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Employee UX

The Case of the Rising Tensions

July 7, 2020
Written By:
Ceara Crawshaw


Acme Co is a company much like any other. Its business revolves around software— specifically designing and developing a suite of digital tools for its busy customers. Like many organizations, it relies on the drive and smarts of many human beings and as such is prone to ups and downs. While a newer company, Acme has been profitable for a few years now and continues to grow year over year.

See the other Acme Co. mysteries →

The case

Acme has recently hired a user experience (UX) specialist to contend with their increasingly complex software product and validate features and needs with their customers before they get developed. This designer is integrated into the Software team and reports to the Front-End Lead who oversees a hardy bunch of Front-End developers. The Front End Lead is a more design savvy engineer, but their supervisor (the Software Manager) is more old-school and less familiar with design.

Every design decision recommended by the UX specialist gets signed off on by the Front-End Lead, who then has to get signoff by the Software Manager before it gets developed by the software team. The Front-End Lead frequently gets into disagreements with the Software Manager about recommendations made by their UX specialist that don’t get implemented.

Feeling like Back-End development is constantly prioritized over Front-End and Design, the Front-End Lead starts to feel like they and their team don’t have a voice. They are even more frustrated by the fact that some customers complained that they don’t see any improvements in the platform despite being consulted about their needs.

Conflicts continued to multiply between the Front End Lead and the Software Manager, until one day, the exasperated Front-End Lead scheduled a meeting with HR to give them an ultimatum; “either Software Manager leaves, or I leave”.

The question on everyone’s mind is: “How do we get out of this kerfuffle?”

The investigation

Acme Co hires expert Employee UX agency Pencil & Paper to investigate. The P&P team dives into a research process to uncover the issues and conflicts at the heart of Acme. They dialogue with employees, asking probing questions and learning about the new ways in which the company has been working. These were some of their discoveries:


"I think the UX Specialist is doing a great job. They have a good head on their shoulders and come up with good recommendations, but whenever I bring their suggestions up in my meetings with the Software Manager, they just find excuses not to take the recommendations into consideration."


"It just seems to me like a lot of the design recommendations the Front-End Lead brings me are kind of superficial and take extra time to implement that we could be using for other development tasks."

- SOftware Manager

"Not much has changed since the UX Specialist came in. I mean, I guess now we ask the customers more questions before we start doing things."

- Member of Software Team

"I think the last straw for Front-End Lead was when a customer left us feedback that they didn’t understand why we had done all that research with the UX Specialist if they weren’t going to see any changes they need in the platform. Front-End Lead went to see HR after that."

- Member of the Software Team

"I’m not really sure why the Software Manager doesn’t like the recommendations I make. I try to take into account the product requirements they give us and validate them with customer tests, but honestly sometimes I think those requirements don’t even make any sense."

- UX Specialist

The timeline

At the end of their research and discovery period, Pencil & Paper sit down with the Acme leaders and tell them, we think we know how you can get out of this kerfuffle. Here is what they found out:

The threat of Front-End Lead quitting is looming over Acme.
← Earlier
Later →

The conclusion

Several gaps and weaknesses came up during the investigation that prompted Acme Co. to look deeper into the way that it did things. They realized they had made a few mistakes:

  • Not checking in with Front-End Lead about how the new role fit in
  • Not fully communicating product requirements to UX Specialist
  • Not involving UX Specialist in discussions about design


All of these are symptoms of a bigger, more fundamental problem. There is no product management process at Acme; design and development are silo’d in both practice and mindset, and colleagues aren’t working collaboratively.


Acme needed to adopt a Product Management process where both design and development were equally taken into consideration. It was important to get the UX Specialist included in discussions where development was and to give everyone on the team visibility into why certain decisions were being made, whether it was about customer needs, design considerations or product requirements. The Software Manager agreed to get Product Management training and help implement a mindset where design is accepted and integrated by everyone into the product development process.

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