Design Sprints and Remote Work Lifestyle with Jyotsna Gupta
Designwise Episode 3
Our third episode of "designwise" is an honest, raw, and real conversation with Jyotsna Gupta. She is a Senior Product Designer at ZypTv, San Francisco and she speaks with us about the transformed work dynamics, the key shifts, and value of today's most relevant topics — remote design sprints, work from home lifestyle, and team management. Let's Listen!
"The strength of the design sprint is the people that are involved in it, right, everyone comes from a different background, somebody is from the operations team, some come from the sales team, somebody is from the data analytics team. They all come with their specialized skills and get involved in understanding the problem from the lenses of their respective skills, it's getting the skills utilized in the best possible way. That's why I feel like having all these skilled people involved in this and the stakeholders involved in this process is key to having a good design sprint".
— Jyotsna Gupta
Design sprints are the fastest way of developing designs and solving problems. The work from home environment is becoming more human-centered to solve the problems faced every day. The work cultures across the globe are shifting. Jyotsna tells us how her team refocuses and emphasizes the importance of communication, collaboration, quality leadership, and flexibility. The conversation here is coupled with the possibilities facilitated by "Agile Design Sprints" for ideation and grooming of human talent and digital products as a reaction to the challenges and opportunities of working from work.
Priyanka: Welcome to QED42's podcast Designwise. I'm your host Priyanka Jeph and I am a design writer at QED42. This is the third episode of the podcast and our guest today Jyotsna Gupta is a Senior Product designer with ZypTv. The story of her career gets as interesting as it goes and fits today's transformed dynamics of remote work. Today she will be speaking with us in detail about key shifts and innovations happening in today's most relevant topics, which are working from home, team management, and conducting online design sprints.
Priyanka: Hi, Jyotsna, welcome to the show. How are you?
Jyotsna: Hi, Priyanka. I'm good. How are you? It's been a really long time.
Priyanka: I'm great. Yes, it's been really long. I think the first time we met was in 2005 and definitely around 2009.
Jyotsna: Yes. That's right. Almost 16 years, right? Wow, I'm old.
Priyanka: No, no. The only thing here is we go a long way.
Jyotsna: I know, I know.
Priyanka: Okay. So what have you been up to? Tell us something about yourself.
Jyotsna:Sure. So currently I'm working with ZypTV, which is a startup here in San Francisco. I've been with Zyp for the longest time, I guess four years now. ZypTV recently got acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group and I'm working here as a senior product designer/design manager. I've been working with the team for a while now. As you know, we started our design career basically together at NIFT so that was the beginning of seed of design and the foundation of it. From there on I went on to work for Export House, did a few freelancing work, did a lot of graphic and print development, and from there on moved on to becoming a design faculty at the university for the bit. And all this previous experience that I gathered really made me think more towards the shift of industry, graphic design, and how it was transitioning towards more of a digital platform and how the products were being used so that's when I decided to pursue my master's at New York University in Digital Media Design and do my specialization in User Experience.
This was the time in New York when I worked on many different projects for different stakeholders, help them in designing different platforms. And I would say this was the time when I really got into the aspect of understanding what a user is, what user research is, how do you conduct these interviews, do usability testing, basically understand the nits and grits of a user experience process, the designing process, but also be able to work with these stakeholders and understand and develop designs from scratch. So that was a great time of learning for me. I worked on different projects for Crozier Finance, Box Butler, did a project for Samsung as well. Also did my internship at the New York Hall of Science and Access Technology in Dallas so there was a lot of smaller projects, bigger projects that I was heavily involved during these three years. And then I worked for Sotheby's Institute of Art as well as a product designer for a while.
All this time I realized that I had a lot of experience with different industries and technologies and so I was happy to do that and learning about different users and different clients and working with different stakeholders. But I also understood that I wanted to focus on one particular technology and also one particular industry and that's when I decided to come to Silicon Valley and moved to Bay Area. And now I've been pretty much with Zyp since then. It's been a pretty exciting journey so far which comes with its own ups and downs but then I would say I've really enjoyed this experience and I'm learning every day as we go. And especially this last year for us, it's all been crazy as we've all never experienced a pandemic before. So this is what is going on in my life. And I've been really happy and really lucky to be working during this time when people have lost their jobs as well so really grateful for that. Also, I got to spend this quality time with my 17-month-old daughter working from home all this while so I've been really happy doing that. So yeah, that's how it's been.
