3 Ways to Humanize Your Company’s Distributed Workforce

Randy Ellis
Global Director of DesignOPS at Nagarro
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Joe Toste (00:33):

Hey guys, we're back for another week in the world of TechTables, mixing the best in design and tech innovation with me, Joe Toste. I'd love to connect with you behind scenes on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. There, you can even message me questions for future guests coming on the show, but today, I'm really excited to shift your focus to the world of design with Randy Ellis where we'll be chatting about go-to-market strategy, collaboration of design teams, creating products that are beyond beautiful and remote work in this new environment, but that's quite enough for me. Without further ado, I'm thrilled to welcome Randy Ellis, director of design ops at Mokriya.

Joe Toste (01:05):

Thank you for coming on TechTables, Randy. Super stoked to have you today.

Randy Ellis (01:10):

Thanks for having me.

Joe Toste (01:11):

Awesome. So let's just kick it off with a little bit about yourself and your background as far as you receive venture capital for your startup. Let's kick off with that. Tell us a little bit more.

Randy Ellis (01:25):

My start to entrepreneurship started actually a little bit before that, but just to jump start with that, my company was a fashion tech startup. It was called LocalLux, and just from the name, you can tell that we dealt in local but luxury or one of a kind goods. Our main purpose for that particular project, we aggregated all of Chicago's, and Chicago was our launch market, we aggregated all of the local boutiques here in Chicago and put them all in one marketplace for people to shop locally, so for those that... The pain point that we try to validate or attempted to validate was to get people to spend money locally easily. Lower that barrier for those that wanted to, let's say if you were a tourist coming to Chicago, didn't know the lay of the land, you don't like tourist traps, you don't want to go to Michigan Avenue, you really want to dig deep into the culture here in Chicago, and we decided to land on a marketplace where we can do on demand delivery of these hand made and local boutique goods and we got pretty good traction.

Randy Ellis (02:44):

At the top of 2013, we had about 40 boutiques in our portfolio. Most notably one of our designers, one of our fashion designers actually won the season one of Project Runway, her name was Peach Carr, so that was pretty call and she did an exclusive line with the business, and we, still as a startup, we were pretty strong. Went down to Omaha. At the time, we had about 10 employees, a mixture of full time, part time and also interns. Went down to Omaha to really stress test if this product can actually, this service can actually fly, and we got a lot of notoriety, some videos were made and got a lot of venture capital interest at that time, so while we continued to push but as with any idea, you have to make very critical decisions especially with me being the founder of the company, you make certain decisions that you think are the best decisions but then they turn around and they do a completely 180 degree turn on you. So those things you have to look at, solve that problem and then move on to the next problem.

Randy Ellis (03:56):

Once we came back to Chicago after that, we tried to raise another round of C capital but unfortunately, it didn't turn out well for us so the company back in 2015. That is still something that I look at as earning an entrepreneur masters inside of three months, so when we were in Omaha during that tenure with the accelerator program, we learned a lot during that time, myself, my co-founder and also the number of developers and designers who I still talk to and are friends with to this day. It was something that we would never turn the clocks or the hand back on and change anything because it definitely paved the way to me talking to you right now in some capacity.

Joe Toste (04:44):

I love that. You mentioned a ton of great stuff. So first off, 2013's a little bit early to the game as far as the whole Uber Eats, DoorDash, I know it's not exactly what you're doing but that particular model probably could've attracted maybe some more capital pre-corona virus in your business just because that seems, and having lived in Chicago, I'm thinking, man, I love that idea that you came up with.

Randy Ellis (05:12):

The huge thing especially at that time, there was a fever for DCs. At one point in time, I remember there was an app, I don't even know if it's still on the app store now, but it was called Yo, and Yo was simply an app where you can just say "Yo" to your friends. You add them into the contact list and you just press the yo button and it'll just send a ping notification to say "Yo" and I believe they got 40 million in DC funds at that time. So that tells you like how easy, for some of us it was, to get to DC capital to create one function, and I monitored the evolution of that application, so of course they had to monetize certain aspects of it and throw in either some type of ad revenue strategy or some type of "Hey, here's a subscription service to it" or some type of marketplace strategy to it.

