How John Lewis’ UX Revolution Began in the Canteen

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Danny Hearn who worked at UK retailer John Lewis. He shows us how you can build a user experience culture from the bottom up.

This week’s show is sponsored by Balsamiq and FullStory.


Paul Boag:

Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy, my name is Paul Boag and joining me is Marcus Lillington.

Marcus Lillington Marcus Lilling?

Paul Boag: I don't know, I couldn't make up my mind whether I was just going to say Marcus, or Marcus Lillington and I just ended up butchering your entire name.

Marcus Lillington Somebody mentioned that I had one of those quite hard to say names. I think it was on the Boagworld Slack channel actually, I can't remember what the exact thing was but it made me respond something along the lines, "It was great when we were naming our kids." Because you can think of all the names you can't have and my favorite was Emily Lillington.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so you've got far too many L's, that's your trouble.

Marcus Lillington L-L-L-L-L yeah. I'm sweating in here, it's very hot today.

Paul Boag: It is hot, it's actually lovely where I am of course because I have my bi-fold doors open, and I have my Velux window open, and it's all just beautiful and perfect in my little world.

Marcus Lillington I tell you what, just so I don't die, I'm going to open the Winchester traffic window, so if we have sirens it will just be part of the vibe, don't you think?

Paul Boag: Part of the show. It makes it real and authentic.

Marcus Lillington Yeah, so give me one sec.

Paul Boag: Oh great, so I'm sitting here while you're opening bloody windows. Why couldn't you have done this before we started? Not that you can hear me, this is a perfect opportunity to say nasty things about Marcus because-

Marcus Lillington Enjoying talking to yourself?

Paul Boag: I was having a lovely time, thank you very much for asking.

Marcus Lillington Can you hear the noisy cars now?

Paul Boag: Yes, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington There you go.

Paul Boag: Perfect. I think that's added something special to the podcast.

Marcus Lillington So is your house all ready now? We don't have to do this in the middle of the night anymore?

Paul Boag: No, no, we're passed that point. There is a little bit still going on, there's odds and sods, you know things like skirting boards in one or two places, little bits and bobs. But my study, my office, whatever you want to call it, that is done and dusted which is lovely.

Marcus Lillington That's great-

Paul Boag: And it's going to feature in Dot Net magazine, don't you know.

Marcus Lillington What your office is?

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington What as a feature or as just some nice pictures?

Paul Boag: No, no as a feature, 320 whole words written about it as well.

Marcus Lillington Okay.

Paul Boag: That's the kind of rock and roll lifestyle I lead.

Marcus Lillington Has Dot Net turned into Hello or something.

Paul Boag: It does feel a little bit like that. It was really weird writing it, it was just like … In fact their not called Dot Net magazine anymore they're called Net magazine, I get in trouble every time I add the Dot in, they dropped it years back. But we're so old and decrepit that we've not moved on.

Yeah, so that really annoyed my wife because we had a bit of a competition going on, she was the doing the loungey area, and I was doing the study, officey area, and I win, because mines featured in a magazine and hers isn't, so …

Marcus Lillington That's proper winning, yeah us calling it Dot Net magazine is like old people saying the interweb or something like that isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely, the information superhighway, do you remember that?

Marcus Lillington Yes I do. We should bring it back.

Paul Boag: And cyberspace.

Marcus Lillington We should bring the information superhighway back.

Paul Boag: Because it just trips off the tongue doesn't it.

Marcus Lillington It would turn into the ISH.

Paul Boag: The ISH.

Marcus Lillington Very quickly.

Paul Boag: The ISH, yes.

So there we go, that's my news, my house is nearly done. Do you have any news, anything that people don't care about?

Marcus Lillington Oh of course, loads of things that people don't care about. My first grandchild is about to be three, that's a nice thing isn't it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's a nice age. Nice age, I like that.

Marcus Lillington They're fabulous when they're that age. Everything is why.

Paul Boag: And also you can really wind them up and then hand them back.

Marcus Lillington Totally, yes, totally, give them sweets. Make out that it's so much more fun at Grandma and Grandads house, all of those things. But anyway, yeah that's the kind of the news at the moment.

Paul Boag: Okay.

Marcus Lillington I've probably got something really important that I've forgotten. I told you last week that I went to a conference, well I went to the conference and I did my talk and it went very well. But why is when you're, in air quotes, networking, talking to people, they say, "So what you working on at the moment?" And I go, "Errh, ehhh."

Paul Boag: I know right?

Marcus Lillington Every time.

Paul Boag: It's like you not doing anything, it's really embarrassing isn't it? Or the only thing that can spring mind is some really shitty little piece of work that you have to do.

Marcus Lillington Yeah, but this was higher ed as well so it was specifically, "What are you doing in higher ed?" "Ehh, ummm."

Paul Boag: I see, yeah. Well you're going to have that again in a couple of weeks because we're off to IWMW aren't we?

Marcus Lillington Yes, but I've practiced it now so … well not literally practiced it, but I had practiced at responding to that so I can actually trip off the tongue to a three now.

Paul Boag: There you go, good, good man.

Okay, so what's your thought for the day today?

Marcus Lillington Well this comes, as you said you thought because I was speaking on customer journey mapping last week that I would talk about it last week as my thought for the day-

Paul Boag: Oh yeah.