Priyanka: That's been a great journey. I loved hearing the part where you said you're a faculty. So did you enjoy teaching?
Jyotsna: Yes, I enjoyed it immensely. And I never thought that I would get into teaching but at that time I would say it was really interesting because there's something about not just design but there's also the idea of how do you solve a problem and then how do you impart that knowledge of design and concepts to your students and be— It feels like you're a part of something that's really special when you're teaching. And then when they do come up with their different innovations and their own concepts, it's amazing to see that getting through. So yeah, it was a great part of my experience which I think really helped me decide on doing my master's and decide in pursuing what I really wanted to do. So yeah, it was a really important part of my initial years.
Priyanka: Mm-hmm. Sounds about right. So, Jyotsna, you also mentioned about the last year and the pandemic and you working from home with a 17-month-old daughter who's really adorable. I've seen her.
Jyotsna: Thank you. So is your son.
Priyanka: Thank you. So what I would like to know more is that remote working has its own numerous benefits but people are still struggling with the Zoom meetings and there are parenting distractions. So how do you manage working from home when you're a parent or the integration of work and how it inspires you to do better and be better at work?
Jyotsna: Mm-hmm. That's actually a great question. And I feel we should definitely talk more about this everywhere and really normalize these distractions that are caused by babies or pets during your Zoom calls and meetings because really, we are all human beings here trying to do our best with what we have and this pandemic has really thrown that curveball in front of us. And teams are understanding people more, they're empathizing more because they're going through the same emotions, they're going through the same struggles as us. So I think it's something that's changing but obviously, every change takes time. But I definitely think remote work comes with its own challenges. There is no segregation between work and home. It really becomes a thing where you're actually thinking about work 24/7 and then working more than eight hours on a daily basis so it's a challenge for sure.
But I also feel like for me what worked was because I was always working in a remote team since some team members, my team of designers and some engineers sit in Russia and other parts of Europe. So I've always been okay with working remotely and it's worked good for us because we get our work done in a very smooth and in an effective way since we have these difference of time zone. But what works wonders for us is the Russian team works in an MSK time zone but then they work from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. That's their schedule. So that works really well with our schedule because we are able to do our first half of the day. We can do those calls and conduct our sessions, Design Sprints, and all of that. And then I get to spend the other half of the day gathering all the feedback from the clients, the stakeholders, and do all of that part. And then the next day we meet again and discuss the session that I had with the findings that I got so that means it really works well for us.
And I feel like there are so many tools right now that we have that makes all this communication and all this a success. I know some parts in the world we have issues with the internet but luckily, our teams don't face that. So in that context, we are lucky enough. We've got great tools to work and communicate to each other. Slack is one form of communication that we use on a daily basis. Anything that we're discussing from vision or any idea or any concept and any comment on a particular design or a feature that we have so we use Slack for that. But then we have Jira that we use that's basically an Agile Sprint that we go through. All our stories and tasks are assigned on Jira so we are tracking that there with all the UI mock-ups and prototypes all attached to it. And Confluence is again Wiki is another place where we do all the documentation that we need to for the particular feature or a product that's going on. And then Nero that we use is for whiteboarding. And then there's InVision and InVision Freehand, which is again, used a lot for our Design Sprints and general activities as well.
So all this remote work works for us because we understand each other, we understand our issues, and we understand the problems one faces, but then we are comfortable and adaptable to all situations. So we know sometimes the team's morales are down or something some person is going through, personal stuff, we give them that leeway and then adjust to meetings, schedule these meetings, if not or reschedule these meetings depending on how everybody is. So we have that kind of freedom to us attached to all this remote culture that we have. So everything has its own challenges but then you got to live with what you have and then make the best of it. So yeah, that's what we're trying to do here.
Priyanka: All right. So what I understood from the whole conversation that we just had is that productivity has actually become a focal point here and there are more and more tools being developed and there is more innovation around technology and it is facilitating more collaborative processes, keeping teams more connected and more engaged in projects. So what I would like to know more from you is what are the processes that you follow? Is there a certain way that you guys come to a conclusion? You mentioned Design Sprint so can you tell us more about that?