Randy Ellis (06:15):

I don't know, I have to check and see if it's still on there, but my point is the overall just high pitched, like "Hey, you got an idea? Here's a million dollars. All right, now show me some [inaudible 00:06:31] attraction.

Joe Toste (06:33):

Yeah, and Yo, it's funny. I don't know the full story although I've heard of it which is really funny. Maybe they attached technologies to their name, Yo Technologies, and texting they're raising capital like crazy. Funny stuff. Why don't we transition a little bit? You're a phenomenal designer. Talk about design, how does that wrap into your journey right now?

Randy Ellis (06:57):

Design right now for me is more so being kind of like a guiding light. I don't want to put myself on any type of pedestal of no sense but that's kind of how I see myself especially being an instructor for students at general assembly, but having done my time in the trenches being a production designer and developing all types of wire frames and high fidelity prototypes and functional specs, you name it, I've had some handling in it, but now having been in the trenches and coming out to be in a leadership position, I've seen what are the pitfalls of being a great designer. So what I see myself as now is an advocate for the designers. Someone that is able to bring designers whether they're with companies such as Mokriya or a company that is well known for their design practices, whether it's an ideal, you have to have that diplomatic or that emissary that provide you that clear vision of saying "Hey, as a designer, what is it that I need to have to be successful at?"

Randy Ellis (08:18):

I've seen that first hand as far as what do I need to be successful, so whether that's more collaboration, more communication, better tools, better governments, better career path framework, whatever it may be, that's something that I was able to do my homework on and map out, "Okay, if I was a designer, which I am, but now I'm in this position to help galvanize designers, what would that look like?" That's the opportunity that I have now and I've been hitting the ground running like "Okay, we need to make sure we have a home for the world's best designers and literally mean that," so what type of paddles of growth or what type of growth paddles can we provide for them to make this a place where they retain their confidence in the company that they work for?

Joe Toste (09:10):

Oh man, you said so many great things. I love the natural progression of like a lot of things in life, you're at some point a producer in your case on the design side, wire frames, high fidelity prototypes, things like that, then you move into leadership if you don't want to become just that producer but actually investing in the other folks. I'm huge on investing in your team and in your people. Who are some mentors that you look up to, some folks who like invested in your journey to become a world class designer and then people from afar as far as examples like there's people that I can connect with, my boss is a great example of a mentor for me on the side that I work on, and then there's podcasts, there's books, there's articles. I don't know those people directly but they impact how I think about business and technology, things like that, so who are some of those mentors for you?

Randy Ellis (10:02):

That's a great question. For me, a lot of the people that have inspired me usually aren't in design. I would say when it comes to where I get inspiration from are generally people who are of the philosophical sense, so you think about Noam Chomsky, reading his books, talking about the evolution of society and politics and world government and how we as a species in all continued to move ourselves forward. So when I talk about any type of inspiration, it definitely comes from, and not taking anything away from people such as Jared Spool who is someone I actively follow on Medium and on Twitter, but I tend to get my inspiration from people that you likely suspect that I will get my inspiration from. Most people can, if they're an entrepreneur, they all just rattle off the top five. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, I'm forgetting two right now but those type of individuals, but for me, I would definitely follow on the spirit of individuals that aren't of those spaces because it's good to get a different perspective on not just what you're doing but what others are doing and...

Randy Ellis (11:32):

I won't say attacking because that's more of an aggressive word, but more so how they are approaching their solutions whether they're writing a book or they're creating a new vaccine which is definitely what we're looking for in today's climate, but how are they approaching it, what inspired them? It's a chain reaction for me. If they can find inspiration in totally different markets or different industries, I shouldn't have to be so myopic in my approach and just look at designers, but those are the two names that I would say stands out a lot for me.

Joe Toste (12:14):

I love that, that's really great. I think there are those super people, the Elon Musks of the world, the Bill Gates, people like that we worship.

Randy Ellis (12:16):

That's the one. How can I forget about that guy? Elon Musk. How can I forget him? Sorry, Elon.

