In Episode 11 of UX Leadership by Design, Joana Castro, Director of UX at Buildium in Portugal explains how she leverages UX Maturity models at Buildium, and more broadly, how organizations can use UX maturity assessments to measure progress (and regression), demonstrate the value of UX, and secure investment in user experience. This episode offers practical advice for UX leaders interested in implementing a UX maturity model in their organization, effectively using storytelling as a strategy to help stakeholders connect to user problems, and hiring and developing junior designers.
- The State of the UX Market in Portugal
- Building and Managing UX Teams
- The Importance of Soft Skills in UX
- Using storytelling to cultivate stakeholder buy in
- Transitioning from Individual Contributor to UX Leader
- The UX Maturity Model by Nielsen Norman Group
- Assessing and Demonstrating UX Value
- Demonstrating ROI and Business Value of UX
- The Impact of UX Maturity Assessments
About Our Guest
Joana Castro is a Director of UX at Buildium where she is using the Portuguese talent to build a Product Design team from scratch in Portugal, where she lives. Much of her leadership work is also focused on implementing initiatives that take the currently great UX Maturity of Buildium even further. Joana has been working in Communication and Digital Product Development for about 20 years, having experience in different markets and both SaaS and hardware-based digital products and services. She is also a member and mentor at UXPA International.
Resources & Links
Connect with Joanna Castro on Linkedin
Atlas (North American Report) by Sequoia
Nielsen Norman Group – 6 Levels of UX Maturity Model
Nielson Norman Group – UX Maturity Survey
Connect with Mark on LinkedIn
Mark Baldino: Hello and welcome to UX Leadership by Design, the podcast by and for UX design leaders. I'm your host, Mark Baldino. This podcast is and always will be brought to you by Fuzzy Math, the user experience design consultancy that brings consumer grade UX to the enterprise. We partner with nascent or growing UX design teams to ensure they have the right people in the right place, applying the right process, really focus on digital product design and digital product strategy. And today we are fortunate enough to talk to Joana Castro, the Director of UX at Bildium in Portugal, and touch on a few great topics. One of those is what's the market like in Portugal? What's the talent pool like? What's the acceptance of UX and product design? And then we touch on UX maturity models, which is close to my heart, something we do as a service offering at Fuzzy Math. And Joana covers how she uses it with her kind of growing UX team to assess the group in an ongoing manner every six months in order to get a pulse of where they are and how they can improve the process, but also to help make a case for continuing investment from executives. So super interesting conversation. I definitely think you'll enjoy it and just want to say thank you for listening. Mark Baldino: Joana, welcome to the podcast. Joana Castro: Hi Mark, thanks for having me. Mark Baldino: Oh, no, our pleasure. I just want to point out to the audience that you are our first non-North American based guest. So you're calling in from Portugal, which is super exciting. And I know along the way we'll probably talk about maybe some of the differences and similarities in the sort of UX field between Europe or Portugal in particular and North America. But as we like to start all of these... would love for you to give the listeners just a little bit of your background, how you found your way into UX and what you've been up to in your career thus far. Joana Castro: Okay, so me entering into UX was a little bit by chance, which I think is very common from what I've been hearing. Sorry. So I actually studied journalism and science communication. So I then I started working as a 3D designer. And then I quickly moved to web design because there was a bigger market and more job opportunities. So I moved to that area. And then I started eventually just managing projects in web design. And later on, more global projects related with branding as well, with web design, of course, also graphic production, et cetera. this ability of managing things between people that are actually doing the work, designing, producing, et cetera, and the customer, but also taking into consideration the user's perspective. Of course, back then, I didn't make user research. It wasn't a thing. You know? Mark Baldino: Right. Joana Castro: And but I tried to advocate for users as much as I could. And so that is what started these little bug, but I didn't start back then working in the UX. First I went to a software development company as a digital direction, uh, digital communication director and that is where I discovered Altas, which was the next company I worked for, and the UX world. And once I get to know these two, I realized that I loved both, and that I was going to do everything within my power to stay there, to work, to grow as a UXer in Altas. Mark Baldino: That's it. Joana Castro: Altas is a telco company. It actually is based in several companies, also United States. And then that is why I went, you