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Automotive Connected Vehicle (IoT)

Driving Product Design

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Role
Sr. Manager; Product Design & User Experience
Client
Panasonic
Date
2019-2021
Tools & Frameworks
Sketch, Axure RP, Adobe CC, InVision, ArcGIS, React

Project overview

Problem

United States roadways are becoming increasingly more congested and dangerous. As more cars hit the road and travel times increase, the risk of accidents rises and the traffic problem worsens.

Objective

Craft and execute a product design strategy with a small, skilled team, aimed at generating consistent, scalable, value-driven solutions, underlining cross-functional collaboration, design operations, and overall design success.

Users

State Department of Transportion (DOT) traffic operators, technical hardware experts, roadside hardware installers, and operations and maintenance personnel.

Team role

I transitioned from individual contributor to Sr. Manager of Product Design, serving as the functional department head. I led and managed a small, efficient product design team, driving success through individual and team OKRs, as well as fostered professional growth and development through critiques and coaching. Together we worked to create consistent, effective, and data-driven design solutions for a scalable connected vehicle platform.

Duration

The management efforts on this project were continuous and ongoing for about two years.

Disclaimer In adherence to non-disclosure agreements, this project selectively presents designs and strategies with some purposeful obscurity, prioritizing confidentiality of proprietary information. The following content is my own perspective and does not necessarily reflect the views of Panasonic.

I.

CV Technology: Revolutionizing road safety and traffic flow

Amid rising safety concerns and traffic congestion in the U.S., 2021 witnessed over 6 million traffic incidents, resulting in more than 38,000 fatalities. This, coupled with an $87 billion annual economic cost due to congestion, highlights the urgent need for innovative solutions.

Connected Vehicle (CV) technology, an emerging Internet of Things (IoT) solution, offers a promising approach. It enables vehicles to communicate with traffic infrastructure, alerting drivers to hazards and improving road condition awareness.

The development of a scalable, production-grade CV platform could significantly impact public safety and mobility, boosting the U.S. economy and contributing to global environmental solutions.

Initial Phase: Individual design contributions

In the V2X Ecosystem Launch phase of the project, I designed a few products as an individual (sole) contributor, which demonstrated the tangible value of a product-grade CV platform. Now with a major DOT partner and other potentials on-the-horizon, the objective was to lead and manage a small team of designers to successfully execute on a product design strategy which can deliver on the product vision at greater scale.

II.

Transition to Leadership: Strategic management and team growth

In the project's evolution, I progressed from the sole product designer to the Senior Product Design Manager. This role involved overseeing strategic planning and execution of design projects, leading and mentoring a design team, and enhancing design operations and tools. A key part of my responsibility was fostering individual talent and team growth.

Additionally, as part of the senior leadership, I was involved in broader aspects like design strategy, OKR-driven planning, and creative direction for significant events, including CES 2020.

Achieving product development harmony

In our product development process, product design played a central role, necessitating close alignment with product, research, and data science teams. I focused on maintaining this balance, regularly collaborating with department heads to ensure smooth and efficient workflow. This strategic equilibrium was vital for our team's success.

III.

Cultivating a unique design team culture

In our technical, engineering-driven environment, fostering a distinct design team culture was crucial. We prioritized creativity, collaboration, and user-centric principles, advocating for UX best practices across product development. Our team structure capitalized on individual strengths, balancing data-driven decisions with creative freedom. I aimed to create a workflow that encouraged open dialogue, constructive feedback, and continuous innovation, ensuring alignment with cross-team objectives.

Implementing OKRs for alignment and transparency

I led the strategic integration of objectives and key results (OKRs) within our design team, following discussions with the leadership team. My focus was on encouraging open dialogue to deepen our understanding of collective and individual goals. I actively worked with each designer to develop their personal OKRs, aligning them with our team's objectives and the broader business vision.

Designing Career Paths: Two-track ladder

I developed a two-track career ladder, catering to both individual contributor (IC) and managerial paths. This framework aimed to provide clarity in career progression, motivate designers, attract talent, and facilitate performance evaluation. It served as a reference for the team's career development and aspirations.