Joe Toste (12:27):

I love me some Elon. If he ever listens to you, I love me some Elon. I love that much. I could send you my address, you could DM me on Twitter. So at Mokriya, one of the things is we're 100% distributed remote team. Let's just talk about the collaboration of design teams and remote working, especially with this, and we're recording this during the global pandemic of the corona virus is shutting down every traditional business in the sense of going to an office. Our team is built for this remote work environment beginning with the company's culture and DNA. Love to hear more about the collaboration of the design team specifically.

Randy Ellis (13:09):

I would say most people and especially friends that I've been talking to during the quarantine, I'd say we were cool before remote was cool. Now the secret is out and now I'm pretty sure there's going to be a surge of people requesting more work from home days and the job that I worked at prior to this. As an associate director, we had flex days. So there would be a couple of days or weeks that we would from home and then in other times, we will work on site, but I would say for designs, designers especially when we're talking about mission critical duties such as designing a smartphone app for a large company and having to put yourself in the position to be successful with a team that you do not see physically, the biggest one is having trust. Being able to choose the right individuals that can totally work autonomously and making sure that they have the tools to be successful to communicate whether that's directly with the client or with the PM or more so just with other colleagues working on other projects.

Randy Ellis (14:28):

So when I think about Mokriya positioning themselves as a 100% distributed team, it definitely gives us kind of like that leg up when we've done a number of different team meetings. One thing that I wanted to say during our monthly team meeting this week, I was in awe that we had 74 people just on the Zoom call and we were all communicating, it was just kind of second nature for us to communicate, and of course, people that's been here for years at Mokriya, they're used to it, but for newcomers that were introducing themselves... For me, it's still, this is my second team meeting, for me I was like, "Wow, this is a testament to where remote work is going," and if we could put ourselves in a position to be leaders in the remote work field, there's an angle to that. There's a success story to that especially for Mokriya.

Randy Ellis (15:33):

One thing that go back to talking about trust, trust is definitely top of mind, and also autonomy, just bringing that back in, but second after that, I mean thirdly, I'm losing count here, definitely communication. You have to have people that are on top of their communication, and that's the key thing. Out of all of the listicles that I've read online of remote working, for those that are new to it, communication is key. You can't expect people to know what you're doing, you have to make sure that they're in the know of what you're accomplishing, what you are doing, what you have done and then telling them what you have done so they can recognize what so you can move on to the next step. Those are some of the things that stands out for me.

Joe Toste (16:23):

So great, and I would raise you. That's a poker term, I love poker. I would raise you, I would say over communication. It's so huge, and I've been doing the remote thing probably five years now, and it is the second nature right now which it's so weird to see other companies who before, one of the things that we get especially when we do new projects right before that, questions get asked, right? And they're completely natural questions. "Hey, how do you manage a remote team? What does a remote team look like? We want someone on site," and we tell them, we hire the best people and we give them trust and autonomy and we over communicate and we execute.

Joe Toste (17:13):

Some of the tools we use, Zoom obviously, we love Zoom, Slack, love Slack, Envision just on the design side, Sketch, Figma, Protopop, there's just a number of tools, and in such a fast paced world, we want to iterate, we want to be agile. Those are the type of things that we want to do, and then as far as over communicating, just some actually practical tips that I do when I meet on a weekly basis, I don't know who this is going to benefit, but if you report up to the senior leadership thing and anything, every week I sit down with my boss and I go through one "What have you done since the last meeting," so basically last week, to "What if anything is preventing you from performing your task?"

Joe Toste (18:00):

What are you going to do between now and the next meeting? What do I think X boss thinks I can do better this upcoming week, and then at number five, I actuall do my own thoughts and reflection on the past week, and I think having that reflection process, it really allows you to flesh out the best possible work environment because if you're willing to over communicate and your bosses can trust you and you're going to have that autonomy to go out and execute, magical things are going to happen, and that's why I really love Mokriya and the design team. Just working in Slack with the design team is so fun. If you haven't had that experience, it's just incredible especially when people, just magic starts happening so fast and so quickly, it's really fun.

