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Lessons learned after working on a Software Factory

As a product designer, you might have to work in multiple industries. Here are some thoughts and reflections about some of my learnings after working on a Software Factory.

I’m not sure if the name software factory is the right one or not, but I use it to refer to software companies that don’t have their own product on the market. Their main work is to create software solutions for other companies. For several years, I worked in these kinds of companies, who are regularly “behind the scenes” of the market; yet, their minds and efforts shape great products that impact the public.

As software factories work under contractual obligations and strict deadlines, there is not much room to test wild ideas. Experiments are limited by deadlines and budgets; usually, the scope and functionality are defined on contractual negotiations, meaning that by the time a design or development team is assigned to the project, someone else has already decided what the problem and the potential solutions are. Creativity may be limited a bit, but, at the same time, you will have clear requirements and scopes about what should and should not be part of your work. On the other hand, UX designers can always influence project scope and functionalities by doing user research to understand the customers, and, if needed, we could suggest redirecting the project to include the right point of view.

Illustration of a Kanban board and people moving sticky notes
Original image Freepik.com

It’s not your product. It’s hard to say it that way, but it’s true. You are working for someone else who already has an idea in mind (most of the customers don’t know exactly what they want, but that’s for another post). It doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly as they say, but it can limit you to only suggesting new points of view, improvements or changes; at the end of the day, it’s up to your customer to accept these suggestions or not, especially when the decision is related to budgets and deadlines. Regardless, your duty is to guide your clients and stakeholders through the design details of the solution and call out anything that you realize that is not going to work or is going against best practices; your role helps to reduce the potential flaws of the final outcome. In my experience, when you point out a problem, you have to show facts that prove that issue, and if you can provide a potential solution or a way to overcome such a challenge, the more accepted your suggestions will be.

Usually, your team and you are working on projects with specific timings, goals and pre-defined outcomes. Following the software factory business model, once projects are completed and delivered, you will jump to the next project, which consists of a new business case with its own different logic and constraints. This model has an impact on the lack of specialization as there are frequent changes in business domains and stakeholders, and the software factory teams need to address multiple targets that constantly switch over time. This is not always bad; as a UX designer, you will have the chance to taste and experiment within different business domains. When you work on solving different kinds of challenges, you are able to benefit from an enriching experience that helps you grow as an individual and as a professional. When you work with multiple stakeholders, your mind inevitably becomes more open and you start having new points of view that allow you to explore, learn and understand different customers’ behaviors and perspectives.

Working in a software factory is a great opportunity to address user needs and see how people react or interact with products in different environments.
Two men working on a whiteboard full of Post-it notes
Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

Regarding the design of the product, your team and yourself should be aware that you cannot always control the aspects related to the user experience. Once the project is completed, a third party may take over and would be responsible to follow up with the delivered product. UX designers are not always involved in the day-to-day activities once the project is completed; however, although you do not participate in the marketing strategies, you do not decide what features are valuable and what analysis is needed to improve, you have to remember that user experience encompasses multiple aspects and your team can always suggest and propose to highlight features and issues that are important for the users. Thanks to UX research, you are the most knowledgeable person in terms of the context of use, the needs, the pains and gains of your users, and you can guide other teams to address those important elements; this can be a game-changer on your product’s reception in the market.

My experience as a designer in a software factory exposed me to new challenges and problems from diverse areas, such as banking, education, e-commerce, process improvement, insurance, among others. This allowed me to have an open mind to what comes next. A software development company is a great source of analogous inspiration (exploring outside of a particular industry to find inspiration in the ways others have solved similar hurdles) allowing you to train your creative muscle as learnings from an old project can be applied to your next challenge, and ideas that were discarded in the past can become useful and be a source of inspiration for your next project.

If you’re working in this kind of company I would recommend you to learn as much as you can, and always keep an eye out because you never know how the knowledge gained in previous projects can turn into an opportunity for solving the next challenge.

Lessons learned after working on a Software Factory was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.