Discovery Discipline Lead – User Experience
As the User Experience team’s Discovery Discipline Lead, Archie Miller helps shape the discovery methodologies that help us unconver customer needs, build user empathy and learn from our tests. We talked with Archie about his path to CarMax, his passion for research, and a chance encounter with two Product Design giants.
Tell me a bit about your current role and what that encompasses?
My current role is Discovery Discipline Lead. It encompasses a curriculum for Discovery methods to level up those skills across all product teams and emerging product designers. Through partnerships with all areas of the business, our Discovery discipline endeavors to amplify problem-space research and create a product vision in context of the complete customer experience.
What unique challenge have you worked on during your time at CarMax?
With any large company, there’s no shortage of solutions to perceived customer problems. Helping teams trace business solutions back to real customers’ needs is essential. The Online Finance team was faced with the challenge of creating an online application experience. Online financial applications are not exactly new, but this team dug into the customer’s world and discovered an emotional roller coaster that offered plenty of opportunity for innovation. A product vision emerged that re-framed the application and decision experience as a conversation about affordability.
You managed an interaction design team at SnagAJob, a Richmond-based startup, for a few years before joining CarMax. What are the highlights in the transition from burgeoning startup to a Fortune 500?
The early leadership of Snagajob was dedicated to designing a good user experience. If UX is a top-down mandate, it’s easier to dedicate resources, share information, and attract the right talent. In those early days it was the perfect storm of skills and embracing uncertainty. These conditions produce the best learning situation for growing your skills. It’s extremely gratifying to perform those skills to an audience on a much larger stage.
What advice do you have for someone considering the same transition?
Any startup operates in an environment of extreme urgency and uncertainty. You have a limited amount of time and a finite amount of money. Results need to be tangible in very obvious ways and in a short amount of time. It underlines the importance of being in over your head. Go to the scary outer boundary of your skills and then take one more step.
You’re an open proponent of moving research “out of the lab” and into more Agile remote sessions. What are the benefits of this approach?
The language inside our business world is unlike the language on the outside. On my desk is an original Sam Brown cartoon with the caption “It’s only complicated if you work here.” This reminds me that most of my time is spent talking inside baseball with the team. It’s imperative that we understand how our customers talk about their pain and needs. It’s a much simpler world than inside a company. Unless we leave the building, and connect empathically with humans that use our service, you’ll never build the bridge that connects those two worlds. Next, socialize your research findings in the framework of storytelling. Everyone loves a good story, and the findings are more digestible to a wider audience. These stories then become a context for a solid vision for your product team.
How would you guide an organization in making that transition?
First you have to understand if leadership is onboard or needs to be sold. If the latter, teams need to work more creatively with cost-effective experiments until results are achieved that make a case for more resources. If the leaders are bought in, like at CarMax, make sure they get the full benefits of team research. Push as much information up the ladder so it’s obvious that the business results are connected to discoveries the team made outside the lab. One of the ways we’ve engaged teams and created visibility to our learning is to conduct regularly scheduled open Discovery Days every Thursday. We connect to customers remotely and talk with them in their homes or places of business. We also conduct experiments with new ideas and look for opportunities from inside the problem-space. Any product team or individual can attend.
Is it true you got to hang out with Marty Cagan and Jeff Patton on the same day?
Throughout my career, I have always stood on the shoulders of those greater than mine. Marty and Jeff are two of those great ones. Both were consulting with us at various times, but events conspired and both showed up one day. To this day, it’s made me appreciative of every opportunity to learn from others.