Joe Toste (18:50):

One of the things, Randy, that I noticed about you was the importance of empathy and product design. What does that mean in 2020 right now?

Randy Ellis (18:58):

It is more important than ever right now. I know that we've used the term quarantine and outbreak and lockdown a lot in the past 20 something minutes that we've been on this podcast, but I think now especially in 2020, if we are to look as the human side of empathy, I would say it has been the cornerstone for my career development, and that's sayingb a lot. It has given me the opportunity not to only design the best possible environment for end users but it has also provided me the perspective to be a much better human for me to not be a impulsive individual.

Randy Ellis (19:49):

I'm not displaying my psychology on how I think here, but a lot of times you have people who are quick to jump into survival mode and naturally just say it's either me or them or in the case of their family, and that's natural for us especially if we have children, we have older individuals in our family, people that may not be in the best health situation so we immediately, our knee jerk reaction is to think about those individuals and go after whatever it is that they need to alleviate that pain that they have. So I would say with empathy in 2020 especially with this COVID 19 scare is definitely a time for us to really pause as humans and identify with another and not do the survival instincts, we're nowhere near that right now to think about survival instincts and Doomsday Preppers and "Oh, the government is going to do this to us and that to us, and they're testing us out," whatever the talking points are of individuals that think that this is the start of it all.

Randy Ellis (21:03):

I would say give pause and just worry about your fellow human being. If you have an individual who is not in the best of health, who's elderly and they live in your building, drop them off some supplies, whatever it may be. Check in on them. Of course social distancing enacted, but check on them. If we are to flip this and then look at it on the designer side of this, because we don't want to see it about that because this isn't a design show, it's helped me when I talk about the cornerstone of my career to be more resilient in finding the right problem, and when you find the right problem, that's when you're able to really see the magic happens as you mentioned before. If you have multiple pain points, multiple barriers within a project and you are able to say this is a problem but based on our data or based on the individual step where you sat down and had interviews with, we now have a set of different other problems that we've discovered. Now which one is the right problem that we need to go at to?

Randy Ellis (22:12):

It's not so simple to prescribe a minimum viable product, but it's simple... I wouldn't say it's not simple but it's more so "Hey, let's target the true problem of the consumer not just from a business standpoint," because of course, we have business requirements that our clients have to meet, but if we can convey that and communicate that effectively to the client saying "Hey, we know that this was the initial problem that we focused on," but uncovering the pain points of these end users or your audience, we've discovered this and we think that this is the right direction to go in. We can still pursue the other pain point as a secondary option but we're seeing patterns in this area, so let's focus on that and see where we can go from there.

Joe Toste (23:07):

I love that. I love that you started with the human side first and then transitioned to the design piece as far as empathy because I know, just as we're recording this right now, last night, the governor basically shut down the state so I love that you touched on the human piece last night and then transitioned into the design piece with that. One of the things I learned early on from a really great colleague that I used to work with here at Mokriya was the power of narrative, and let's talk about the power of narrative and design. I know great design doesn't happen unless there's a great story behind it. Users are not going to respond well to the product or service if the narrative is terrible. Let's impact the power of narrative throughout the user experience.

Randy Ellis (23:54):

We all love stories. We think about going to camping trip and people telling stories, gather around the campfire. It's how we put all the pieces together when we are communicating and also distilling that information from the other person. So when we talk about the power of narrative and design, one phrase that comes to mind is delightful experiences. So when we talk about the life of experiences, if I'm launching an application for the first time and I'm able to look at the onboarding and see the entire story as to why this company exist and because of this existence, I'm able to be and tap into why they are here for me. So once I'm able to bridge that gap I know that this possible product or service is going to cost me money, I see the value and I see the benefit of this because they are designing in a delightful experience that makes me not think about opening my wallet. It's going to improve my daily productivity or it's going to reduce my time in doing this activity so it definitely helps me in that capacity to make better sense of it.