know, from journalism and communication sciences to UX. Mark Baldino: Yeah, that's great. So at Fuzzy Math and my consultancy, we've had a number of people who started in journalism. I don't know if the communication sort of science is the same, but that space and then shifted into UX. As many people as kind of had a psychology background and then got into kind of human factors. What in your communication and journalism career or skill set, what were you able to apply the most in UX? What do you find most helpful in your UX career? Joana Castro: I would say two things. The first one would be the ability and also the passion for listening to other stories, to, you know, putting yourself in the other's shoes and trying to understand their point of view. And the other thing is storytelling is crucial to our area. So the more you know how to communicate things in a... using storytelling, the more you involve stakeholders around you and the more you can get to better results. Mark Baldino: Do you have like quick tips on storytelling that you utilize or that you sort of teach to your team in terms of like how to, what are some tips for effective storytelling? Joana Castro: Yeah, if you look online, there's a lot of different models for storytelling, but there's one that I always like. It's the easier one. I always tell my team, which is you start describing a character, which in our case, it's usually a user that is, you know... more or less representative of the users you want to describe in that story. We don't use personas a lot nowadays, we are using jobs to be done a lot more, but for the purpose of storytelling a persona will do. So we take that user and we describe the character and then we say that he lives, he lived in a happy world, but he had a problem. And you start describing that problem. And then some hero comes along, it might be your software or the product you're developing, and this hero solves his problems. And then you describe, you know, you start this, if you put it into like a graphic, you see like the problem is increasing and then. Tension is increasing in your story and then things start, the situation starts getting better and then you have the conclusion of the story and everything goes fine at the end. So we use that to make more evident to different stakeholders how, you know, the feature you're developing can help a user in their real life or, you know, to advocate for a new thing that you didn’t think of before, but you want to propose to your company, et cetera. Mark Baldino: That's great. Thank you for that. Because I think that a lot of designers are very good at mentally advocating for users and designing with users in mind, but actually reflecting that back as a cohesive story and tying it together. I think you mentioned communicating with stakeholders. That communication component, that selling of the story, putting it into context, giving it... breathing life into your design work is... I think that's hard to do. And I think people focus on the design component or maybe building the personas or journey map, whatever their sort of artifact is. And then they just sort of step through that artifact and they don't actually level up from it and say, okay, there's a story here we're trying to tell and I'm not supposed to read every bullet in this slide. I'm not supposed to cover every line in this paragraph about the persona. But let me describe, as you said... This is a day in their life. This is a challenge they're facing. This is how a change can improve that and kind of follow a regular story arc. So that's great, much appreciated. Joana Castro: Yeah. Mark Baldino: I've also asked this question a lot. Oh, sorry, yeah, please. Joana Castro: I was going to say that I'm actually at a point of my career where I'm dealing with a lot of new hires and some of them are junior level designers and that is something that I've been noticing that my biggest effort is to tell them. Okay, you need to use more storytelling for instance, there's just last week I was with the team elements at a collaborative workshop that we organized. And afterwards, I was discussing with her how we could improve things for the next time. And I was telling her, OK, when you first introduced the problem to all the stakeholders in the room, the virtual room in this case, you were very quick. and you went straight to the point, and we need to give people the time to connect with the problem, to have time to stay in other's shoes. So this is something that I feel like for junior level people, we need to work more. And it's about a year of the work. Mark Baldino: That's great. Mark Baldino: Yeah, yes, I think that's a great way to put it. You're sort of allowing space for the problem and for people to situate themselves in the context before you go right to here's our solution. You mentioned working with some junior folks. Imagine you're leading a team. I'm kind of curious when you knew or what the opportunity that sort of presented itself to you we'll call like an individual contributor as a designer. And that sort of transition and shift to being a leader of other designers, was that a quick shift? Was it one role? Was it something you always wanted to do? Like, what did that