Empowering 1:1s with radical candor

In my 1:1 meetings, I adopted Radical Candor's approach, focusing on personal care and direct challenges. These sessions were designed as safe spaces, enabling open, two-way dialogues. They provided an opportunity to track OKR progress and delve into each designer's professional development journey.

The goal was not just to review work status but to engage in meaningful conversations about career aspirations, challenges, and growth opportunities, fostering a supportive and transparent environment for personal and professional development.

Enhancing 1:1s with personalized support

To maximize our 1:1 meetings, team members prepared by noting their thoughts and rating OKR progress using our team management software. This preparation set the stage for focused, candid discussions on successes, challenges, and necessary adjustments, including my own contributions. It also provided me with insights on how to remove any barriers they faced in their work or professional development.

IV.

Challenges of implementing SAFe framework in remote environment

Adopting a SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) product delivery model, from a super-lean R&D style, can present unique challenges. Maintaining the balance between alignment and autonomy can be tricky. While SAFe aims to provide a centralized strategy and decision-making, it also promotes team autonomy. Ensuring that teams have the freedom to innovate and make decisions, while still adhering to the larger strategic vision, can be a delicate balancing act.

As a part of the leadership team, I worked closely with other department heads to figure out a workflow that worked best for our team. A few questions certainly needed answers. How can we best clarify roles and responsibilities to avoid ambiguity without the weight of too much process? How can we tackle the issues of misalignment and disorganization through the product delivery funnel? For extra points, how do we do all of this when the team became remote, and distributed, with the onset of Covid?

Our ultimate goal was to cultivate a seamless, fluid environment of communication and collaboration. For me, I needed to figure out what adjustments product design needed to make, given our centrally-located position in the product delivery workflow.

V.

Streamlining team dynamics with product trios and DACI

Product Trio adoption and DACI frameworks certainly helped provide some product team alignment, clarity, and accountability to designing the right product solutions. However, there were still many speed bumps and misalignments on what is being created, when, and why. With the added complication of a suddenly dispered remote team (Covid), communication silos were tough to break down as we all struggled to get a grasp on new remote working processes.

With challenge comes opportunity

With Zoom calls and whiteboards becoming the new norm, we (product org) needed to find a way to get everyone on the same page, working together, in some organized way. I saw an opportunity for the product design team to fill a giant gap and drive the facilitation of more comprehensive design, and product, discussions throughout the Sprint.

Cultivating 'Product Huddles' for team synergy

In response to our need for more effective team collaboration, I initiated 'Product Huddles.' These meetings focused on bringing team members together for interactive discussions on features and epics. To facilitate these sessions, I developed an InVision Freehand template, accompanied by a set of rules and guidelines, ensuring adaptability and effectiveness for various teams.

After iterative adjustments based on team feedback, the huddles evolved into a crucial element of our workflow. We reinforced their value by conducting satisfaction surveys, which showed continual improvement in attendees' perceptions regarding the productive use of time and alignment with product development goals.

Design-led, product-approved

Product huddles, led by each designer in the product trios, received final approvals from product owners. These sessions included workflow updates, followed by interactive engagement where attendees could add sticky notes, comments, or emojis for live discussion. More than discussing designs, these huddles encouraged collaboration, helping team members synchronize and share new insights.

I
Huddle boards could include: key research insights, design workflows/logic, user testing results, product briefs, data science models used, etc.
'Tagging,' as I called it, was encouraged in order to share any additional rationale, or points-of-interest, for why something is the way it is.
While reviewing the designs, it's important that we're all on the same page about what we're building, why we need it, and who's doing what next.

Increased alignment and sprint velocity

Following each huddle, we shared recordings, summaries, and satisfaction surveys. Feedback was generally positive, with constructive suggestions for improving facilitation. The huddles effectively reduced communication barriers, especially within the product team, fostering alignment on project aspects like functionality, design, and purpose. Beyond just product design, they engaged everyone, creating a sense of inclusion and enthusiasm, and steering the team in a unified direction.

VI.

Changing processes to increase design impact

To optimize our impact and efficiency, we adopted some key operational principles that allowed us to pivot as needed. We initially used a Kanban board but found it led to scattered focus and decreased solution quality. I decided to switch to Sprint cycles, which added much-needed structure and significantly improved our productivity.