Randy Ellis (25:20):

When we continue to unpack the power of narration or the power of narrative through user experience, it comes down to making sure that we're ultimately for I would say hundreds of users, thousands of users, and for me, in my time when I've created applications, I've had to step back and realize that "Wow, my thoughts, my thinking, my ability to design has literally touched tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in some capacity," and that gives you pause for you to just kind of be impressed with the role of a person like myself would be in to be able to say just because I used this bed in this particular way or I changed the color or I used a different call to action phrase, we've increased people's productivity by knowing what to do or going to that next step. So just being able to really focused and guided on how individuals connect to your application is usually important.

Joe Toste (26:36):

It's awesome. I really love the power of narrative and design and what you were just saying. What are some books that really bring that inspiration out for you?

Randy Ellis (26:45):

There's a few books that come to mind. If we're talking about non traditional design books, one book that's always been with me since 2011 and it's actually a sales book and it's Getting Naked. I can't remember the author's name right now, I will have to retrieve that for you but that's the title, Getting Naked, and the premise of the book involves a salesperson who really wasn't the best salesman, and what they decided to do one particular sales meeting was to just be unprecedented, transparent with the client or their potential client, and that's the term "Getting naked," where it came from, not physically, stripping down in the conference room or anything like that to bare all and say "Here I am, do we have a deal or not?" It's not one of those books, but it's more so that us as salespeople because we have to, if we really step back and recognize that we are all salesmen to a certain degree.

Randy Ellis (27:52):

We have to sell ourselves in order for us to get the job that we want, we have to sell ourselves in order to get the companion or spouse that we want in our life, we have to make sure that we are able to recognize when we are putting ourselves out into society, what type of person are we selling to society? When I read Getting Naked, that was the ultimate take away from it was to be transparent and be open to whomever it is that you're communicating with. That is more powerful than you holding your cards to your chest and not letting people know everything. Now of course, there are a number of scenarios that we can touch on until we run out of time about what are some good strategies to withhold or not reveal information to someone, but I feel that if you are to be transparent with an individual, straightforward regardless of those scenario that you are placed in, transparency, openness, showing that person that you have compassion and empathy towards them will gain you more than being secretive, closed off, restrictive in your dialog.

Joe Toste (29:16):

100% agree. What are some of the books that maybe is coming to mind quickly that you can rattle off for the audience that inspire you?

Randy Ellis (29:25):

Yeah, definitely. One is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. That has always been one I've passed along to students and mentees around. The other book which I'm about to pull out my bookcase right here is The Indispensable Chomsky, Understanding Power. It's definitely a good one. It dives really deep into overall social psychology, as Noam Chomsky loves to do, but that is one that stands out. On the design side, look into Steve Krug which is Don't Make Me Think, which is an approach in how do we get people to ultimately convert and open their wallets, give us their email, give us whatever type of data that we need without making them overthink because going back to the Getting Naked book, being transparent and providing that experience that they know what they're getting out the gate without having to question or ask more questions as they dive deeper into your interaction with your product or service.

Joe Toste (30:35):

That's great, and I just quickly grabbed Getting Naked. You say it way better than I do. A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty, and that's really great, I'm going to get that on Audible. I have not heard of that. Shameless plug for the podcast, it would mean the world if you would subscribe and sign up for just the weekly email. Hey Randy, since you're an entrepreneur at heart, you know the power and a strong go-to-market strategy, talk about your experience in crafting a scrappy startup, agile go-to-market strategy that gets effective results fast.

Randy Ellis (31:17):

As an entrepreneur, I would say the one thing that we don't have is strategy. You wake up in the middle of the night and you have this epiphany, you have this goal in mind that this is the best idea and the world is going to change after this idea, and then it's just the narcissism as an entrepreneur that some individuals have about their baby, as we call it in the entrepreneur world. Though what they don't realize is that this is a monthly baby. This is something that individuals may shriek in terror from or run away from because they don't understand it. It almost has that Quasimodo-esque type of vibe to it, so I would say when it comes to go-to-market strategy, it's more so much for entrepreneurs to spray and pray, and then also have proper connections in the space whatever the industry that you're trying to disrupt or enter into and you have to make sure that you have the proper... And it's not just money, it's industry expertise.