transition look like? Joana Castro: I'm one of those persons that I never knew what I wanted to do. I liked too many things, so it wasn't really a goal for me. But it was very natural, this transition, because back at Altis, when I started working in UX, I was, I feel like a couple of things made me naturally go from being an individual contributor to being a leader. And I feel like, for instance, one of them was, I was always, I still am, always worried about sharing where I've learned with others in the team so that, you know. I feel like, okay, if I know this and I share, and if the person next to me shares wherever she has learned, will move so much faster because we know much more. So because I was always sharing things, and this was very related to another thing, which is always pushing the team's limits to go further and further to test new UX methods, to collaborate with stakeholders in a different way. And that part of relating to stakeholders, I think it was very important too, because I soon discovered that I had to, you know, create partnerships with key stakeholders to get things going faster and to grow the UX maturity inside every team I was working with so that... we could have more space to do the job done properly. So I think it was natural. Mark Baldino: Yeah, it sounds like a very natural space. And I think, again, another theme here is sort of like slowing down a little bit to share and learn and not always be in kind of production mode. And that sort of sounds like it enabled you to maybe see a shift that you were going to be a leader, that was kind of where you wanted ahead. And I think I think when everyone's in sort of getting it done mode or whatever you want to call it, I think that sense of knowledge sharing and stepping back and giving people not just feedback but lessons learned is invaluable for kind of a UX design lead. I'd be remiss if we didn't touch a little bit on kind of the market either in Portugal or in Europe. Sitting here in, I'm based in Chicago, but in North America, I'll say global economic position doesn't look amazing. I feel like a lot of people are working a little bit from a position of fear of not knowing what's next. So I just feel like there's a lot of apprehension, both from, I think, from a hiring perspective of hiring UX design talent, a lot of people on the market right now, I think probably from a client perspective in investing in design. Maybe the same in Europe or in Portugal, but I'm just kind of curious, if you had to give a summary, what's the state of the UX practice and kind of acceptance in Portugal? Maybe kind of touch on how well is the business value of design understood and what maybe progress has been made recently there? And I don't mean to ask you to speak for all of Europe or all of Portugal, but just from your lens, what are you kind of seeing? Joana Castro: Yeah, I can only speak for myself and my experience… Mark Baldino: Sure. Joana Castro: But actually this is a topic that interests me a lot. So I've been discussing a lot with other leaders in both in Portugal and worldwide, you know, so discussing this idea and of course we have... great things and bad things in every country, but I feel like we are at a very good position in the product design area. And I would say that in products, especially digital product development in a general way. So for instance, there was a North American report by Sequoia called Atlas that was released recently. And they were pointing Portugal, namely Portugal and Lisbon for you, as a big hub for engineering talent. And especially it was related to application development. and also to databases. And so I feel like we started with engineering, but we are... slowly progressing into a very, you know, community, a very dedicated to digital development and to professionals. We have a lot of professionals in that area. Actually, it was why I think maybe 15 years ago, Buildium, which is the company I'm at this moment, they identified Portugal as being very qualified for engineering. And that is why Hub was created here at Portugal for Buildium. And now, last year, I had the challenge of creating a new team for product design for Buildium here at Portugal too, because they are also identifying product designers here at Portugal. to be very skilled. And my personal opinion is that we are very skilled for a number of reasons, but I feel like one thing is, it's easy for us to communicate with teams spread across the world because in a very general way, we can communicate very well in English, but we are also very flexible. Mark Baldino: Thank you. Joana Castro: And that is very important for the product design area. So if you need to adjust whenever you're interviewing a user, or if you need to adjust your process to better show your results or to better have the buy-in from stakeholders, you need that flexibility. And also we are very, very I would say that we always say about ourselves, Portuguese people, that we are very resourceful in finding solutions to unplanned things that happen. And there is actually a funny story because I have a friend who was working in Germany some years ago. And he would say that they... in a very technological company. And you would say that