Collaborating with Cross-Functional Peers Asynchronously

An image with a quote from Christie Lenneville, VP of User Experience at GitLab

SITUATION

Building a product with a globally distributed team

GitLab, Inc., The DevOps Platform,  delivers secure software solutions across all stages of the DevOps lifecycle on a global scale. As a fully remote company, GitLab is committed to making visual collaboration easy and accessible across teams, departments, and timezones. Long before the pandemic made remote work ubiquitous, GitLab was one of the world’s largest all-remote companies, and they now have over 1,500 team members located in more than 65 countries and regions. By leveraging MURAL at the outset of the design process, GitLab ensures that all stakeholders feel comfortable collaborating and every voice is heard, leading to more productive meetings and better business outcomes.

“GitLab is an all-remote company, full stop,” says GitLab VP of User Experience, Christie Lenneville. “There is no headquarters, no one works in person — every single person is remote. We’re also incredibly global — we have team members from all over the world, so they’re not in the same time zones, and these are people who have to work closely together to solve problems.” 

While product managers and designers are the primary personas that utilize MURAL, they’re not the only ones. The benefits extend to marketing teams and developers as well.

Christie Lenneville
Christie Lenneville
Vice President of User Experience
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GitLab

CHALLENGE

Involving cross-functional stakeholders in the design process

Bringing together cross-functional teams into the design process is a key factor for success at GitLab, but to break the silos, Christie and team needed an intuitive platform that allowed for open collaboration, regardless of design experience.

“GitLab is a great platform for asynchronous work. That’s what it’s built for,” explains Christie. “The platform is very structured so we decided to seek out a tool for our product managers and designers to collaborate and brainstorm informally. While product managers and designers are the primary personas that utilize MURAL, they’re not the only ones. The benefits extend to marketing teams and developers as well."

Another main challenge for the UX team at GitLab was defining and organizing Jobs To Be Done. The process of planning new features or product updates is very open-ended, so capturing everyone’s ideas and organizing them into logical groupings are critical steps. If designers began this ideation process within a design tool, then it limited collaboration because they were using an interface that was specific to their own work, instead of a platform that was comfortable for cross-functional peers, like developers.  

“A design tool tends to be very specific to designers,” Valerie Karnes, Director of Product Design at GitLab, says, “and typically you have to have some kind of license to access it. It becomes more about the designers just sharing their work, and it makes it difficult for a product manager or even a researcher to jump in and have input, whereas MURAL is a shared collaborative space that allows everyone to contribute.”

“We wanted a place where cross-functional peers could come together and have an easy way to collaborate and get their ideas out in a free-form way,” adds Christie.

MURAL aligns with our culture of inclusivity, and how we work here.

Adam Smolinski
Adam Smolinski
UX Research Director
 | 
GitLab

SOLUTION

Capturing the best ideas by collaborating asynchronously with an accessible, visual platform

“I joined GitLab three years ago to lead the entire UX department,” says Christie. Having already had experience with MURAL, Christie offered it as one of three collaboration platform options to her team. In the end, after evaluating all three in depth, they felt confident that MURAL was the best solution. 

So, why MURAL?

“I really wanted to empower my designers to push the maturity level of our UX department,” Christie says. “And the way that you do that is by giving them the ability to drive initiatives with their cross-functional partners. So, you take a UX department from being order takers to being idea makers — people who are bringing folks together to solve problems collaboratively — and MURAL gave us a space where we could do that. MURAL allows us to continue working cross functionally because it is user friendly — collaborators don't need specialized design skills to ideate, organize their ideas, and provide design feedback."

You take a UX department from being order takers to being idea makers — people who are bringing folks together to solve problems collaboratively — and MURAL gave us a space where we could do that.

Christie Lenneville
Christie Lenneville
Vice President of User Experience
 | 
GitLab

Creating collaborative spaces for inclusive problem solving

MURAL’s flexible, intuitive user interface makes defining relationships between job statements (sometimes called ‘job stories’), user stories, and tasks easy to create and understand. “Just outlining that hierarchy can be really helpful,” Valerie explains.

As a globally distributed organization, with teams based in many different countries, time zones, and schedules, GitLab needed a solution that could capture all stakeholder ideas and feedback.

“MURAL aligns with our culture of inclusivity, and how we work here,” says Adam Smolinski, Director of UX Research at GitLab.

“We use MURAL to focus on solving product-related problems,” Christie says. “It’s about getting designers, PMs, researchers, developers, and engineering managers all in a place to ideate on a design problem. I know I don’t have a monopoly on all the good ideas in the UX department, so I want to make sure that everyone can have their voices heard."


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IMPACT

A design process that values every voice and drives change through collaborative intelligence

Faster iteration and increased productivity

As GitLab used MURAL for feedback, the designers quickly started to notice an improvement of their workflows, with more stakeholder involvement, and faster results. 

“We had four big projects, and we asked everyone to leave their feedback,” Adam says. “At the end of the week time frame, everyone had contributed, and we were able to define it all.” Not only did it save time, encourage collaboration, and add a layer of accountability, but everyone’s contributions were easier to understand and organize because of the visual nature of MURAL. 

“In the past, we would have used a Google Doc of some kind,” explains Adam. “It was just more efficient, less constraining, and more enjoyable to do in MURAL. Team members were able to add as many items they wanted without distorting the layout.”

Flexible frameworks that align with GitLab’s remote culture

GitLab elevated the way they facilitated mixed synchronous and asynchronous design sprints. With a combination of guided methods, such as design thinking and remote sprints, GitLab Product Design Manager Justin Mandell and his team further increased their efficiency by capturing ideas and feedback, and ultimately defining and tracking JTBD. And the results? “The team felt like it was a great way to come together to work collaboratively on a specific topic and drive things forward,” Justin says. 

Features Built for Efficiency

When building a process for remote design sprints, Justin and team took advantage of MURAL’s  Facilitation Superpowers™ features, including time-boxing and voting tools, helping stay organized and on task.

  • Sticky notes for initial brainstorming (synchronous and asynchronous)
  • Timer to stay on task and on schedule 
  • Voting to determine the best ideas to move forward with, and which to wait on

“The intention of a design sprint is to be efficient, effective, and collaborative,” Justin says. “Solving a challenging problem in days instead of weeks. In the past, this was difficult to do remotely. MURAL has allowed us to leverage our remote values of asynchronous inclusivity so we can utilize this method to increase productivity, collaboration and find effective solutions faster.”

Transforming teamwork at GitLab with MURAL

By using MURAL, GitLab is able to broaden the ideation processes to include cross-functional team members in an intuitive, collaborative space. This means more contribution, easier organization, and faster progress at the beginning of each project. “It’s a way to drive initial engagement between designers and their cross-functional peers,” Christie says. “Because, that’s really what you want as a UX department — you want everyone to be bought into the idea that user experience is important, and we are creating that experience together.”

TAKE ACTION

Templates designed for remote teams that level up your real-time and asynchronous collaboration

GitLab, Inc. leverages MURAL to collaborate across their global team — improve your brainstorming, feedback, and strategic planning processes with one of our templates built for asynchronous ideation. Click on the template below to get started!

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