Randy Ellis (32:33):

So being able to have a candid conversation with someone that if you were getting into the healthcare space, talk to a medical expert, talk to a scientist, talk to a health insurance expert and get their idea about what your approach or how you're going to disrupt the industry with your technology, and they can be the most honest of all if you have thick skin, and that's something I've developed over time and that's part of my GTM strategy is. Having thick skin or building thick skin over time because you're going to talk to a number of individuals that say "Well, this is not the best approach, but let me tell you how I would do it," and it's from those type of conversations that your idea evolves. So when it comes to entrepreneurial strategy, making sure that you have the available experts to provide insight, and then when you fast forward and you get to a point where you're about to go market, just have the right tools in place.

Randy Ellis (33:44):

When we talk about KPIs, those certain metrics, whether they are vanity metrics just so you can boost your numbers so you can get more venture capital or seed capital, those things are equally important when you're on the ground floor, so take nothing away from people that say "Hey, we have 10,000 daily active users," but it tells a different story when you look under the hood of those daily active user. Some of those daily active users could just be overseas and not in your initial market, so what do you do there? It's things like that that you have to be aware of when you are a startup. Listen to the numbers, listen to the data, that's how we got Instagram. Instagram was initially a app for people to talk about the beers that they are drinking at local pubs in their local area, but they found out through the data that people weren't talking about the bills much but they were just uploading photos.

Randy Ellis (34:44):

Their daily active users were uploading in the month that they launched, there was 250,000 photos that would launch, so they immediately pivoted and that's how we've got an Instagram to this day.

Joe Toste (34:58):

It's really great. The biggest thing I wanted to touch on with what you said was we're talking about a strong go-to-market strategy, and you talked about that, but you didn't lay out this like "Hey, here's the 10 point plan that I have that every executive wants to see," and those are important especially during this time right now and I think about this quote, it was so great because I'm a sports guy, Evander Holyfield boxing, a reporter had asked Mike Tyson, "Hey, what was your plan going into this fight?" He said, and this quote's so great especially during the corona virus where everyone's plans getting blown up right now is "Everyone has a plan," Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," and when you think about that and I think about "Hey, what's your go-to-market strategy," everyone going into 2020 guaranteed they have this polished go-to-market strategy for 2020, this is my plan, this is what it looks like, and the corona virus just punched you in the mouth big time and your plans are blown up.

Joe Toste (35:59):

So I think mindset's huge, and if you're a designer, you're working on projects, things like that, you're going to have to adapt, you're going to have to be ready to pivot, make adjustments, be agile because everyone just took a big hit. I love that because I don't think there's a "Hey, here's our go-to-market strategy plan for 2020 right now." It's get out there and try and figure this thing out as every business is shutting down and the country is shutting down, so I love that.

Randy Ellis (36:34):

I can extend on that is you have to get instinct is largely valued but then it's simultaneously undervalued especially as entrepreneur. We are the only species on this planet that when we have a gut reaction, we go the opposite of that gut reaction, and that's due to a number of things, mainly ego which comes top of mind. We immediately say "I can handle this" or "Oh, it's not that bad." Run into the fire regardless of what we may discover or what you may inflict on ourselves, but making sure you follow your gut, and nobody is saying "Hey, don't have something in the form of documentation," just very high leveled, just talking about what your strategies are going to be, what is your three step plan, what's your five step plan, and if it all blows up, what is the contingency plan if it all blows up in the case that we're experiencing now with the global outbreak? It's definitely good to make sure that as an entrepreneur, you're paying attention to those gut reactions because there's so many things that I've experienced in my history.