Jyotsna: Sure. So as you talked about the tools, we have different tools that we use. For a design team, the basics are there. We use Sketch, there is Figma, there is Zeplin that could be used. So there's a lot of different design tools that we already use. There are the Slack as I mentioned and there are other ways that we communicate with one another. There's also Overflow.io that we use for creating these user flows and any IA or site maps that we need to create. So these are all really helpful tools that we use for our day-to-day basis. Yeah, Design Sprint is something that was developed by Jake Knapp. He wrote a book about it that's basically how to solve big problems and test new ideas. What he suggested was a four to five-day process for multidisciplinary teams. In our company, it's more of sales teams, the ad operations, the product team, analytics, data, and the engineering team. And then for the testing phase, we involve the clients and the customers to that, to the last day for testing all the new ideas that we conducted during these Design Sprints. So in a general basis, it's a four to five-day workshop but since we work heavily towards Agile and Scrum environment, we've cut down the process to a three-day Design Sprint.
So Monday is usually dedicated for understanding the problem and ideating. First half of the day is all about understanding the challenge, defining the problem, and then the long-term goal for the project and mapping exercise to identify all the user pain-points that come along with the journey, and then identify a target area for that particular sprint. The same day, we also do sketch. So once the team has a good understanding of the problem, the top-rated, the top-voted how-might-we questions and then target the focus to that particular area, it is that time to generate the solutions then so we sketch the ideas on paper. So every team member has a different skill, a skill level, so you have to understand that as well. Our sales team or ad operations are not great level designers or doodlers so they might use just pen and paper to come up with a particular idea. Some people are comfortable with using InVision Freehand tool, some people use Miro so there are different ways of how they're sharing their design ideas or solutions or basically their sketches. And then once all of that is done, we usually use which is a very general method that is the Crazy 8 method, which basically means coming up with eight different ideas in eight minutes. So everybody comes up with eight ideas and then everybody gets to share their ideas.
On Tuesdays, because this all takes the whole Monday, on Tuesday everybody presents their ideas and then we decide and vote on the best ones. Once the best idea is decided and voted upon, we do prototyping. That prototyping is more majorly done by designers and heavily on that side. So after Tuesday, Wednesday is the time we spend most of the day testing these ideas with the clients and the customers. So what works really well for us at Zyp is we have our own ad operations team and they have access to other clients as well so we get to share our ideas and prototypes with them. And it's a very iterative process because they're very quick with their feedback. So once we get those feedback, we try to involve that and do a quick iteration of the changes and then finalize on the solution. So this is what we do on a basis of a three-day sprint.
The next two days are then because it's still Wednesday and then Thursday and Friday are more aimed towards grooming and planning because all the idea that was proposed now needs to be put into a story in Jira and then shared with the engineering team. So one day is taken for grooming and the next day is taken for planning those stories and sizing them and then preparing the product backlog and the sprint is ready. So when Design Sprint works together with the Scrum and Agile environment, it brings the design activities into the Scrum development process and it also helps for the whole team to actually think more in a design-driven way and follow that process and also build the feature backlog and solve the right problem within the context of the user. So the user is put on the periphery here. And this Design Sprint can also be done for you know, there are MVP products and then there are your regular legacy products and you can do it for both of them.
For MVP, what we do is you basically start with Sprint Zero to kick off the project to reduce the uncertainties and then the outcome of it provides the team with a shared understanding of the overall project vision and builds a strong alignment within the team and all the relevant stakeholders so there's one common vision that everybody's seeing through. And it also builds the team initial product backlog. So that's how it works. And then every other week that is to maintain the two-week Agile Sprint, these Design Sprints are conducted. So this is for MVP that we do but for ongoing projects or the legacy products that you have, we can use these Design Sprints to discover new features or redesign existing features in between releases or Scrum Sprints. It also helps in reviewing the project vision; renewing it and also reviewing it and making sure that we are working on the roadmap and also make the adjustment to adapt to the change in the market. So we have to be very adaptable and understand that, whatever product because technology is changing every day. And so we have to make sure that what we are doing is at par with the industry. So yeah, that's how we basically work through a Design Sprint.
