For this interview, I spoke to Lilian Tula about her work at Toucan.
16th July 2019
For this interview, I spoke to Lilian Tula about her work at Toucan.
What project do you work on?
I’m currently working on Toucan, which is a money management product built around mental health needs. At the moment, we’re testing if the product proposition has legs as a native app.
What is your role?
I’m Head of Design reporting directly to the CEO, which means my key responsibilities are collaborating with key partners and parsing their research into meaningful features and ideas, that then turn those bits into flows, UI components, etc, and testing them with real users. A lot of this work also forms our product roadmap, so I guess that means I do some type of business strategy, but really we’re just trying to be as user-led as possible.
I also do some broad strokes for user testing strategy + research strategy as I have an academic background, and we’re quite a small team so we all wear lots of hats.
How big is the product team?
Currently we’re 3 full-timers, and have a broader network of freelancers, academics, interns, and mentors we pull in. We probably have 4-5 people revolving in and out of the team at any given point depending on what we’re trying to achieve.
What’s the makeup of your team?
We’re slightly different because a) we’re a fintech, and b) we’re working with vulnerable people, which means we have slightly broader requirements than the norm.
The core team is myself (design), Evelina (CTO), and Bailey (CEO). Bailey is a very active and involved CEO in the best way possible, and provides some much needed regulatory guidance, and access to a wider network and research. I imagine as we grow, we’ll hire in specialist regulatory/compliance/legal people to help with this, and we also have scope for a clinical psychologist to help us in a research capacity.
Outside that, the revolving door of people has predominantly included back-end developers and researchers. We’ve also had a freelance product designer dive on when needed.
I should add researchers includes both university academics and user researchers.
What’s your process like for going from the idea for a small improvement (not a large task) to it going live in production?
At a previous company, we used ticketing systems to flag anything and then would follow up in our daily/weekly rituals (stand up, retro, sprint planning).
At Toucan, it’s a bit easier to just harass Evelina until she does it but as a product focused on mental health we’ve been pretty regimented on maintaining a similar system to above with Jira + weekly/daily rituals. Better for everyone’s sanity.
In previous workplaces, the way we triaged tasks and assigned them priority was very much out of our hands and came from anxious demand elsewhere in the team (frustratingly, as design is often on the front lines testing with users). At Toucan, we prioritise ideas going into the app based on user need + regulatory need which seems to be working so far.
In previous workplaces, we had a pre-prod environment where we could sandbox ideas relatively quickly which was nice. Things going properly live (even tiny things) sometimes would take forever because of overly cautious departments not trusting in their product teams. At Toucan, being so new, we’re intensely fast-moving and streamlined for small changes.
Tell me about your process for planning work for a sprint? Does it work well for your team?
Currently we’re running Thurs to Thurs. Jury is out on whether it works well for the team, we’re still learning and adapting, and have left room for us to review this process regularly. Personally, it’s working well for me.
Do you plan testing upfront or chat to testers about it once the dev work is done? And do you take the testing work into consideration when planning what to bring in?
I’m typing this out as I sit in a testing session right now. We are structuring our sprints to include regular testing of any of the business/product elements (brand, flows, proposition), and are currently running a live pilot of our MVP. Testing is a critical part of our product proposition, because we need to be able to reassure partners that we’re doing our due diligence with vulnerable people (and it’s just the right thing to do).
We currently have a few branches of testing being developed as well, including a co-creation team. The closest thing I’ve seen to this is probably Monzo, though we have to reframe ours slightly seeing as there’s such a stigma around talking about mental health and money problems. The other branch will include continuous testing, which will take place either 1-2 days weekly/fortnightly, and we’re either hiring for or outsourcing to a trusted agency
What’s the biggest annoyances you’ve had around getting stuff done, planning, working together as a team, or that kind of thing?
For me in previous roles it’s been 100% about winning trust, and convincing stakeholders not in my everyday work that I can do great things in an autonomous capacity. It’s probably been more of a misalignment of ambitions than me being in terrible companies, or a personal failing.
Outside of that, at a team level, remote is always the biggest grievance. Tech issues when team members dial in, different time zones, meeting room availability, wifi issues… you name it. A product I previously worked on had a remote dev team and would constantly fly over to work with them. Culturally it was such a devastating thing — the remote team felt like they were being kept separate and weren’t welcome in the London offices.
Ultimately it’s mostly interpersonal, human issues that tend to get in the way of making great things, which are things that in a senior capacity I have to be really aware of and manage so everyone’s doing their best work and feels unblocked. Some examples include people not feeling they can speak up or be honest, that they’re not being heard, that they can’t say no, that the expectation is they need to be a bum on a seat 8 hours a day to be seen as productive, etc.
Tech issues just come with the territory lol. I've worked in once place where IT consistently crushed it, and it was all down to one damn good hire we all enjoyed working with. Valuable life lesson – *always* make friends with the infrastructure folks.
Also, as a designer, I need to make sure I don’t write shit tickets and label things properly 😂
Which (if any) tools do you help to keep track of work?
Currently, we’re loving Zeplin, Figma, and Jira. I also personally use Toggl to track my time, and Things 3/a notebook to do task lists, but it’s not a requirement. Just a way for me to understand where the hell the time goes and what I’m doing (working around my intensely bad short-term memory).
You mention Jira but I know that was a recent change from Trello, could you explain why the team chose to move over to Jira?
Jira just has better tools for Evelina to estimate tech. Burndown charts and difficulty estimations make it easier for her to understand her velocity. And I personally like the swim lanes which means we can move design tasks alongside tech tasks in a sprint, and have better visibility of what’s getting done as a team.