UX at Bouygues Telecom: from V cycle to agility, interview with Solène Saguez

Marine Wolffhugel
April 21, 2020

After a first interview dedicated to the start-up Evaneos, we were interested in the way UX Design was integrated this time in large groups. We met Solène Saguez, UX Manager at Bouygues Telecom, one of the largest French telecom operators, with more than 8000 employees. Its digital products are numerous, its market is fast and competitive. Solène tells us about the daily challenges of her UX/UI team in this environment.

Let's start by detailing your background and understanding how you got to your current position as UX Manager.

.I started with a graphic arts school followed by a degree in visual communication, both oriented towards print, and then a degree in applied arts.

Then I started freelancing and very quickly I realized that I was not able to accompany my clients from start to finish, especially in digital. So one year later, I took a Master's degree in Digital Art Direction to learn all the notions of the web and the principles of design applied to digital.

A one-week introduction to UX Design gave me an explanation of why we do things. When you're in art school, you mostly talk about bias. Here, I was offered a new look at design. I wanted to dig deeper into the subject: I took an accelerated two-week "UX Design" course at Gobelins, mixing theory and practice. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me in terms of creativity. We approached it in a different way: we really responded to people's problems.

At the end of this training, I joined UX Republic, for two very formative years. I got to the heart of the matter, in the application of methodologies: each client had its own problems, its level of maturity, its medium (website, software, interface), its sector. You experiment with many methodologies, you adapt. This allows you to understand very quickly that UX is not just a methodology but a set of tools. The method is in the background, your tools articulate all that and you adapt according to the situation.

Then I joined the Creative Factory, a brand new UX offer developed by Mobiapps, which I wanted to join and help grow. I was the first UX to join them! Mobiapps sent me as a consultant to Bouygues Telecom where I worked on a UX mission for almost a year. When my client left, I took over her position as internal manager.

Today at Bouygues, I have grown the department and manage a UX/UI team (11 people). Each UX/UI designer is dedicated to a different experience universe (sales, customer space, mobile application, B2B, sales animation, etc.).

What was your biggest challenge recently and how did you get through it?

Recently, we had (and still have!) a huge challenge on team agility, which came about because of two major issues.

On the one hand, our projects were in V-cycle. The project manager would exchange with each business (designer, developer or other) and would go back and forth between them. The process was very long, the UX Designers never saw their subject through or understood why they were asked to do certain things, and the technical blocks generated disappointment. The UX/UI team was a separate entity: as soon as there was a need, I received the brief from the project manager - whatever the path - and distributed it to the corresponding designers, coaching them on the subject. The team lacked autonomy and it was difficult to position our methodology in this context. It was very frustrating on a daily basis for everyone.

On the other hand, Bouygues Telecom also realized the value of agility to gain efficiency and speed in the market. Our business sector is reactive, our products must move forward quickly and meet the needs of our users.

So there was this reflection on the deployment of agility at Bouygues Telecom, which took a few months to put in place. There were workshops, and the teams were involved in the reflection. This led to the division into feature teams (editor's note: a team dedicated to the development of a feature and bringing together all the necessary disciplines, in project mode). Each feature team is multidisciplinary, with 2-3 developers, an integrated UX/UI, a PO, a web analyst, a proxy PO. Currently, 3 new feature teams have been created, which brings us to a dozen feature teams today - other feature teams already existed, including one on the mobile application. Our goal is to have all of our product teams working in agile by the end of 2020. I took the gamble of putting the UX people directly in the teams so that they could be physically with the POs and developers, as close as possible to the problems and the product.

For now, I have no regrets: we realize that there is much more communication with the developers, less frustration and more cohesion. And above all, a feeling of responsibility for the subject. Before, UX Designers were given a topic, they delivered it and that was it. Now we can talk about Product Designers, with a real involvement in the journey, in the proposed experience. Everyone has a role to play in improving the user experience.

For my part, my own role is evolving with respect to the UX Designers. Each feature team is completely autonomous and responsible for its path.

I am less present on the production side, I no longer intervene to tell them what they will work on tomorrow. I act as a support and as a 360° vision, to implement the right UX methodology in this new agile rhythm and to allow them to work autonomously on their perimeter and in coherence on their product.

What are the other upcoming challenges for your UX/UI team?

There are many other challenges of course. Today, we do a lot of user research, but I have the feeling that we could do even more and even better:

Even more because we are not in an iterative enough rhythm. Our user research is systematic, but only in long phases (a few weeks). The research itself is not yet agile enough. There is a reflex to test, but it would be a lie to say that we see our users every two or three days. I would like to alternate with shorter phases, so that every single feature is tested. That user research be more rhythmic and "parallelized" (with phases of deep research and phases of short, targeted research). That for me is a challenge!

Even better because we need to reintroduce face-to-face meetings. We started the user research with guerilla testing. This is what allowed us to introduce research and to understand its necessity in our subjects. Today, remote testing has taken over a bit (Editor's note: Solène talks about unmoderated testing where the participant performs designated tasks when he or she wants to). Even if it brings us a lot of information and it's almost a comfort to launch a test and come back on Monday with the results, it remains very factual. In person, we feel the emotions, we have a greater sensitivity. It's impossible to compensate for the feelings you have with someone who is embarrassed, in doubt or in a moment of joy. It is almost inexplicable, there is a form of energy that is there in the moment of exchange with the user.

The two approaches are complementary. It is this human exchange that we must reintroduce.

What would be your definition of UX in your work?

For me, UX Design is the way we manage to capture what people really need and especially how they function. It's the key to the solutions (because there can't be only one!) that we then create.

From the moment we understand the mechanisms, we can both categorize people (to respond to a larger number), but also have a level of subtlety and richness for each of them. If you can get close enough to people to really understand how they act, how they think, and what they need from a given context, you have the right keys to open the right doors.

That's what UX Design is for me, even if this definition is very broad. It encompasses many things, I almost want to say that there is a part of abstraction, that is to say of empathy, in what we do. Beyond the methodology, it's about tools and emotional intelligence to allow us to understand and bring the right solutions.

This is not an easy question at all. Everyone has their own definition. I see it even within my design team. And that's why the definition has to remain broad enough to continue to encompass a spectrum of skills and knowledge all beneficial to what we do.

In our day-to-day work, we try to instill methods, to ask the right questions and to rely on research to validate our hypotheses. We rely heavily on tests to avoid endless debate.

In a sector where business is very strong, the UX team tries to keep all the benevolence and ethics necessary towards our users, otherwise very quickly cognitive biases are used to achieve our goals... (Editor's note: for example, by using dark patterns, see our blog post on this subject). Empathy and knowledge of our personas should allow us to respond in the right way.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your career?

I would probably tell myself not to be rigid in applying the methods. To unblock situations, it's best to use your emotional intelligence and the collective intelligence of people, while being flexible to adapt to the situation. Stay open, listen and observe a lot, there is no point in locking yourself into a method.

I think that also comes with maturity. It's a necessary step to want to apply a method at the beginning of your career, but you shouldn't be afraid to deviate from it once the basics have been integrated, as long as the tools you use to move forward are good.

Also, don't forget one thing: you are there to create solutions for humans, but you are working with other humans. And working with other humans means working with other problems. You want to make things happen with your users in mind, but you're still going to have to understand the problems of your colleagues, who all have their own objectives too, not always aligned with those of your users. I think that this difference between the reality of the field and the meaning we want to give to what we do will create a form of frustration in a generation of UX Designers.

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