We followed a dual-track agile delivery method, maintaining a separate backlog that I managed in sync with development sprints. This approach enabled us to allocate points for other essential tasks, such as design system updates and user testing. Consequently, our design team was consistently ahead of development by one or two sprints.

I advocated often for focusing our work on the level of Themes, Epics, or Features rather than individual stories. This broader perspective allowed us to address overarching problems more holistically, thereby improving the quality of our solutions.

VII.

Systematically quantifying design success

To ensure we were delivering impactful designs, we established a close partnership with user researchers and product owners. We used a range of methods to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from internal and external user groups. One of my main contributions was the introduction of design KPIs into our testing protocols. This allowed us to measure not just whether a design was aesthetically pleasing, but whether it also fulfilled key business objectives and user needs.

To bring a systematic approach to this, I developed a comprehensive framework rooted in the 'jobs-to-be-done' philosophy. This helped us move towards a more data-driven design practice, giving us quantifiable metrics to understand how our design choices directly affected both user experience and the overall value proposition of each product.

Building a design KPI framework for moderated testing

To systematically quantify our design effectiveness, I established a framework for integrating quantifiable KPIs into our moderated testing sessions. This approach ensured consistent, trackable metrics each month. We focused on CES, SUS, and CSAT, each tailored to different aspects of the user experience:

  • CES (Customer Effort Score) - Measured from the product to feature level, this metric helped track user effort over time for specific tasks or epics. Ex. How is the CES score changing for an operator to 'Find and understand a single event-of-interest'
  • SUS (System Usability Survey) - Used at the end of prototyping sessions, it assessed the usability of systems comprising multiple features and workflows.
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) - Exclusively measured at the product level, providing insights into overall user satisfaction.

Agile Sprint Offsets: Creating seamless product delivery

I maintained dual-track agile in our product delivery funnel to enhance user testing and streamline development. This method facilitated parallel discovery and development, with monthly user testing sessions involving various design fidelities.

To further optimize the workflow, I implemented a one-week offset between design and development sprints. This adjustment allowed our team to effectively prepare and document design deliverables post-approval, ensuring they were promptly sized and integrated into the subsequent development sprint, thus eliminating lag time and enhancing overall efficiency.

RTS: Bridging Hardware and Connectivity

Cirrus Roadside Traffic Solutions (RTS) is key to making roads 'connected.' It handles the deployment and upkeep of hardware that allows cars with CV/V2X technology to communicate. This product is quite complex, catering to both internal and external users. Given its technical nature, the project was led by a Senior Product Designer, ensuring the design met the diverse needs and maintained the goal of improving road safety and connectivity.

I
The RTS application had a large focus on data visualizations and parameters. Because of this, adjustable panel space was allocated around a medium-sized map area.
Tab instances allow quick access to different geographic areas or deployments, where data visualizations will update accordingly.
A quick preview of a device is shown with a prioritized list of criteria for quickly understanding the issue, before diving into more in-depth troubleshooting data.
Some actions to remotely manage operations can be quickly taken on one, or many, devices
Panels can be rearranged and combined for different workstation setups and preferences.

RTS Metrics: Consistently strong, less variance

In collaboration with user research, we regularly collected feedback and metrics from both internal, and external, users in technical roles, well-versed in CV technology. The key takeaway from this data was that our KPIs consistently measured well, often scoring above average, indicating the strong performance and impact of the RTS product.

These charts are approximations simply meant to convey how design success was tracked and measured
I
SUS was generally high above the de facto 'Good' standard of 67
CES gradually increased at the product level
CES was used often for keep track of our epics, as our session focus and content varied month-to-month
SUS scores were always higher for our internal group, which is where some bias could exist
Similar to SUS, CES would average slightly higher internally

Traffic Management: Enhancing Decision-Making with CV/V2X Data

Cirrus Traffic Management utilized CV/V2X data to provide state DOT traffic operators with accurate, real-time insights, aiding faster decision-making for roadway incidents. Led by a junior/mid-level Product Designer, the product, while slightly less complex than RTS, presented many unique challenges. It catered to external users, mainly traffic operation professionals, who were actively involved in user sessions to ensure the product effectively met their needs.