Priyanka: Okay. Having understood the process, I've got a detailed understanding of how exactly it works and what is the outcome of the whole process of Design Sprint. What I would like to know more is what are the challenges that you face when you're you know, you said that you manage the team, you work as a design manager as well apart from your job as a senior designer? What really bothers people is giving feedback, remote feedback. How do you process that? How do you give feedback in such a way that it is positive, it is nice? And what are the main challenges you face while conducting a Design Sprint?
Jyotsna: Not just as a design manager but as a leader, you have to understand that everybody will have opinion. And especially as a designer, you have to be prepared because everybody thinks that they know design. You put a question in front of a person and then everybody will come up with an idea. And you have to understand not all ideas are great so there has to be a balance. But also, you have to make sure that you hear everyone and we do that. So based on whatever feedbacks we get, we'd always you know, we like to listen. We listen and we understand that this is something that makes sense based on the product roadmap and the vision that we have and also understanding the user's pain points. So when everything is put in context and aligned with and there is feedback that makes sense, we will use it. But if there is feedback that is something that's talking about XYZ stuff that is not relevant to the point that we are trying to focus on or the feature that we're trying to focus on, then those feedback are just skipped. Yeah.
Priyanka: So how do you motivate your team members remotely to align on the same? Is there something special that you were—?
Jyotsna:Yeah. We do a lot of happy hours. What works with us is we have a Russian team, they love their vodka. So we do these happy hours, we try to keep everybody's morales up. That's something that we have to make sure that's happening, making sure that everybody's kept happy. We do a lot of one-on-ones as well. So personally, I have a team of four designers with me so I try to do my bi-weekly one-on-one with them. So that helps to keep that conversation going, understand if they're going through certain problems, or just generally chat with them because everybody wants to be heard. And then having that conversation, even if it's half an hour or 20 minutes, once in two weeks or whatever, that makes them feel heard and that also makes them feel happy that we're always talking to each other and then communicating so that's really helpful. And then sharing pictures with each other like your families, sharing your highs and lows, and so talking through.
We have our own Slack channel. A baby section of Slack is devoted to your babies and then there is a section of pets of ours and stuff like that to keep everybody excited. So you have to do different things. We've also tried a lot of different happy hour sessions. We try to do a Netflix Watch Party as well. So there are things that you would try to do and then work through to keep everyone happy and I think most of it, it will usually work. Sometimes people are not happy so you have to hear them out, listen to their problems and sometimes those are legit problems and you have to work through them.
Priyanka: Okay. So you mentioned you have the specific Slack channel for kids and you have a specific Slack channel for pets which is a really interesting thing. I've not heard about this before. I don't think it's very, very common. So can you tell us about those little moments that you share or while you're in the meeting and Aria is right there next to you? Do you have any positive and negative experiences around that?
Jyotsna: Oh yeah, there are tons. Every day Aria will make some noise behind me so it's become a thing that people know. I have a daughter; I have a 17-month toddler who's running around the house doing her thing so that's become a normal thing. But then sometimes it is a challenge because sometimes there are stakeholders' meetings and you have to be present, your video has to be turned on, things like that. And especially now with Zyp transitioning towards Sinclair Broadcast Channel and we're having this acquisition going on, things are changing as well. For us, it was more of a startup culture that we were so used to, and now we're getting into a bigger company and then that's changing so the rules also change. And then we're trying to figure that out as well and then adapt to that situation as well. So initially, we had our Zoom meetings where we made sure that people can be comfortable in however you want to do these meetings. Even if it's video off, we're fine with that. But now it's changing and now every time we have a call, we want the video to be on so that becomes a challenge.
And me, especially as a mom, I can talk for myself. As a mom, I'm trying to multitask here so sometimes I don't feel like a video-on call is helpful to me. So what do you do in that case? So I can talk about something. Last Friday, I was on a call, a 12:30 p.m. call, and that's the time when actually, Aria sleeps, and she fell asleep on my lap and the call started. So I was like, what do I do now? Should I turn my video on or just keep it off? But then I'm like, why not? So I turned my video on and she was sleeping on my lap. And so there are things that happen on a day-to-day basis and you have to make sure that you are doing what you can the best way but then also make sure that the other person involved also sees that effort. And then, yeah, so nobody had a problem. In fact, they were all appreciative of the thing that I do on a daily basis. So, yeah.
