How Wayfair uses workshops to stay on top of their game! Interview with Norman Wozniak, Senior Experience Design Manager at Wayfair
Wayfair is the e-commerce business to look out for: between a successful IPO, a brand loved by its consumers, and impeccable User Experience, there’s little not to love about this company. And Wayfair has numbers to show for it as well–over 14,000 employees and three corporate office locations in Boston, London and Berlin. Named the “best shopping app”, “best retail app, and “best workplace” by multiple awards, Wayfair is in the high-speed lane of reinventing the way people shop for furniture.
At AJ&Smart we’re crazy about driven teams making great products, so we were beyond excited to hear that Wayfair is using Design Sprints (read all about it here) to test ideas fast. We’ve caught up with Norman Wozniak, Senior Experience Design Manager at Wayfair and chatted about the benefit of adopting a workshop culture, how they came to Sprint, and some ground rules for effective workshops.
Hi Norman! Being an Experience Designer is a dream job for many, especially at a company like Wayfair! Tell us how you started out, and how you got to where you are today?
My first working experience was actually in the field of chemical engineering–that’s what I studied in the university as well.
However, I was always interested in innovation and technology. I pursued an MBA with a focus on innovation and then became a strategy and marketing consultant for three years. This experience made me passionate about understanding data and translating it into something that people actually use. I gathered initial experience working in a few startups and gradually became a designer.
After a while, bigger companies started paying attention to me, and this is how I came to Wayfair. Here, I work on top of the funnel parts of the website: the main navigation on the home page, the category pages–the first few clicks that the user does when they get on the Wayfair site.
Talk about a career change! Tell us a bit about your working environment: were workshops a thing at Wayfair when you started? Are they a solid part of the workflow now?
Working within innovation teams of several startups significantly impacted my work ethics: workshops are my culture! When I started at Wayfair, I was keen on keeping them in my routine.
I’m happy to say that workshops are definitely a part of the workflow here. We use brainstorming sessions to kick off new projects; sailboat workshop to achieve alignment; we do user journey mapping workshops, content strategy workshops, and obviously–Design Sprints!
We use workshops for anything that defines what the conversation is going to be about, the information architecture, which story we are going to tell, etc.
We LOVE to hear that Wayfair is championing the workshop culture! How did you first discover the Design Sprint, and why did you decide to give it a go?
I learned about the Design Sprint about a year and a half ago and decided to give it a go when a challenge came up, and the team didn’t have time to create a custom workshop.
The cool part about the Design Sprint is that there’s no need to create fake alignment or come up with your own set of rules. It’s a standardised, plug-and-play process, which is convenient for companies.
Was it hard for you to get the buy-in from the team, or did everyone jump on board right away?
At Wayfair, we are obsessed with improving the customer experience. We also have a strong trust within the team, solid research and a motivated group of people who move fast and love to learn new things. So I didn’t have to explain the Design Sprint process step-by-step, or do any of the heavy liftings convincing the team. I told them we’d be running a workshop, and what will happen during those days, and everyone was on board with it.
What key learnings were you able to take away from the experience of running a Design Sprint?
My most important takeaway was learning to trust the process. The Sprint is an insanely optimised and well-thought-through workshop. Even though some steps might feel like a jump in the unknown, they all serve a particular purpose.
Another critical learning we’ve had as a whole team is how much work we can get accomplished in a short period of time, and how well people from different departments can work with each other.
Since you’re a seasoned workshopper, could you share some of the workshop DOs and DON’Ts you’ve developed over the years?
Some of my workshop DOs are:
- Involve the team in the planning of the workshop; it dramatically raises the level of involvement and commitment.
- Put on some music in the room! It’s a very simple hack that has a massive impact on the whole atmosphere.
- Prepare the room beforehand! Make sure all the props you’ll need are there, so you don’t have to disrupt the workshop workflow.
- Be genuine and upfront. If it’s your first time running a workshop, or you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t try to play it cool, confront it head-on!
- Stay flexible. Don’t get stressed if the timeline doesn’t work out exactly as you’d imagined. During my first time running a Sprint, I probably missed the timing on every single exercise, and it still went great!
As for the workshop DON’Ts, they’d have to be:
- Don’t let the people join the workshop “cold”. Tell them beforehand what it’s all about, prepare them and set expectations!
- Don’t think that you’ll be done with work by the last day of the workshop. Be prepared to execute on your findings! And prepare your team for the possible workload beforehand so you can keep the momentum going.
- Don’t silo yourself off. Especially in a big company like Wayfair, it’s very easy for that to happen. You have to make a conscious effort to avoid silos. What I find helps is creating a shared workspace (for example a Miro board!), where anyone from the company can see what we’re up to during a workshop.
Like you’ve said: a workshop in and of itself is never the end goal! It’s a tool that should propel the team forward. What are some of the steps you like to take to ensure maximum efficiency after the whiteboards are wiped clean?
One of the most important things has got to be getting real buy-in from the stakeholders of the project. Ideally, they should take part in the workshop, so that the execution doesn’t get stalled afterwards simply because someone doesn’t agree with the outcomes. Make it crystal clear from the beginning that the results of the workshop will get acted upon.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a workshop culture in their organisation?
My first advice would be to go ahead and do it. Book a room, get the relevant people into it. Tell them why are you doing this thing and what is the intended output. Make the first step and set the expectations bar low.
That leads me to my second recommendation: Start small. Do a vision workshop or a studio. Make sure to apply the learnings that you’ll uncover. Your team will see the value of workshops, and it will instil trust. That will act as a gateway to running bigger workshops later.
And finally, make the benefits clear to your team. Running workshops allows you to dramatically reduce the time needed to take a project off the ground, but does your team know it?
Paint a picture in their heads. In a typical workflow, the idea originates in one team, then gets passed on to a design or execution team, which in turn need to understand what the project is all about. The same thing happens when the idea is passed onto engineering. The bigger the company and the more complex the structures, the lengthier this process becomes.
Well, with workshops, you can do all of that at once. All together, as one team. So you cut down the time, and motivation goes through the roof. You see dramatic changes in how excited people are about being at work because now they work collaboratively. There’s a feeling of unity and alignment that emerges when people come together in one room to do valuable work.
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