Marcus Lillington … and I didn't, but I am going to today. Because it's front of mind and all that stuff.

Paul Boag: And while you do that I'm just going to eat an apple.

Marcus Lillington That's going to be really noisy.

Paul Boag: …

Marcus Lillington You've completely thrown me off my train of thought-

Paul Boag: I've got a mouthful of apple and I'm not sure what to do with it.

Marcus Lillington … but you would have done that even more so if you'd continued with the apple.

Paul Boag: I'll just spit it out.

Marcus Lillington No, no just swivel your chair round away from the mic, and then you can hear me and still eat the apple.

Paul Boag: Okay, alright then, carry on.

Marcus Lillington That make sense?

Paul Boag: Yeah, go for it.

Marcus Lillington But you can't comment on what I'm going to say, I could ask you questions and then nothing would come back, you'd have to spin round really quickly.

Anyway, so the talk on customer journey mapping was split between me and somebody from … somebody call Jane from Birbeck University who we'd worked with doing research, but one of the main aspects of that research was doing some customer journey mapping. And I guess the main reason why the talk came about was because the journey mapping lead to some quite significant changes within the organization, so it was a bit of a success story. I guess you're not going to be talking something that didn't really work, something that got put in a drawer and forgotten about, but in this case it wasn't which was great.

So my part of the talk was along the lines of kind of what customer journey mapping is, why it's worth doing if you do it right. So … and that kind of started off in this area of … certainly when we started looking at customer journey mapping, we kind of just saw it as another tool in the UX toolbox. And it's quite a lot more than that, it's something that's just as we've experienced from doing it, the kind of results you get are much more strategic rather than the kind of results you'd get from doing a card sorting exercise for example.

So that was the first thing I started talking about, then I started looking into how you need to look at the different user journeys. You need to note that there are many, many different journeys, there certainly are within higher ed, there's probably 50 different types of prospective student.

Marcus Lillington Oh no, Paul's dying.

Paul Boag: I've just chocked on me apple. Carry on, carry on, I'm fine.

Marcus Lillington You sure? I don't need to do the Heimlich maneuver from afar?

Paul Boag: No, it's okay, it's fine. Sorry about that.

Marcus Lillington Or was that comedy chocking?

Paul Boag: Maybe.

Marcus Lillington I think it was.

Paul Boag: You were boring me.

Marcus Lillington Yes, I figured that.

Paul Boag: I've had to put up with however many seasons with you interrupting me in the middle of me making some profound comment so [crosstalk 00:08:36]-

Marcus Lillington Usually because I'm bored yeah.

Paul Boag: It just felt like time.

Marcus Lillington Yeah, I'm fine with that. So where the hell was I?

Paul Boag: It's difficult isn't it? It's difficult to recover isn't it? Isn't it really annoying Marcus?

Marcus Lillington It is quite tricky, but no, no that's fine, you carry on Paul, do what you feel you need to do. Have you finished yet?

Paul Boag: Yeah I've finished.

Marcus Lillington Are you sure?

Paul Boag: Well I haven't finished the apple but I'm going to stop eating it for now.

Marcus Lillington Okay.

So you need to note that there are many, many different journeys, and that they're all different. So therefore you need to focus on the most important journeys rather than thinking I need to cover everything, or I need to do the user journey from point A to point Z when maybe, if you concentrated on point D to G, or whatever, you'd do a much better job of it, and also you might not go mad in the process of trying to do too much.

And the next point was talking about touchpoint, so within these many, many customer journeys, there are also many, many touchpoints, and that touchpoints aren't certainly not just websites. They are … they could be somebody picking up the phone, they could be somebody making a recommendation on social media, etc. etc. The whole point here is it's complex, don't think this is something that you can just do for 10 minutes. You need to think about it, you need to plan it, and you need to have research that feeds into it.

The most important point though, I think, and this is key, is that you need to ensure that you have as broad a representation of your organization within the room as possible. Most people don't like that because it's hard, they don't want to have people from finance, or whatever, in their room, they just want they're nice UX buddies in the room. But if you do that you're only going to get very narrow responses or results, so the broader you make it the more likely that mapping is going to make core strategic change within your organization. Which is what happened at Birbeck.

I'm nearly there Paul, are you awake? Thought so, okay. So you need to note how people are feeling, that's one of the quite important aspects, which at the time I was like, but really? You need to care about what people are thinking, how they feel at a particularly point? But it is actually relevant because one of the weaknesses of the Birbeck journey was post application. So people were … they didn't need to be encouraged to interact because they wanted to apply, so this was pre and post application actually. But they were quite anxious and if they needed help they needed it really quickly, and they picked up the phone and one of the problems with the system there was that … and under times of duress like that their phone system couldn't cope with it. So that was a strategic change, that was changed, so a strategic change that happened because of the journey mapping recognizing it.

Paul Boag: Cool.

Marcus Lillington That's pretty much it, I mean you can do cool maps that people can put on walls to remind them of the journeys, so they don't get put in drawers and forgotten about. But it's really that high level stuff, it's complicated make sure you've got a wide … or as broad a representation as possible in the room.

Paul Boag: I've actually written a very detailed guide to customer journey mapping on Boagworld so I'll put a link in the show notes if you want to check that out. But thank you very much Marcus, that was actually interesting.

Marcus Lillington Quite interesting, I've actually read you post Paul, it's a good one.

