A Day in the Life of a VMware Tanzu Labs Product Designer

November 16, 2022 Carlie Heimann

I’ve been with VMware Tanzu Labs for a year and a half and can sincerely admit that no two days have been the same. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But with so many variables at play, it’s important to implement proven practices that help us succeed in our day-to-day work—all while upholding our core principles and values. Let’s dive into a few of them…

At Tanzu Labs we work as a balanced team that comprises three disciplines: product design, product management, and engineering. We assemble product teams in this way to ensure every solution is desired by users, viable to the business, and feasible from a technical perspective. Check out our Tanzu Design Guide for a more in-depth look at collaborating as a balanced team.

Another responsibility of my day-to-day work is enablement. Tanzu Labs consultants teach by doing. We enable our clients through a practice we call pairing. This means I’m working alongside a client product designer for around 70–80 percent of each day. We spend our time solving a problem from the same desk, where we share a computer with two monitors. The practice of pairing promotes shared understanding by having two minds focusing on a given challenge. We accelerate delivery as a design pair by leveraging our different skills: the client being well-versed in the problem space and the Tanzu Labs consultant providing an industry expert approach.

Morning: stand-up and task prioritization

With a fresh coffee in tow, I begin the day joined by my product team at our daily stand-up meeting. Our team is co-located, meaning we’re able to gather in person for our day-to-day work. During our stand-up, we stand together in a circle to share what we accomplished the day before, the agenda for the day ahead, and any blockers we’re currently facing. The primary goal of the stand-up is to gain team alignment around what’s happening across disciplines.

With the stand-up complete, my client design pair and I sync on our own design goals for the day. Our team is a few weeks into initial discovery of the problem space. The next few weeks are packed with many elements of user research. Today we’re conducting user interviews and synthesizing new findings. We’ve already mapped our assumptions of the problem and drafted an interview script to guide our exploratory research. In the previous weeks, we sought to understand our users’ working environment, mental model, habits, and relationships. We’re spending this morning revisiting our interview guide to include more specific probing questions which will ultimately shape our personas. But before we dive into that, it’s time for a screen break!

Break

There’s more than a handful of benefits to being co-located—like being able to keep my winning Ping-Pong streak alive—but my favorite is the simplicity of getting to know my pair away from the screen. Our working relationship thrives when we have empathy and trust between each other, and something as easy as a walk around the block to talk candidly are steps in the right direction… literally. 

Late morning: user interviews

Time for our first interview of the day! One way we enable our pairs is with the “I do, We do, You do” strategy:

  • I do – I take responsibility in leading the user interviews and guide the conversation.
  • We do – I lead a portion of the interview while my pair chimes in with probing questions to get comfortable with interacting with users.
  • You do – Ownership is transferred to my pair while they conduct the interview as the main interviewer.

My pair has observed me lead the last few user interviews, so it’s time for them to facilitate this next one. We often invite the rest of the team to observe and take notes during interviews to ensure there is a shared understanding across disciplines.

Once the interview is complete, we’ll quickly debrief as a team on any noteworthy findings and highlight existing patterns we’ve seen previously. It’s also important for me and my pair to keep short feedback loops by reviewing what went well and what could use improvement for the next interview. And then, lunch!

Lunch!

I prefer to spend my lunch hour eating (obviously). This is yet another opportunity to close our laptops and step away from our desks. You’ll most likely find me out in the courtyard immersed in a book or grabbing a sandwich with some coworkers at a nearby shop. Depending on the day of the week, I may round out my lunch by joining a Practice Talk. Once a week the Tanzu Labs practitioners get together virtually for the Tanzu Labs Practice Talk series where we hear share-outs from other engagements and participate in discussions that focus on our core practices.

Afternoon: synthesizing research

The rest of the afternoon will be spent working with my pair on synthesizing our ongoing research. As we continue through our discovery phase, the goal is to do just enough research in order to keep our build-measure-learn loop as short as possible. By continuously performing this cycle, we are able to deliver more value to our users as soon as possible.

Screenshot of interview notes

We often conduct our interviews remotely and document our notes using an online collaboration tool like FigJam or Miro. With this morning’s interview behind us, it’s time to synthesize our notes by affinitizing our findings into patterns and themes. If we have multiple interviews to review, we’ll bring in the rest of the team, divide into small groups, and get to work. 

Break

After an afternoon of synthesizing, it’s time for a team brain break. I’m very competitive and our weekly game time is the perfect fit for team building and collaboration. Codenames is my personal favorite—especially when we invite another product team for a team vs. team game.

Before jumping back into design work, I use this time to catch up with Slack happenings, review emails, and get a few admin things off the to-do list. 

Later: user journeys

As the team continues through this preliminary discovery phase, we prioritize understanding our users’ points of view. We used the morning for conducting an interview, the early afternoon for synthesizing what we learned, and now it’s time to apply it. For this, we pull in our product managers to map out what our user journey looks like. A user Journey Map is a design artifact used to map the user’s initiatives over a certain period of time, detailing each task and interactions our users take to complete their current process. Personas keep us focused on whose experience we’re solving for during this workshop—luckily my pair and I defined our primary persona last week.

Using the narratives we’ve gathered from users in interviews, we outline the user journey for our personas and map their pain points chronologically. By the time we’re done, we will have a holistic view of our users’ experience. Next, we’ll move forward with prioritizing these pain problems based on user value, but we’ll save that for another day.

Journey Map template

Continuous improvement is key to our professional development, so my pair and I end the day with a short reflection on what we accomplished as a design pair. A plus/delta feedback session is made to be brief and provides a simple way to share what was exciting for us, as well as which areas or skills we may need to improve.

End of day

After eight hours of problem solving, we close our laptops and head home for the evening. Sustainable work is encouraged and practiced earnestly at Tanzu Labs, so you won’t catch us staying much later than 5:30—unless you’re like me and use a few extra minutes to queue up the ultimate playlist for the drive home.

Want to learn more about VMware Tanzu Labs? Visit our office hours to let us help you develop a solution-based plan during a free, one-hour, virtual consultation.

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