Workfront User Experience Operating Agreement 2020

Wade Shearer
6 min readApr 29, 2020

Last year, I shared our team’s new operating agreement. It was part of a larger initiative to become more focused on outcomes instead of features or technology and to develop a culture of accountability, transparency, feedback, and recognition. It included work by each member of the team to define specific expectations and outcomes for ourselves and each other. We met again several weeks ago to review and update our contract and are excited to share the results.

Another year resulted in a lot more change, progress, and accomplishments. We released a new product, kicked off a beta test for another; developed and launched a design system, followed by four major releases; grew the team of product designers and researchers to 24 (on team or open to fill); implemented a feature delivery platform; exited public beta on a massive, multi-year overhaul to the user experience of our platform; developed, launched, and trained on a new career development framework; and developed, launched, and trained a cross-functional organization of over 400 on a new product development lifecycle.

We also experienced many new challenges, because of a lot more change, progress, and accomplishments. Growth and success stretched and tested us. Busy is good; but only if we’re working smarter, not just harder. Our journey required us to learn many new things, re-learn things we had previously mastered, and invent entirely new things as we went along.

Communication continued to be our primary challenge. We were developing good techniques and skills for collaboration and distributed work, maximizing our own work management platform, but were still working to improve feedback loops, balancing real-time versus asynchronous collaboration, and alignment of best next actions across large portfolios of teams. Consistent and thorough knowledge transfer and decision documentation became critical. Other challenges were consistent product discovery, end-to-end customer experiences, quality and polish, and speed.

Culture conversation

While we were continuously seeking feedback, settings goals, evaluating our strengths and weaknesses, and refining our processes, I made it a tradition to conduct a formal, annual, in-person culture discussion. This event can be quite challenging for some. It requires a substantial amount of trust and an environment of deep psychological safety. Each has resulted in significant learning and growth however, individually and as a team. It’s something the team looked forward to and appreciated about our culture.

The format was simple. It was essentially an open forum with a loose agenda.

  • Review our current agreement and discuss what is going well and what isn’t. Where are we winning? Where are we struggling? What are you afraid of?
  • Discussion about how have I performed in context of the expectations and behaviors that the team articulated for me.
  • Discussion about how have we have performed in context of the expectations and behaviors that we articulated for each other?
  • Discussion about what changes, if any, we would make to the expectations that the team has and behaviors the team would like to see in me.
  • Discussion about what changes, if any, we would you make to the expectations that we have and behaviors we would like to see in each other.

Each individual comment was documented in a shared file as the discussion progresses. We then reviewed and summarized it together before concluding to ensure everyone’s voice was heard and that nothing was missed or misinterpreted. We then took a week to review and reflect.

Operating agreement

After a brief period of reflection, we gathered again to share any new thoughts and to update our agreement. Our objectives for the agreement remained the same: to establish and define…

  1. roles and responsibilities,
  2. expectations of ourselves and colleagues,
  3. how we communicate and work together,
  4. what UX and “design” is,
  5. the position of UX in the product trio,
  6. how we do discovery and validation,
  7. how we support delivery and mitigate risk,
  8. and to back defense into the process.

Our previous operating agreement was inspiring, but we quickly found that wasn’t very actionable. It was too complex and too long. We were proud to have it, but were struggled to connect work directly to it. At the top of the list of feedback and priorities for the next version was to make it more concise and consumable.

The new format was simple. It contained four sections:

  1. Commander’s intent. This I wrote myself as the leader of the team. The intent is to concisely and clearly articulate my vision and expectations. The primary change this year was to time-box it to the year. While previous versions were timeless, the scope was too broad.
  2. Principles and key actions. This was composed in collaboration with the leadership team, based on the team’s feedback.
  3. Operating constraints. These were selected by the leadership team, based on the team’s feedback.
  4. Expectations and behaviors. The team owns these one-hundred percent. They were written and agreed upon by as a team.

This practice and the resulting agreement became foundational to our team culture at Workfront. It became a powerful driver for execution, goal-setting, career development, recruiting, and onboarding. I am proud of how we grew and what we accomplished. I hope this update will be useful to you as you establish or grow your team.

Commander’s intent

The single most important thing the UX team can do in 2020 is delivering a new, holistic Workfront experience that improves usability and workflow, and increases front-line engagement. This will be accomplished by gaining deep insights into the needs and behavior of both existing and potential customers, identifying opportunities for innovation and differentiation, and delivering usable and useful experiences through informed and deliberate research, design, and validation.

Principles & key actions

Start with the problem.

  • Gain deep insights into the jobs customers are trying to do through weekly interviews, contextual inquiry, observing how they use the product, and collaborating with Sales and Customer Success.
  • Define the problem the design needs to solve. Is this a user job-to-be-done or a business objective?
  • How will we determine whether the problem has been solved (qualitative and quantitative measures)?

Think big. Start small. Learn fast.

  • Consider the end-to-end customer experience. Don’t let debt, history, or market expectations limit creativity or innovation.
  • Analysis and thoughtfulness are important, but learning comes from action.
  • Design with as little detail as possible for the decisions you are making.
  • Try to solve each problem in 3 or more ways. Striving for several viable options forces creative thinking, produces stronger design, and helps build cross-functional consensus.

Design in the open.

  • Capture and publish design thinking. Capturing assumptions and considerations makes it easier to defend decisions that shouldn’t be compromised and recognize which decisions can be thrown out.
  • In order for designs to be accepted, endorsed, and implemented, cross-functional groups must be involved in the process and conversation of design.
  • Raise issues, risks, and dependencies early and effectively.

Ship to learn.

  • Baseline. Measure along the way. Review data and feedback. Was our hypothesis validated or invalidated? What did we learn? How should this new understanding impact the design?
  • Continually update job stories, hypothesis, and results in epic one-pager with trio as learning occurs. Communicate interface and interaction decisions to engineering, via user stories and the InVision experience requirement.
  • Exploring means that sometimes we’ll be wrong. And that’s okay; that’s how we learn and improve.

What you ship is what matters.

  • Confirm developed code delivers against requirements, design system, and quality standards.
  • Research, insights, data, mockups, prototypes, and design systems are all means to an end. None of them matter to the customer.
  • Your job is to make our customers successful. Their success is our success, not revenue, downloads, integrations, users, or log ins.

Operational constraints

  • uNPS (NPS of our end-users. NPS at Workfront is of the champion and/or buyer.)
  • UX Index (our scoring framework that measures value, ease of use, and delight.)
  • WCAG 2.0 AA compliance.
  • Customer/potential customer exposure hours.
  • Epics with complete initial one-pager (assumption, job stories, hypothesis, and metrics)
  • Interface waiting time.

Expectations & behaviors

  • Manage in the open.
  • Communicate decisions early and often, and share why.
  • Ensure everyone speaks equally and respect other’s feelings
  • Assume best intent and then seek truth and details directly.
  • Request and provide focused feedback (specific questions get specific feedback)
  • Be experts on our tool (present on areas of ownership, obtain formal training)
  • Focus on the why and the what, less on the how.
  • Break down walls between portfolios and teams.
  • More clarity on processes. More enablement.



Wade Shearer

Vice President of User Experience at Workfront, Cofounder of Front