Paul Boag: There you go.

Alright, well lets talk quickly about our first sponsor for the day which is Balsamiq, are back again. And I've finally … this blumming never ending video training course I'm doing, I've finally finished writing the script for it now which is like, yes thank goodness for that.

Marcus Lillington Paul, I'm don't doing this deliberately because you did it to me-

Paul Boag: Yeah you are.

Marcus Lillington No I'm not, I thought I must mention this on the podcast this afternoon. Lee, Ed and myself, were using Balsamiq this morning to develop wire frames between the three of us in different locations.

Paul Boag: Yay, how did that work? Did it work alright?

Marcus Lillington Yeah fine.

Paul Boag: It would of been terrible if you'd said it was awful.

Marcus Lillington The one thing we weren't sure whether we could do versioning. I was just saving and then changing everything, but doesn't matter. It's all sort of early days.

Paul Boag: I don't know the answer to that, that's interesting.

Marcus Lillington But yeah, this is … we're just doing some new stuff on the Headscapes site, so I thought that's a good idea, lets use Balsamiq. So we are.

Paul Boag: Absolutely, yeah, so if you're working remotely Balsamiq is a really great way of working together. There is a desktop app as well if you're working by yourself, but there is also this cloud based service which is great for that kind of collaborative stuff, so yeah it's definitely worth giving a go.

I was going to give an example myself of I used it when I was working with University of Lincoln, but you know, you've used this morning, so yours is more recent. So you win I guess.

Marcus Lillington Save that one for next week Paul.

Paul Boag: I will do. Alright, so Balsamiq as you can see is a great tool for doing wire framing, for collaborating together, go and check it out really, I don't think there anything else to say. If you haven't checked it out by this point in the season I really despair.

Marcus Lillington That's a noisy car, motorbike, vehicle.

Paul Boag: What the hell was that?

Marcus Lillington I think it was a motorbike. An old motorbike. There you go, it's gone now, sort of.

Paul Boag: Just so unprofessional, says the man eating an apple.

Marcus Lillington At least I'm still alive, I was thinking I'm going to die if I don't open a window.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's fair comment.

So to give Balsamiq a go you can get a 30 day free trial by going to, and you can get actually, after that 30 days if you go to sign up and you enter all your billing information etc. If you put in the code Boagworld alongside that information you'll get an additional three months for free. Which means that you'll get four months of usage in total without paying a penny, which I think is pretty damn good. And I pretty much guarantee you'll keep using it, it's a really great tool. They're obviously confident that you'll keep using it otherwise they wouldn't give you three months for free would they?

Anyway, so that is Balsamiq. Right we've come on to our interview for this week and we're talking to Danny Hearn from the UK retailer John Lewis, or he isn't there anymore actually, he's moved on and become a freelance consultant and UX person, but he's spent a long time working in John Lewis, which is a big retailer here in the UK if you don't know. It is a really, really fascinating interview, and slightly unusual as you probably gathered by the title of this podcast episode, if you've seen it, which was How John Lewis's UX Revolution Began in the Canteen.

It's a very interesting story and a really encouraging one as well. So here's the interview with Danny.

So Danny, thank you so much for joining us today. Just to kind of kick things off could you maybe tell people a little bit about what you're doing now, and then also what you were doing previously at John Lewis?

Danny Hearn: Yeah okay, thanks Paul, and thanks for having me on the infamous Boagworld, it's very exciting to have finally arrived.

Paul Boag: Well the pinnacle of your career no doubt?

Danny Hearn: Exactly, it's all downhill from here.

Well I just moved out, I was in London. I was doing the kind of contracting scene and I moved into consulting and I've tried to position myself so that I'm going a bit beyond your average UXer and I'm actually moving into kind of helping organizations solve big customer problems, and sometimes that's through standard UX techniques and sometimes that means really coaching founders, and coaching development teams, and really trying to help organizations resolve whatever they need to resolve in order to even have a UX practice in some cases.

I've recently, having done that for a couple of years now, I've just moved out to Somerset.

Paul Boag: Welcome to the West Country.

Danny Hearn: Yes, it's a familiar place for me because I did grow up in Totnes, so there's a familiarity to it. But it's just a question of … we were talking about this the other day, of me getting out of that London bubble, and really trying to diversify and also look at how I can add value in a different way, that might have worked in London. And to add another bow to that I'm also examining how I can bring everything I've learnt from 15 years of digital and the last seven odd years in retail, and really looking at how I can bring that into the charity, and the not for profit sector. So that's going to be my next big challenge that I'm looking at, at how to move everything over to that world.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So tell us a little bit about your experience before the contracting, because you were at John Lewis, that's right isn't it?

Danny Hearn: Yeah, I was at John Lewis for five years, and prior to that I'd had a few full time jobs, and I'd done a bit of contracting and stuff. But yeah John Lewis was about five years.

Paul Boag: So for those people that don't know, those people that maybe aren't from the UK, who is John Lewis, and what kind of work were you doing for them?

Danny Hearn: Sure, yeah, well John Lewis is … I mean they certainly like to say their Britain's favorite retailer, it's actually not a standard business, it's a partnership, which is one of the really big features of the way that the business runs, and the culture work. So basically everybody has a stake in the business, everyone has a share of the bonus and they can vote on things. There is a council and it's very democratic. So it has a real sense of value running through it and it's ethos when it started was to provide a better lifestyle to the working class, which was over 150 years ago. So it's got that kind of history and gravitas to it, and they have lots of big department stores selling everything that you can imagine for a household. It's a pretty big business really.