they aimed to have a Portuguese in every single team because when things went wrong, Portuguese people would find a solution at the last moment. Mark Baldino: That's absolutely fantastic. That's, hey, if that's how you perceive yourselves, that's wonderful. If that's how others perceive you as very adaptable problem solvers, like that's fantastic. And I think if you're thinking about the world of UX and product design in general, it is a lot about problem solving using a human centered approach. And so it sounds like it adapts very, very well. What's the like... talent market, you were building a team from scratch, strong support in kind of educational institutions, maybe formal and formal. What did it look like when you were building the team? Was it easy to find folks that fit? Little bit more of a challenge. Joana Castro: I'll say that it's easy not for very senior people because... I've been discovering that our most senior people are usually working for foreign companies and in very good positions, so it's hard to have them on board. I'm trying to value, and I always did anyway, value the soft skills more. So, because I feel like if you're unable to empathize with users, with your colleagues to discuss ideas, then there's no point if you have a lot of experience, you know? And I've been seeing that I'm working more junior level designers now, but I've been realizing that they do have in a general way a very strong critical thinking, you know, which is crucial for problem solving, as you were saying. For instance, I think it was last week. a girl at my team was showing me some, a solution she wanted to present to the Scrum team she was working with. And I was amazed how she's at the company for two months and she was relating what she was presenting to me with the company, the business goals. And I think that having the ability to... not only stand for the user and having a very customer-centric lens, but related to what the company is trying to achieve in terms of providing the users with, but also in terms of economic goals. And... It's very, very important. So, yeah, I think that we do have, and to go back to your question, I think that we also have a growing academic world around user experience, which is great. I feel like we have a lot of new people coming into the market, which is always good, I think. Mark Baldino: Yeah, for sure. The challenge with the soft skills sometimes as somebody who's done a bunch of hiring is the evaluation of that. It's a lot easier maybe to look at a portfolio and a process and say, okay, here's the output. And I get a lot of questions from designers who are coming out of programs or internships, like how do I stand out? And a lot of the basics of the portfolio are going to be shared between a lot of candidates. But my advice is always to find an area where you did sort of true problem solving, where you understood the problem, you applied part of the process, you had an output. And then that output impacted the direction of what you were going to do next or the team was going to do next. And that's sort of like critical thinking, which sounds like your team member sort of has and was able to apply it to a broader problem. And amazingly, as you said, within two months, applying it to like a... the business case, which is really, really impressive. Those are kind of difficult skills to figure out in an interview process, but when you do, I think you're right, you find the right people, and then there's other parts of process that I think are directly learnable. Joana Castro: Yeah, I was remembering that I had another associate level designer that we always do in the part of the recruiting process, case study presentation, and she was presenting about a very technical problems she solved in her career. She had only one year experience, but she had that problem to present. And she said at that case study, well, I was not getting it at all. I couldn't understand a thing. So I started just mapping things as if they were fruits hanging on a tree. And it was so refreshing the way she explained things. And I always, you know, at this case studies, which is like the last part of the recruiting process, I always invite five to six other interviewers and they watch and make questions and just observing. And then I ask people to give me individual feedback so that I can have a better sense of everyone's opinion in general without them, you know influencing one another. And everyone is telling me that they love that example, because they could tell that even though she was not experienced, she was trying to find different ways to understand things and to solve problems. And this is just a very simple example to give to people that are trying to stand out in job interviews. Mark Baldino: Yeah, it's a great one. And I think it demonstrates that they were, I don't know, vulnerable is the right word, but willing to express that they couldn't wrap their mind around it, they couldn't figure something out. But instead of just staying in that spot or maybe asking questions, which maybe was the next step that was performed, but it was like figured out a model that worked for them to start to organize information. And I think it does show a lot of initiative