I
Traffic Management was much more map-centric, with adjustble panel space only on one side. This is because of the amount of various roadway events that would be visualized together and less priority on viewing data and metrics.
Map selections would show existing traveller alerts and a timeline of relevant event activity
Additional notes could be input manually
With many kinds of events on the map, multi-select could quickly grab and show all active events in an area

TM Metrics: More variance, still positive

User testing for Traffic Management, focusing solely on external traffic operators, revealed more volatile feedback. Challenges in deriving clear insights, potentially due to the small sample size, led to varied scores. Despite this variability, the product generally trended towards positive evaluations over time, indicating its utility in real-world traffic management scenarios.

These charts are approximations simply meant to convey how design success was tracked and measured
I
SUS scores started lower, but grew over time with adjustments
CES followed the same pattern
TM also used the epic tracking framework with CES

VIII.

Cirrus Design System: Shaping a new design direction

The Cirrus Design System marked a significant departure from Panasonic's traditional design approach. Initially conceptualized during the launch phase, it blossomed into a comprehensive system with reusable components and a unified visual language. My advocacy highlighted its strategic importance in adoption, promising future ROI and a fresh user experience in return for engineering bandwidth.

Opting for a technical, dark-themed aesthetic, we aligned the visual design with Cirrus' innovative identity. This new direction also influenced our color palette choices, ensuring each hue contributed to a consistent, meaningful narrative across the platform, setting a precedent for future Panasonic desktop software design. Internal, and external, surveys and feedback were extremely positive in terms of visual aesthetic and structure.

Design system adoption challenges

At the time, we used Sketch, which was the go-to tool for designing UI (at least in the US). InVision was also a core tool in our workflow, used to handle design approvals, prototyping, huddles and design collaboration, and design system integration into Storybook.

The challenge was to trying to find an acceptable time allocation each sprint to build, and then implement it knowing that it would lower product velocity initially. My approach in trying to push this forward was to frame the initiative as an investment that has a clear ROI to the business once it reaches a certain state of maturity.

IX.

Leading Cirrus creative direction at
CES 2020

In the second half of 2019, I got the opportunity to lead the creative direction for Panasonic's Cirrus showcase at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES is the largest, most influencial tech event in the world for showcasing groundbreaking technologies and innovations.

I worked with an external marketing/creative agency to develop the concept, story, and creative assets 4-5 months prior to the event. The idea was to create an immersive experience that put audience members inside a traffic operations center to see first-hand how V2X technlogy and the Cirrus platform could be used to transform modern traffic operations.

I worked closely with production crews and stage actors throughout pre-production to prepare the event and direct the ~15 minute demonstrations, totaling around 60 over three days. It was an incredible experience. I learned so much about the production world and enjoyed showing and discussing all of the Cirrus team's relentless work alongside some of my colleagues.

Cirrus by Panasonic won CES 2020 Innovation Awards Honoree Recognition in the Vehicle Intelligence & Transportation category and also received widespread global attention and publicity during the event.

X.

Conclusion & Impact

The product design objective for Cirrus by Panasonic was to craft and execute a product design strategy, aimed at generating consistent, scalable, value-driven solutions, underlining cross-functional collaboration, design operations, and overall design success. While, this time of the project is focused on a management and leadership perspective, it builds off of a product design direction and vision I began cultivating early on in the project, which is covered in the following section - V2X Ecosystem Launch.

Through regular strategic planning, effective communication, and collaborative team dynamics the design team played an instrumental role in developing and executing wholistic design solutions which aligned with both business requirements and user needs and insights. Design KPIs measured over time suggest that design quality and execution was top-notch and Jira burndown charts point to a high-degree of efficiency being maintained.

While the ultimate aim was to drastically reduce traffic congestions and improve roadway safety for millions of drivers on public U.S. roadways, this is tied to platform adoption and deployment scale - which time will only tell.

XI.

Retrospective

My time working on the Cirrus project in a management role was as rewarding as it was challenging. I got the chance to learn from many of my more experienced peers how to be successful leader and manager. I experienced many new firsts in my career and learned many new skills and metholodologies around strategic planning, leadership, and people management.

Looking back at the 4.5 years I spent at Panasonic, I'm grateful I got to work with so many brilliant, hard-working, caring people. Seeing all of our hard work come together over the years, starting from ground zero, was definitely the highlight in my career thus far.

Next Project: Panasonic MVP Launch