Paul Boag: So what about your role when you were there, what kind of work were you doing?

Danny Hearn: Yes, so initially I went in as a UX lead, I joined the user experience team on the seventh floor in Victoria, so you are kind of, initially a very small cog in a very big machine. And initially I came in, the team was pretty brand new, I think someone had been away on maternity cover and there were a lot of new hires. So everybody was a little bit wide eyed, it was kind of like a new world and just as I was starting to begin the job it transpired that we needed to do a re-platforming. Which for any retailer is pretty much the biggest thing that a website can do, and it can have quite profound impacts on the culture, on the team, on the company, and in the end, the experience.

That was really the first big project that I worked on. Following that I transitioned into UX manager, and I really had this journey which was quite profound for me, and had quite an impact on the business and it was really something I didn't expect. I kind of thought that initially it would just be a standard full time job, and I was in the UX team, and I would just make good experiences and that would kind of be the end of it. But what actually happened during those five years was I kind of went on this really long ride of starting to chip away at the culture, and chip away at the way of working, and that started with a small cookie crumb at the beginning of small changes, and it culminated in the end of being able to run full departmental workshops, hackerthons, introducing massive value proposition style methodology to different parts of the business which was way outside the original remit of what my role was. So that took five years to get there, to that final point, and perhaps we can go through some of that and I can [inaudible 00:22:02] how it all happened.

Paul Boag: Well let's go back then to the very beginning when you first joined John Lewis. Because of the ethos behind John Lewis, you kind of in your head picture quite a user centric culture already that they're very … you know they're not a hard nose we're going to screw loads of money out of you retailer, they feel something different. Was there a well established user centric culture, or was that something you were expected to introduce? What was the scenario in those early days?

Danny Hearn: That's a really good question, that's a really a good point. I think John Lewis, certainly when I started, they had really for a long time been nailing the customer experience in store. And that's where the reputation came from where Never Unknowingly Undersold, and you could go in and exchange an item no questions asked. And there was this real ethos that you felt from the partnership and customers really engaged with that.

I think when I started, the brand, it did have a lot of a halo effect, which is what we'd often talk about, you know where people would instantly go, "I love John Lewis." But I don't think we'd really managed at that point to translate that in-store customer experience on to the online experience. It hadn't happened yet, and I think there was definitely at a high level the talk was really positive, like, "We want to be the best customer experience." And this kind of thing but when you kind of went through the echelons of management and into IT projects, IT driven projects, and governance, and funding. And then when it came down to the, "Oh we need another week in order to deliver this." Or "We need a bit more time to understand this problem better." When it came down to those points there, I think that original intention of wanting really good experience kind of got lost in the wash a little bit.

This was right at the very start, and this is because digital … this is going back 2011, so a really different landscape to how it looks now. You know … I think digital teams having had their own playground, and they were just the website, and people didn't take them too seriously, suddenly the websites were making more money than the rest of the shops, suddenly becoming a bit more of a serious business. So when I started the website team had just been pulled away from start up culture and into a more corporate and governance culture, which I don't think necessarily helped us initially find our feet to create a good customer experience.

Paul Boag: So that's interesting then. So when you originally came on board what were the expectations of your role? Were people seeing you as an implementer or as a … did you expect you to provide leadership, did they expect you to shake up things. What were the expectations?

Danny Hearn: I think you said it quite well in the first part. The role was what I felt it was rather than what was explained. What I think was actually … you know I was there to get projects delivered. That was … I was maybe the whip cracker, or I had to make sure that my UX team, understood what they needed to do, the project was going on time, and they wouldn't delay a project. I think that was the biggest anxiety, it was all about making sure that things got delivered.

Paul Boag: So I mean, from the conversation you and I had a few days ago when we met up, you didn't stay at that. You didn't allow yourself to be constrained by that expectation as will become clear in a minute. What made you think you should, or even could, challenge that kind of existing culture? Didn't you feel that it was above your pay grade for want of a better word?

Danny Hearn: Yeah, it's a really good point. I think it is quite overwhelming if you haven't worked at enterprise level before. And I mentioned earlier on the seventh floor in Victoria. You're in this huge building and there's thousands of employees, and the sense that you can make any change, or any difference … I think at the time when I started it felt very much like, you know, you're just sort of in this huge stay, and no change was possible, and everything had been quite rigid for a while. And if I may I can share a very small anecdotal story.

Paul Boag: Sure.

Danny Hearn: I know that some people listening will roll their eyes because this is the one that I always tell. I'm a bit of a health nut and I was … they have a canteen in Victoria, and I went down to the canteen and every lunch time I would want to get my baguette, and they'd always have these quite stodgy white bread rolls. I really wanted sort of healthy wholemeal rolls and I was kind of curious, but the culture was kind of that's what they served, that's what they do, this is John Lewis, you can't change those things. It was really sort of like nobody had ever done that, no-one. And I was like, "Well who orders the food here, how does that work?" And then I was like, "Where's the chef?" And they were like, "Well I suppose we can tell you, he's in that room there." So I went in and had a chat with him, I was like, "I would really like to get some healthy food in, some wholemeal rolls." And had a conversation with him for about half and hour and eventually he agreed to trial it. And it might sound like a really innocuous detail, but for that me … initially they started trialing it and then from that point forward they always had wholemeal bread in the canteen.