and adaptability. I want to return to something you mentioned earlier, which was kind of UX maturity models, which I think is part of your daily work life these days. I think people are generally familiar with, you know, there's some popular UX maturity models. We kind of have one at Fuzzy Math that's a little bit homegrown. We do some assessments of UX orgs and help them understand ways to sort of improve. But kind of curious your interest in work in this space, how you're sort of applying assessments from... from a UX maturity model perspective. So we'd love some sort of information background and just general interest in this space. Joana Castro: Okay, so I like a lot and that's the model that I used, the one developed by the Nielsen-Norman group, which was developed in 2006 and it had initially eight stages, but now it has six stages. I think it's very easy to understand for a company because they have what they are standing at some point because the Nelson Norman group has in their website a survey that you can just fill in and you have the results. You know immediately the stage you're at, your company is at. Of course it is important to, at least I think it is important that not only the UX team fills in this survey, it should be filled in by several areas of the company in a way that the results are more accurate. And I think the results are very well designed in a way to point what you can do in order to move to the next stage. That being said, a company can go backwards. You know, just because you're in the fourth stage, things can change and suddenly you are at the third stage. That can happen. Of course, a company's goal should be always moving forward up until the sixth stage. If I answered your question, sorry. Mark Baldino: Yep. And no, you did. And I'm glad you mentioned sort of Nielsen Norman Group. I'll make sure to link to that in kind of the end of the show notes. You're doing this for your clients? Joana Castro: Buildium has works for its own products, so we don't work for clients, we work for our products. Mark Baldino: Okay. Joana Castro: But when I first joined the company, I proposed to do this assessment every six months so that we would know where we are at the point we are and what we can do to make the best move forward. So right now we are between a four and a five, because I can give a really quick overview on the stage. So the first one is absolutely lack of UX. So the company, a company on the first level doesn't, doesn't see UX as valuable, as a valuable thing to consider in the company. The second stage, at this stage, there is some interest in UX. And there's usually a one-man show that does represent the user, but also does a bunch of other things. At the third stage, you start having a UX team. So there's... like the company knows, okay, these areas is important, but maybe they are still seeing as the people who make things beautiful at the end, you know? Mark Baldino: Great. Joana Castro: And on the fifth stage, the company has a very well-structured team. It's not only making things beautiful, but it is researching from the beginning and it starts to appear more specialized roles, like let's say content designers, UX researchers, et cetera. Then we have the fifth stage where there is no strategy of the company decided without listening to the UX area. And then for the sixth stage is where I would say that where you have, you start seeing these companies at the sixth stage, they usually have C levels representing the experience world. So you have like chief experience officers that are making sure that the experience is... is having a seat at the round table of C-levels so that every decision has the buy-in of everyone. And there is a strategy focused on customer that is top-down. Mark Baldino: Yep. So thank you for walking through that. And I just appreciate it. I just want to say as a sort of fellow practitioner, like sharing where your team is, because I think sometimes people might be like, well, I'd love us, you know, I might say we're six, right? Or but the fact is, it's a journey. And as you said, you can sometimes it's, you know, maybe two steps forward, one step back. What do you think is the, when you're running this and sharing the results outside of your team, What's the business getting? What's the business value? What question are they asking? How is it affecting the, or maybe the UX maturity by just sharing where you are in that process? What's been the impact at Buildium? Joana Castro: Yeah, I would say that it's not usually, there is some resistance at the beginning of other areas, not in the sense that they don't understand, but in a sense that... It's the, they feel like it's something related to the other department, the UX department, you know, for, for instance, engineers are thinking, okay, good to know, but that's your thing. So I would say that the, the main work that has to be done is getting into those C level conversations in a way that you can have things top down and people are understanding that, okay, the company is not moving, is not changing, is not deciding the roadmap without listening to this area, which is, at Buildium, we always, we have a very, a huge, user pooled and we use it. We also