Priyanka: All right. What I would like to know more about is you've shared the entire process of conducting a Design Sprint and you've shared your entire experience and framework working with us, which is really, really valuable information for us and are audience. But what I would like to know more about is on our ending note, more about Design Sprint, the Agile process, and or could you share an experience with us that you faced while conducting a Design Sprint?
Jyotsna: Oh. If you asked me one experience, I think there are so many different experiences with Design Sprint. I can talk about one experience where the sales rep who was involved was not understanding the whole concept so when we gave a little bit of information in the beginning because we always try to make sure that everybody's ready with the tools that they need before the meeting actually starts, he was not prepared. So he came unprepared. He did not have access to Miro. So he did not download the app, he did not do a lot that was needed before the meeting starts. So you have these kinds of experiences. And then, because you don't want to waste the time of others trying to onboard this guy in the system of the workshop, we had another team member help him online but then separately. So while we already started the process of the workshop, he was still getting trained on getting all the tools added to his laptop and getting that fixed. So things like these happen but then it's you have to be quick and adapt to it.
Like okay, think through it and then make sure that nobody's time is wasted because everybody's here as is. A lot of companies are not comfortable devoting a Design Sprint on creating these product features and stuff like that. The idea is still new to them so you have to make sure that everybody and all the stakeholders are kept happy and given the importance that they deserve. And then sometimes you have to make it work. So yeah, you can't be wasting time of everyone because there are like 10 people involved in these meetings and then if one person is not ready, that doesn't mean all the other nine people have to wait for them. So yeah, things like that happen but I would also talk about some good experiences of the Design Sprint. I think these Design Sprints are obviously helpful for understanding of new product features and stuff that we do on a daily basis whenever we are doing an MVP.
So right now we are working on our new product and that's a minimum viable product that we are going through so that's really helpful. But then I also think that Design Sprints are helpful for any new hires that you're having. Any new employee getting onboarded in the HR system also should be going through these sprints because it's more of a workshop where the new person can get involved with the teams. They can talk through, they can understand other people, and they can also understand the product and then also meet everyone. And this process becomes a very light process because it's like they're involved, they're also contributing with their own ideas, and they feel their motivations are up because they're also contributing and then they feel that they were part of something useful. So I think these Design Sprints are very helpful and I have received a couple of feedbacks from our new employees, new hires as well, that these Design Sprints were very helpful for them to just have that as an onboarding process and also getting to know the team as well.
Priyanka: Okay. So I am taking more time than I told you from you. I'm really sorry but it's just getting very interesting. And on a last note of what I would really like to know, what are the key strengths of a Design Sprint if you have to note it down in five points? And why should everyone follow this process? Why would you recommend it?
Jyotsna: The key strength is the people that are involved in it I would say because everybody's coming from a different background. One for us is somebody coming from ad operations team, somebody is coming from sales team, somebody is from data analytics team. So they're all coming with their own specialized skills and all of them involved and understanding of a problem, once they understand the problem and everybody is thinking through their lenses. So once everybody thinks through their lenses, the solutions are going to be legit and all these solutions will solve that problem. So whenever somebody is thinking, they're thinking with their respective skills, and that's why these Design Sprints really work because then you get those ideas actually done. It's getting the skills utilized in the best possible way. And you have to also understand that all these ideas that they come through, they're not designers. So they might come up with an idea which on paper makes sense but then when you have to design it, you need to involve the designers on it. So they can come up with the ideas but then eventually you are the one who's actually creating the solution. So that's why I feel like having all these skilled people involved in this and the stakeholders involved in this process is really key to having a good Design Sprint.
Priyanka: Okay. Thank you, Jyotsna, for your time, and thank you for sharing all this valuable information with us and I've had a great time listening to you. Thank you for taking out time for Designwise.
Jyotsna: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure and I hope I was able to give some good insights.
Priyanka: Yeah, Jyotsna. Don't doubt that for a moment. It was amazing knowing everything that you said on the show.
Jyotsna: Thanks, Jeph. Thanks for having me.
Priyanka: So, that was the conversation with Jyotsna Gupta covering key insights about design sprints and a very honest take on working from home. Thank you for listening to us this was Priyanka jeph in designwise from QED42.