It felt like I'd managed to kind of move the needle in a very small way, and it wasn't even related to user experience, but I was like it's possible to find these departments that are buried in back offices and stuff. Have a chat with someone and change something, and that was the first time that I felt … Everybody was kind of amused by it because it was kind of like a funny, ridiculous thing to spend your time doing, and not really part of my job. But it happened, and I managed to do it, and now I can get wholemeal bread every day, and that was the first point where I thought actually I think that you can actually reach your hand out and push back against this huge machine, and it does respond.

So once I had that impetus I started to look for areas within UX that I wanted to change. And you know I'd been in agency land for quite a while and we'd all use boards to … you know like we had these thick art boards that we do sketches on and stuff and sometimes we were told to put something on the board before the client comes round. But there was a useful purpose to it, and it allowed us to think outside of our screens. And when I arrived at John Lewis a lot of the team were still kind of straight in UXer and designing straight off without really going through a process. So I originally wanted to get these boards and that was a whole thing, because you could only get the stationary that was pre-agreed. So I had to find out a little loop hole with the stationary team to get my own stationary. So it sounds like really small things, but actually for a team that was tired, and then some new people that arrived that hadn't really seen anything change, and were kind of a bit frustrated, to suddenly see that, "Ah they've got these moleskins, and they've got these new markers, and boards." And so we're suddenly starting to sketch and we're starting to put the boards of our design process next to our desks.

And that was just the start, that was the cookie crumb where I started to see those little things like that had actually started to change the way that we were designing.

Paul Boag: So I mean that takes some tenacity, because it's so easy with things like that, you just go … you know.

Danny Hearn: 100%

Paul Boag: We won't have white boards, or we won't have moleskins or whatever else. Do you reckon that's just a character trait of yours, or did you have a bigger agenda there. Or were you just kind of determined to keep plugging away?

Danny Hearn: I actually, and I always feel a bit embarrassed, you know to mention, but I read the Steve Jobs biography, the Walter Isaacson one, and I was really inspired by the way that Jobs had this obsession with perfection. And the way he made the inside of the machines absolutely perfect looking. And I kind of thought that the small things matter, is what I took from that, and we shouldn't just do that … because there was plenty of that. There was that kind of, we tried it before, it can't be done, stationary said no. I really funny story with it was that when I get the boards I wanted to mount them on the wall, and this was quite a kind of famous story. I wanted to mount them on the wall which meant talking to facilities. And facilities were initially like, "You can't mount them on the wall, it's a fire hazard." Now that's the point where you could hear that and go, "Oh well we tried and they won't let us do it, it's a fire hazard." I guess because I'm a bit antagonistic maybe but I'm like, "Okay what fire regulation specifically is it?"

Paul Boag: Yes, there you go.

Danny Hearn: "What's the actually rule?" And they'd go, "Well it can't be, if it's like 4 centimeters off the card." And I said, "Well these are like 5 mil." And it was just that kind of thing where I was like I have to play the game here. I can't get rattled, I can't say this is ridiculous I'm stuck in a Kafka kind of nightmare. I can't say that I just have to go, "Okay, what is the fire regulation?" And this is what I discovered, you know, in multiple examples where you get an initial resistance, the initial … I used to call it the antibodies of change [inaudible 00:33:09] you suggested something that hasn't happened before that they're not used to. They initially give you this kick back and you just have to kind of stand your ground, and just in a really polite way be like, "What fire regulation?" And that kind of thing.

When they kind of saw that I was just going to keep going, and I was keep looking for ways to kind of understand and un-pick the resistance there was this sort of … And the magic word in a big organization is trial. That's the secret word. If you say we'll do as it a trial and they don't have to commit to it, they don't get told off, and then you can do it and then basically it just turns into the real thing. That was a really nice trick. So we said, "Well let's do it as a trial."

And so we got these magnetic rails in, and I got them to drill it in to the wall, and then we got magnets on the back of each board and clipped them on the wall. Now it might just sound like … that just sounds like a nice thing, what's the big deal, it really made a difference because suddenly the UX team have gone from this kind of department that you wouldn't even recognize sitting alongside accounts, to they've got sharpies, they're sketching things. Now our designs are up on the wall and then I can put a post it note, I put like a big pack on the wall and say let us know what you think. To get people to engage in our department with the designs that we were doing, because sometimes they would just find out when it went live, and it wasn't a fully developed practice at that point.

So in pushing back on the fire regs that meant we got the boards up on the wall, and then that meant that our work was exposed and it was creating conversation. That was really like a big part of the change.

Paul Boag: And also the principles that you've applied in those two stories that you've told. The boards and also the wholemeal bread, those scale up to anything don't they really? It doesn't matter, it's the principle of don't accept that initial no, question what the underlying problem is, talk about trialing it, and actually going and discussing face to face with the person that is the barrier. I mean that applies whether you're talking about bread rolls, or whether you're talking about compliance in governance issues, or anything else, doesn't it really?