Randy Ellis (37:56):

Whether it's making sure I hire the right co-founder, making sure we hire our first great front end developer, our first great UX person. All of those things are critical and it's not for the reasons that you think. It's for the reasons of can this person carry the necessary rate that they're responsible for for the long haul. It's an endurance game especially when you're bootstrapping a company. You can't expect or you can't just think that automatically once you hit launch or hit publish on your crowdfunding account on Kickstarter or your plan to pitch at a national VC conference that now you're on your way because there are so many curve balls that you may not see, so I've always kind of padded myself to the back to immediately say "Yes, I'm a very optimistic person when it comes to me investing my time and capital to my business," but I also have to remain tethered to th possibility tha it can all go to hell overnight or you can immediately one minute you're on top, the next minute you're wondering what happened a week ago.

Joe Toste (39:20):

That's happening right now.

Randy Ellis (39:22):


Joe Toste (39:24):

Oh my goodness, is that happening right now. So I'm curious about the work you're doing right now. You've come on board as the global director of design ops. What does that mean? What is design ops for our listeners who haven't heard that term before, seems pretty new. Can you just unpack that for a little bit?

Randy Ellis (39:42):

It is a pretty fancy term too. It's like outside, yeah, that's fancy. I'm going to call myself that now.

Joe Toste (39:50):

That's a fancy term, I like that. It is a fancy term.

Randy Ellis (39:54):

But outside of that term being what it is, honestly, it's me being able to connect with our designers. Not on a level of "Hey, I'm passing down this mandate or these type of policies and you have to adhere to them." It is nothing like that. Going back to your quote or Mike Tyson's quote, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face," my approach as a design ops leader is to make sure that I have the right tools, to make sure that everyone on the team is successful. Making sure that I have that open door policy that if they feel that a particular project is going in the direction that they don't feel too confident about who are my advocates to make sure that those changes are made. The designers on our team or at Mokriya need to make sure that they have someone that they have the utmost confidence in, and that is willing to listen to them.

Randy Ellis (41:00):

So when we talk about design operations, I mentioned this before, we are the diplomat and we go across isles, we make sure that the PMs understand what the designers need in order for them to deliver on time. Are those tools accessible? Do they have the right combinations of tools in order to be successful? And it's not just about the tools but it's also about making sure that their career's on the right track, so for me for example, we're constructing a career framework specifically for designers, and there are tons of companies that have created frameworks that you can definitely look for and research online, but for us, we want to look at this from a template perspective of saying "Okay, what are the some of the successful companies, what are they doing right?" From there, what we do as leadership is saying how does this apply to our culture at Mokriya.

Randy Ellis (42:04):

There may be things that "Yeah, this doesn't hit the mark. This doesn't connect," but from there, once we devise a plan, once we have something that we feel confident in, that's when we bring the designers in, and it's not a simple you create a medium and say "Okay, here's your framework." It's like no, how does this communicate to your designers and you have your designers contribute to that framework. Is this important based on a scale of one to five? Is this particular part in your career, being able to go to conferences or be a mentor to a upcoming designer inside of the design team, is that important to you? As design ops, I'm typically just the person that wants everyone to get along, and we apply that through a number of different strategies, whether that's using tools or whether that's using certain meeting frameworks to make sure the team is effectively meeting the client's needs, and then also when we talk about internally, more so how are the teams communicating with each other when they have a successful project.

Randy Ellis (43:22):

Can we pass that whiff of knowledge of a successful project over to another team that might be starting out or might be struggling? What can we do to pass that on to them and continue this success loop, as I like to call it?

Joe Toste (43:41):

That's awesome, I really like that. Lastly before we hit the 60 second TechTable's segment, Randy, what are the ups, downs, challenges, pain points, et cetera that you see that have helped other VPs of design execute in the market today?

Randy Ellis (43:57):

Shielding your designers from unnecessary meetings.

Joe Toste (44:04):

Kill the meeting.

Randy Ellis (44:05):

Right, yeah. Making sure that you want interference from their, for your designers. Being kind of that stalwart of culture and making sure that regardless of region, regardless of where your designers are, that they want to work at their best at all times, and if we are able to provide that for them as being that ambassador of design for them, we then start peeling back the layers of how leadership is looked from a production standpoint, because a lot of times, a lot of designers, they look at their VPs or they look at their directors as people that are... They can be in my corner but they're not always in my corner. Sometimes they may choose the money over the mission, or they may choose the mission over the money, but we want to remain consistent in terms of if I have a designer from Mokriya getting up to approach me about a problem, that they feel confident and they know in which direction that I'm going to go based on the information that I have.

