinely solving a problem for the market, then snatching up clients from your competitors is possible. You can’t sell or market a broken product that doesn’t solve anything for its customers. That’s why achieving product-market fit is crucial and is necessary before you focus on growth tactics in terms of your strategy and product roadmap.

Sure, the product organization can do feature requests from clients and customers. But that’s the build trap. Building mindlessly should be the enemy. At the end of the day, it’s about solving problems. If you can solve the main problem, you can capture value.

🌟 9. Always play to win.

Roger Martin, author of the strategy book Playing To Win says that one of the most critical elements to winning is to create an aspiration for winning. When you don’t try to create more value than anyone else in your playing field, somebody else is going to do that, and somebody else is going to win. What you’re trying accomplish won’t be sustainable in the long term.

When you play, you don’t play to not lose. Playing “to not lose” means just surviving another day. It means just doing enough to breakeven.

But in this world, nobody remembers number two. It’s not enough to just excel, when creating strategy, it’s all about being number one. Sure, copying your competitors is always an option. But where will that get us?

🚀 10. Positioning, messaging, and storytelling are incredibly important.

The best companies in the world tell the best stories. The stories we tell have to be powerful and believable. And those stories are told in a series of interactions. It’s not just about any one team doing everything. From your website, to social media channels, to sales force, marketing campaigns and product demos, it’s crucial to understand how we’re all telling an aligned and compelling story together as a company.

For us in the product team, it’s all about being proactive on how we influence other teams in telling that actual story.

The story you craft and the story you believe in is important. If you believe that you’re building a world-class product, and its success in the market reflects that, then you better damn well believe that.

In summary

Designing for the enterprise has been amazing for my personal growth. We’ve been able to get buy-in from all major stakeholders both from the Philippines and Indonesia. Moving forward, I’m excited to see all our product plans executed, and how we can navigate incrementally improving the product.

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