Danny Hearn: Yeah 100% and I think, yeah, I very much avoided email as much as possible, you know, I was really on my feet, face to face made a huge difference. Being persistent, politely persistent and being curious and inquiring, I think those are really good principles. I think if there is something about when you go into a big organization about thinking things are fixed, thinking things are set, that's the way it was and that's been determined, and often a little bit of challenging you'd be surprised at how many walls can actually be pushed over.

Paul Boag: So I mean, give us an example of, kind of, the next level up from that. So you've got a few basic things up and running, but you didn't stop there. You kept pushing the boundaries, so I'm interested in that.

Danny Hearn: Yeah, so I think where things started to kind of go to the next level, we were transitioning from waterfall to agile. So where before we would kind of get three months to put something together and then chuck it over the wall to IT, we were going into agile. So we kind of had the IT version of what agile was, and then nobody really mentioned how UX worked. We flagged that up and we escalated and said, "Look, it's not clear how UX works within agile, there isn't really any … we can't just start the story with no pre-work, or no thought, otherwise we'll end up making a Frankenstein checkout. We need to do some thoughts."

So I kind of got this permission, because there was a vacuum of leadership when it came to how UX should work in agile, where I created this thing called shaping, is what we called it. That was really where we said that before an agile piece of work started we would be able to have three, four weeks to … like a discovery phase, before it started. And I started to shape exactly what that looked like, and bring in user tests to that. We'd been doing user tests, but trying to formalise and make the discovery period a bit more pronounced. And this was all going up on the walls, and we were started to create prototypes, which hadn't been done before like in Axure and stuff, which was a really big leap for us to be able to finish a discovery phase that wasn't really being done in that way before. And have clickable prototypes, have the team have a more standardized approach to doing shaping because before it was a bit ad-hoc. Whereas as we were starting to kind of establish, okay well let's do some user testing, let's do some prototyping, let's do some competitor reviews, let's do some sketching, so we started formalizing that process.

That meant that our discovery phase got noticed a bit more on the kind of governance level because it was like, "Well have you finished the shaping yet?" So that was almost like a stage that had to happen before a project could start. So that was kind of like ebbing into the next level, as an example.

Paul Boag: That's perfect and I think what you've done there is you've introduced another technique in to the mix, alongside all the ones we've talked about so far, which is that formalizing of ad-hoc processes and turning them into a formalized processed so that there is an expectation that is what we do. And that is clearly communicated. So do you think that kind of formalization and policies and procedures and all that kind of stuff, was that a big part of your approach?

Danny Hearn: I think it needed it at the start because we were still an immature team and I think that there was a lot of change going round and I think we needed to give some kind of structure and clarity. Once we imposed a little bit of clarity around what we were doing before a piece of work started, I was absolutely fine to let the team turn into what they needed to, but we needed to give confidence to the senior team that we needed time before a project.

They needed to listen to the results because that would basically … What I determined, and I'm trying to make this succinct, was that this was one of the key moments for me. I was trying to work out who decides how long a project is because these were still project based, this wasn't project tied streams. So who decides that it's three months, where does that come from? What I realized was that essentially a business analyst would work with the project manager, and the business analyst was telling IT, our guys will need about 10 sprints to do this, so UX we just had to fit in to the estimate of the development sprints. There was no, maybe that takes IT one sprint to do, but it might take UX three weeks to work out. So what I managed to do was get that shaping phase into the estimation, so that when they funded a project they would have to look at our prototypes and our intended experience so then the funding was going to be based on our ideal shape of experience rather than IT's version, which would be really hardcore MVP. That was quite significant as well.

Paul Boag: So kind of going to the other extreme in all of this, what was the biggest cultural hurdle that you had to overcome?

Danny Hearn: I think at that stage where we started to hit the buffers a bit was actually the environment and the tooling, at that stage. There were much bigger things that I ended up doing, but it was … we were only just transitioned to laptops. The laptops were dying, the environment was not hot desking, or anything like that, everybody had fixed desks. It was quite hard to create a workshopping, free flowing, sort of it didn't feel like a creative space, at all. The team were kind of frustrated a bit because they would get put on these huge long projects that would have not much creative element to them, it would be very IT driven.

So one of the really big things that I did, that actually did seem to really move things as far as the leadership team were concerned was that I did a … I had a remit to run a team event, so this was just within UX, so I ran … I organized a mini, one day hackerthon, and it was just within my team. So it was about eight of us, and we had two teams, and we had a design challenge, and we did a very quick UCD process, made a prototype by the end of the day, rushed out onto the high street, gorilla tested it, came back and presented it to a couple of the senior team that came in at the end. And it was a very kind of small hackerthon, it was just UX's, we were just using Axure, there wasn't a broader scope at that point, but that showed them that our team could actually produce things at a much more rapid scale, and there was a different type of capability involved.

The next year I then kind of … it's a little bit complicated how it came about, but I managed to persuade quite a lot of senior people for us to a larger hackerthon. So then what I was able to do was, through a lot of coercion, and I had support from the IT director, which was part of kind of IT want to be shown to be supporting the online department as being innovative and all this kind of thing. So they helped give me a bit of funding for it and I organized the food, the space, exactly how it would work and I ran a hackerthon with about 50, 60 people.

Paul Boag: Brilliant.