Randy Ellis (45:24):

If I don't have that information, once again, being transparent, getting naked with them. I say, "I don't have an answer for you immediately right now, but I can get you an answer, and continue to bring those questions to me until I have the right answer for you." But sometimes, the answer that they get is not the most popular, so you have to also balance the right also with the not so right or the unpopular vote or decision. So as a VP, know that you have a number of different paths to take, but I will say the biggest path especially if you are coming into a design ops position where you're managing designers and managing their culture and how they become better designers, the job is not about you passing down your beliefs. I'm only one person. We have 16 designers at Mokriya. As far as I'm concerned, majority rules and I want to make sure that I get all of the right data, all the right information, all the right feedback from those 16 designers for them to be successful with their role.

Randy Ellis (46:38):

If I don't do that, then I'm operating in a vacuum, I've siloed myself off, and I've given myself a false sense of security that I'm doing my job, and that's the path that no VP wants to go down.

Joe Toste (46:54):

Love it. So 60 seconds, TechTables, you got to answer these questions a little quick. Number one, what's your favorite lesson you've learned so far on your journey to becoming a world class designer?

Randy Ellis (47:09):

Favorite lesson is unpredictability. You never know how things are going to unfold so you have to be adaptable and know that things aren't going to be as you plan them to be.

Joe Toste (47:23):

I thought that was a great life lesson. Number two, what do you look for when hiring phenomenal designers?

Randy Ellis (47:30):

I know this is a cliché term, but thinking outside the box and really being proactive in how thinking outside the box is paramount for me. The age old statement of don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness is a huge one with me, so I would say that. Try something out and then see what happens, and if it doesn't, we can circle back and figure out a different strategy.

Joe Toste (47:52):

Think outside the box and let's break some stuff. Number three, what's the coolest project you've worked on to date?

Randy Ellis (47:59):

Coolest project so far, back in my production days, I've worked on a botanist app for flower lovers, so it's like a Facebook for flower lovers, and we created a self guided interactive tour for Millennium Park. Millennial Park, not Millennium Park, here in Chicago where people would go around and collect different incentives for that application. It's still cool and it's still active to this day.

Joe Toste (48:28):

I was really hoping you were going to say the Millennium Falcon. I have lived in Chicago, I've taken many photos there, that's really funny. Okay, that's awesome, so we're done, we just finished. Thank you so much for coming, and where can people find you right now?

Randy Ellis (48:43):

Definitely check me out on Twitter, LinkedIn.

Joe Toste (48:47):

What's your handle on Twitter?

Randy Ellis (48:48):

Twitter's iamrandyellis and then you can go to my website, iamrandyellis.com and all information to connect with me will be there.

Joe Toste (48:56):

Cool, and do you hang out on LinkedIn ever you're there?

Randy Ellis (48:59):

Yeah, I'm always on LinkedIn, so reach out to me there, iamrandyellis also.

Joe Toste (49:04):

Awesome. Thanks, Randy, appreciate it.

Randy Ellis (49:06):

Thank you.

Speaker 3 (49:09):

If you're interested in seeing what Nagarro, a high end technology solutions company to some of the world's leading organizations can do for your business, you can email Joe at joe.toste@nagarro.com. J-O-E.T-O-S-T-E@nagarro.com, or message Joe on LinkedIn. For all information on Nagarro, check out nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O.com. You've been listening to the TechTables podcast. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you have an iPhone, we'd love for you to open the Apple Podcast app and leave a review. Thank you so much for listening. To catch more TechTables episodes, you can go to techtablespodcast.com, and to learn more about our sponsor, please visit nagarro.com That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O.com, and of course, you can find Joe Toste, your podcast host, on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. That's Joe Toste, T-O-S-T-E. Thanks for listening.

Joe Toste
Joe Toste
Host of TechTables Podcast

Host of TechTables 🎙- Conversations with Top Technology Leaders