have, you know, we give like money vouchers to encourage people to participate in usability research and usability tests and other research methods. And so we have a lot of user feedback and we have tools to make clusters of feedback. And so the roadmap of each year is based on that, which is great, is very customer centric. But I would say that the way things work in a very daily way, our teams interact with each other, can be very improved if you have that top down message going, you know. Mark Baldino: So are you using the sort of what I call kind of a pulse survey, this regular check-in on the UX maturity to justify investment in UX? Or is it the other, which is your organization Buildium wants to invest in UX and you're trying to demonstrate where there's areas for improvement? And I'm just trying to think of other design leaders, like how can they utilize this tool to hopefully probably increase investment, show benefit, but how are you using it at Buildium or how is it viewed at Buildium? Joana Castro: Yeah, yeah. Oh, I don't know what's the recommended steps for every step, because I've been only in these two steps, four and six. But I know that when you do that, and Nelson, that NN group survey, they give you the results and they point you to certain actions. For instance, at this stage for us, we know that we should be looking more at ROI of UX, so in a way to have this top leadership buy-in to invest even more. But this is the stage we are at. I would say that in this case, it's the second option you were saying. which is convincing leadership to invest more on this. But I will say that if you were at stage two, stage three, maybe it's just trying to demonstrate the UX value to the company so that you have a little more space to work and a little more space to demonstrate the value that it can bring to the company. Mark Baldino: So it's an internal tool you're using to assess your organization. It's giving you recommendations for how to move forward. And in this case, part of that is ensure you're measuring ROI so you can communicate up to stakeholders. And then if you're doing the ROI calculations, you're measuring your outcomes as a group, you have this assessment. If you're linking those two together, you have a pretty compelling story, I think, to tell executives, which is like... We're here in our UX maturity model. Our products are here in terms of their customer satisfaction or whatever measurement tool. And you can start, if you do those in a regular pulse, you can start to show that progress of, hey, as we invest more in the UX group and demonstrate our ROIs from not just a qualitative, but maybe a quantitative measure, you can paint a really clear picture for executives of what that investment in UX and UX process and actual UX maturity can result in from, you know, a product output and customer success perspective. I know that's maybe paying an ideal state and getting there is like, it's a multi-year process, but I think it's an interesting component because a conversation I've had on this podcast are about measuring ROI and having some of the quant data, where are customers sticking points, where are they happy, where are they dissatisfied? But I haven't really talked about this other component that you brought up here, which is... If we're continuing measuring our UX maturity, we can maybe draw a line and it's a more compelling story. Joana Castro: And it's especially important because once you are at the fifth stage and beyond, it's getting harder and harder to improve. It's not so easy to move to the next level. And it's very easy for the company to think, okay, well, we are good. We don't need to improve. And we are at a good spot. We figured it out for our customers, so we don't need now to invest so much in UX because we have other things to do. So it's very important to have that baseline and to demonstrate different values across time. Mark Baldino: Fantastic. And I appreciate you mentioning a few times this sort of backslide that can happen with organizations of progress, progress. It's not always a straight line forward. And a lot of times there can be maybe changes, leadership changes. Again, a good reason to have a cadence of these assessments and some measurables that you can really demonstrate the value of UX. Well, Joana, it's been fantastic to speak with you today. Really appreciate you joining us from Portugal, sharing your background, a little bit about the Portuguese UX and product design market, and then touching on UX maturity models, which I think are a really rich conversation or rich topic for UX design leaders. If people want to find you and connect directly, what's the best way to find you online? Joana Castro: I say LinkedIn, it's the best way. If you look for Joana Castro, Buildium, you'll find me. Mark Baldino: Fantastic. Well, we will also include a link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes. I'm sure people would love to reach out, learn more about the UX market in Portugal and how you've applied UX maturity model at your organization. So, just want to say thank you again for your time today. I know the audience will really enjoy this podcast. So, thank you. Joana Castro: Thank you, Mark. My pleasure.