Danny Hearn: This was cross departmental, so we had UX, designers, graphic designers, we had business owners coming in, we had about three or four teams, we had … I got the internal comms team to film it and have a kind of documentary style recording that they were live streaming. We had prizes, we had a stage, you know, and the director came in at the end and judged it all, and all this kind of thing. What was really interesting about that is that it kind of again created a lot of noise for our department, you know, we were known around the business of they're doing a hackerthon. Most people didn't know what a hackerthon was it was a term that most people weren't familiar with, so I had to do a lot of work with internal comms which meant that I got a lot of PR for our team, of what's a hackerthon, what's UX, all this kind of thing.

But where it really was quite interesting was that as a result of all the noise I got a seat at a very small table for about 10 minutes, in front of Andy Street, who is the director … well at the time he was running John Lewis. And now he's now the mayor of Birmingham I think. And I managed to get, because of this fanfare and excitement and buzz that we had produced three apps in a day using prototyping and tested it and all this type of stuff, he was kind of interested to hear about it. So I used that platform to first to say how great it was and I said, "Look we want to … we did the prototypes we want to do it for real. We want to be able make apps and test things really quickly." And I said to him, "But we can't, we can't do it because we don't have the right laptops, the floor looks the same as it does in accounts. We need to modernize and this needs to feel like a fresh and creative space." And he said, "I'm going to give you budget for that." And I said to him, "Look, this is ripping the carpets this isn't just a lick of paint." And when he did a talk back to the department he used that phrase, he said, "Look we're going not to do a lick of paint, we're going to rip up the carpets."

So that … I mean the mandate was already there, but I think what I was able to do was to really set the tone for him, and set the expectation that if he likes the sound of the noise coming out of the hackerthon, that that's really what this kind of proposed floor redesign that was coming up, needed to be. So I was able to piggy back on the back of it, and make it much bigger than it was intended to be.

Paul Boag: That's sounds brilliant.

Danny Hearn: Pretty long story, but you can kind of see how it got more pace. We even got sponsored by Axure, I just wrote to them and they gave us like a thousand quid to pay for the food.

Paul Boag: Brilliant.

Danny Hearn: So there was lots of different angles to it, yeah I can go on but I'll …

Paul Boag: Well give us … how far were you able to push this. We're running out of time a little bit, but I'm interested before you decided to move on in your career, how far [crosstalk 00:47:53] did you manage to push things at John Lewis before you left.

Danny Hearn: So where things got really crazy was that following that hackerthon we had a new floor, and then it was like okay right, so we've got a new floor, hotdesking, all this kind of stuff. What I then turned my attention to … so if you think about the different levels, initially I'd done the ground floor, so I'd done the boards, ways of working, getting agile done. Then I'd gone up a level, looked at like hackerthon and the environment, and helping change the workspace, all this kind of thing. And then the next level was looking at governance and strategy, and so we had a really good … there were two online directors that had started and they were really, really supportive, and really, really inspiring for me. And one of them gave me the value proposition design book, she actually handed out 20 copies, I don't think many people read it back to back, but I kind of hoovered it up. What I tried to was think about how to make value proposition design which is really a methodology for start ups, the way it's positioned. And I was like, how do I make that work inside this organization? How do I make that work inside a sprint? How do I make that work when we're working out how to do a project.

So what I did was I put together a presentation, and I spent probably about three months on it, making the best presentation. The slides, the graphics, you know, it made a huge difference and I spent absolutely ages refining this presentation. And I was sort of, kind of, transmorphing value proposition design into a here's practically how it works in this environment that we're all in now. And what I did was I started to present this presentation, firstly to my team, then to some other teams, and then what I did, it was Google slide document and I locked it so that people wanted to see the slideshow afterwards, and I locked it so they couldn't share it, they could only view it. And then what started to happen, is that in this value proposition design I was talking about how to do proper test and learn at a governance level. So I was making suggestions that on a sprint level we don't start a story until we have some degree of confidence. On a governance level we don't kick off a project until we've got some degree of confidence and then we can maybe talk about releasing a little bit of funds, and doing a bit more on a project. These were quite big ideas, and then I was at a strategic level we need to think about how we can validate.

So I was doing this big presentation, and there's actually copy of it on YouTube, if you type in [dibby 00:50:50] Danny Hearn you can find it. And I started getting invited by different business teams who'd heard about this presentation and they wanted access to the document. Like just send it over and we'll have a look, and I said, "No, the only way you get to see it is if I present it. I won't let you just see it." Because I knew if they just opened it, they just flicked through it and then shrugged their shoulders. So I was like I have to present it. So that got me access to all their team meetings, so then I started doing team meetings probably two, three a week. Different floors, different departments, business development teams, IT teams, analyst teams, all over the business. And I was sort of basically coaching them how to rethink how they commission work, and how they fund it, and how they validate it.

That then went up to … I got to sort of chat to the finance director at John Lewis, the HR director, and I was talking about creating KPI's for teams that would be based on customer goals, that was set from the strategy. We would have customer goals and business goals at a strategic level, and then each department and each director, each part of the business would have to work out how they could meet that customer goal, and how they could validate it. And so it was something that I was then invited in to the strategic team at John Lewis, to help form a customer strategy, which was way outside of online, and I was bringing in customer goals and business goals, and then how will you measure it.

