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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lane Halley Discusses Balanced Teams at Lean UX 14

Lane Halley Discusses Balanced Teams at Lean UX 14


2. We are here at the Lean UX Conference, and to get it started could you just told us a little about yourself?

Well my name is Lane Halley and I’m a freelance product designer with a background in ...


3. What brings you to the Lean UX Conference this year?

I’ve been involved in this conference for all three years back when it was called Agile UX when Jeff and Will were running it and then I returned last year and then again this year.


4. One of the things you are talking about in your talk this year was the concept of the Balanced Teams, so can you tell us a little about what that means and how it got started?

Sure, so Balanced Team is a working group, software professionals who are interested in exploring cross functional collaboration and we are kind of an umbrella group. We started out as bunch of user experience designers who were interested in Agile and learning how to work with Agile developers, and through our conversations we very quickly realized that the product team requires a, what we like to say breaking down the silos, and product designers, developers, product owners and marketers, sales people, we all need to figure out ways that we can contribute to a collaborative working relationship to do the kind of things we need to do. And then as Lean Startup has become more popular, we’ve starting drawing in different elements from these other practices, these sort of collaborative holistic practices that are happening, and we struck on the name Balanced Team actually because we are not a methodology, or techniques, we are really trying to be a place for conversation where interesting people can have necessary conversations to try to keep moving our industry forward as we are discovering new things together.


5. This Balanced Team concept is it something that happens outside of organizations or within the organizations or how does that work?

Membership in Balanced Team is really at an individual level, we have some sponsors who send employees and give us some money to help us out with things, but we really are self organizing, participatory group and so the people who come to us are from in house and agency and freelancers and it doesn’t really have a mandate to be part of any particular organization, it’s like a practitioner group. I think that an event like Lean UX is really wonderful for the exposure to leading thinkers and it’s an inspirational event. We like to think of Balanced Team as a balance or a counterpoint to events like this, it’s a place where you can come and hear practitioners talk about their own experiments and their own successes and their own failures and we have a place where we can really talk about the nitty gritty, not just about how you get inspired to do these things but how they are actually working for us in our own practice.

Todd: And so what kind of person would be drawn to something like Balanced Teams, what would be someone who’d be an ideal person, that you'd say you should check this out.

I think that the people who are really drawn to Balanced Team are people in organizations who value one of two things, either they're a person who feels like it’s important to be a Balanced individual to for example, if you are a designer who isn’t afraid of development or if you are a developer who isn’t afraid to pick up a pencil or if you are a product owner that is interested in dabbling a little bit in both areas. We get a lot of generalists who are trying to build personal relationships and friendships and empathy with people in many disciplines, and then the other focus of balance is people who are really interested in bringing balanced decision making into the product process. We like to say, no important product decision should be made in a silo and we are trying to figure out ways that you can have decisions that have a cadence and have the right minds involved in decisions at the right time without having to have everybody moving in a pack all the time, so we are having conversations about these things and the people that are drawn to our group tend to be the individuals that are feeling little unsatisfied being in a silo or working in a really hierarchical situation and are looking for comradeship collaboration and resources.


6. You mention in your talk that there are a variety of different events and ways that people can get involved, what are some of those?

We don’t really have a central organization, we are not a big group like the Interaction Design Association or something like that, so because we are self organizing, people sort of stick their hand up and say: “I’ll do it!”, and we try to run one event a year and we try to move it around, we’ve had events in San Francisco, in New York City, in Chicago, largely because there is enough critical mass of our members there that that happens, but we’ve also had smaller events in Austin, in Toronto, in London and other places. So the formats tend to be a larger event of several days that is largely composed of Lightning Talks where we do brief talks, where we share case studies and stories, and collaborative activities that are sort of a run on the open space model, and then we also have more social events where people will get together in a bar, and I just learned a new term “Lean Coffee” that they were doing here, events that we are running are a lot like Lean Coffees.


7. Ok, so if somebody who maybe wasn’t in one of those cities or was in one of those cities and missed out, how could they bring that sort of thing to their city?

Sure, well our group really has multiple components because we are about conversation and actual human networking between live people, we tend to focus on face to face events, and coming to an event is the best way to get involved with us. We also have a news group and a meet-up and of course a Twitter account like everyone does now, but you would just go to and join our mailing list which is a Google group, and watch that group and the Twitter stream for events as we announce them. And because it’s a self involved participatory organization, the way things happen is somebody says: “Hi, I’m in Dallas, who else wants to do something” and things happen.


8. So maybe get us a little insight about what happens at an event, so maybe is there any kind of just cool story or something that was unexpected that kind of happened at one?

Well I have two that come to mind immediately. The first is, the group is growing relatively quickly, we are about 700 people now and I’ve been involved in the group since the beginning and when we did the event in Chicago in 2012, I had someone come up to me and tell me a story about how they'd heard about Balanced Team and were somewhat inspired by the concept and they had done some reading and done some research and found some stuff by Jared Spool and found some stuff by Jeff Patton and found some stuff by Desiree Sy and kind of pieced it together and that they come to this event to tell us that previously as a product manager, they hated their life and now they were really happy and the teams in their company were the happiest teams that everyone wanted to work on.

That was wonderful because it told me that what we are talking about is self perpetuating, we have enough information/resources that are available that people are starting to be able to watch our channel on Vimeo or go to slide decks on slide share and get value from that. And then the other story of course is some people who met at a meeting in Chicago were so inspired by the concept that they went out and formed a startup and the company is called Bureau Blue. They created a company around the idea of creating coffee kiosk culture at companies as a center for conversation to help increase face to face communication. And I mean there are other stories but largely the things that make the group really special are that were a human group, it’s like an alumni association, we see a lot of the same people over time, you begin to have a back channel. I like to think of it is the back channel for my life.


9. And so maybe from things that are happening from there or wherever you are right now, what is kind of exciting and interesting to you?

I think that we just add an inflection right now, where previously everyone, we had one to one connections and we would be all working on one event and we are just at that point now where people are saying: “Oh, do you have an event in this city, do you have an event in this city” and our current structure is sort of, I think Will describes us as the best kept secret that nobody knows about and our next challenges are going to be how we figure out how to perpetuate the organization keeping its kind of organic human personal feeling, but don’t constrain it so that it feel exclusive, so the things that I’m going to be working on, this team of people in the next couple of months, is launching, relaunching the website with a new series of resources, so that you can make it easier to bring Balanced Team activities into your own local area if you don’t already know us.


10. If somebody was interested in learning more about Balanced Teams or if they just want to keep up with what you're up to, where do they go to that information?

Well I’m Lane and my website is and Balanced Team is and anybody who feels inspired or interested by the concept would be welcome to stop by our website, and join our mailing list and become part of our community.

Todd: Thank you very much for doing this!

Thanks for having me, have a good afternoon!

Jun 20, 2014

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