So I was bringing in ideas about measuring customer goals into the John Lewis strategy, and then what I was trying to do was coerce the mid level, at a project level, they would have to say which customer goals does this project fulfill, and then at a HR level, for your annual KPI's, which customer goals … like you've got your own objectives, how does your objective meet that customer goal. And so I created a hook that could run through the organization right from the top where they have very high level customer goals, right down to a sprint, or right down to an individuals KPI, and they could work out their relative measure, because everyone's measure of how they're going to meet that customer goal is going to be unique depending what level of influence they have. So it got really big, I don't think I completely achieved it, I don't think it was fully embedded when I left, but I think there was a lot of attention, and certainly some of the principles are still in place today.

Paul Boag: What I like about that, what really resonates with me is that your role became outward looking, from outside of your team, to really drawing in the rest of the organization. That you were invested not in just managing your little silo, but in getting out there, presenting, engaging with the rest to the organization which is absolutely key if you want to really embed user experience. We need to be user experience advocates as much as we need to be user experience implementers. And I think that's such an important lesson that I think a lot of people miss.

Danny, thank you so much for sharing all of that, where can people find out more about what you're up to now, follow you etc. Anywhere good?

Danny Hearn: Sure yeah, so you can check out my website it's that's got my blog on it, and anything else you want to find out.

Paul Boag: Brilliant, alright. Thank you so much for your time Danny, and good luck with the future.

Danny Hearn: Cool, thanks Paul, yeah great to be on Boagworld at last, that's one on the bucket list.

Paul Boag: I don't believe a word of it.

Danny Hearn: Cheers Paul.

Paul Boag: I think the thing that I loved about that one was how things can start small and grow.

Marcus Lillington My first … well is this the same point, my third point that I have written down while I was listening, taking notes, is small things matter. Basically he got things done by doing lots of small things. I mean it got more important, but just kind of the boards on the wall, and all that kind of thing. Those little things, rather than thinking, "I'm going to digitally transform this organization." It's just like little bits here and there can make … it creates the ball getting to the top of the hill and rolling down the other side effect, which has a name but I can't think what it is.

Paul Boag: Momentum?

Marcus Lillington Momentum, that'll do.

Paul Boag: That's what struck me was that he built momentum as he went along. So to begin with it was very small little things, but as he became more confident, and as the organization became more confident in him, so he could start doing bigger, and bigger, and bigger things over time. It was a really good example about how even if you're just a small cog in an enormous organization like John Lewis, which is big, you can still make a difference, but it's about perseverance. It would of been … take the boards for example, it would have been so easy for him to just kind of back down from that and gone, "Oh well, fair enough."

Marcus Lillington Fire regs, yeah. But also the setting up of that hackerthon when he said that he was getting a thousand pounds for food, that was a great example of how hard it is to do these things. You think, "Oh yes we can set up a thing where everyone comes along and we do exercises." But it's more than that, it kind of shows you that you have to be really very bothered.

I watched a talk last week by a guy who was talking more about content related stuff, but it was the same kind of thing. It was about making change happen. He said that you need to recognize that this is more senior people, but you need to recognize who your influencers are. And this Danny Hearn is an influencer, he went in and influenced peoples behavior by doing stuff. That's what I really got from it, it was great, yeah just do little bits here, little bits there, little bits here, little there and you know, we've always sort of said, "You need to educate." And this kind of thing, and it's like well actually you just need to kind of plug stuff into peoples lives and they'll get used to it, which I thought was great.

Paul Boag: Yeah, really good interview, in fact I would go as far as saying that has been my favorite of the season. I think last week was your favorite wasn't it?

Marcus Lillington It was because it was more businessey, more like agency stuff, but yeah.

Paul Boag: But for me this one, that was a really good one I really enjoyed that, and thank you Danny so much for coming on the show and sharing that experience with us. I'll put a link in the show notes to all of Dannys stuff. and all of that kind of stuff, definitely check him out and hire him because he's a smart guy.

Marcus Lillington He is.

Paul Boag: But hire me first. [crosstalk 00:57:58]. You know, just get that clear.

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Alright Marcus, have you got a joke to finish us up with?

Marcus Lillington I have, this ones from Dave Smith, on the joke channel. The only thing flat earthists fear is sphere itself.

Paul Boag: Oh my word.

Marcus Lillington That was really hard to say.

Paul Boag: Alright, that was. I want to try a little experiment right, okay at this point, I want to see if Google home out jokes you. Alright?

Marcus Lillington Probably will.

Paul Boag: Let me get my Google home. Hey Google tell me a joke.

Speaker 4: Okay, here you go. How many introverts does it take to screw in a light bulb? Why does it have to be a group activity?

Marcus Lillington No that's worse, much worse than mine.

Paul Boag: Oh, I thought it was quite good. It was worse than yours, I have to say, I liked yours more. So there you go, you need to buy yourself a Google home so that you can find shitty jokes.

Marcus Lillington Yeah, well I could ask Alexa, I've got one the Amazon version.

Paul Boag: Well there you go, ask Alexa, see what she comes up with.

Alright so that wraps us up for this episode. I hope everybody enjoyed it and we'll be back again next week for another episode of [inaudible 01:00:57]

Marcus Lillington After that the penultimate show of the season.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that kind of petered out at the end didn't it? Oh I remember, yeah, it's James, James from [inaudible 01:01:04] will be joining us next week, so that will be a good one, looking forward to that. But until then, thanks for listening.

Thanks to Narin Nonthamand from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.