A Magical Meeting Story from Entrepreneur and Design Facilitation Consultant, Shipra Kayan
Welcome to Magical Meetings Stories, a series where I chat with professional facilitators, meeting practitioners, leaders, and CEOs across industries about their meeting culture. We dive deep into a specific magical meeting they’ve run, including their approach to facilitation design, and their tips and tricks for running meetings people thrive in.
Today’s story is with Shipra Kayan, an entrepreneur and designer dedicated to transforming the way we work together as a global community. Based on her core belief that every human is inherently valuable and capable, Shipra’s vision is to create a world where two people of any cultural or geographic origin can come together to collaborate and learn from one another.
As a design facilitation consultant, Shipra guides cross-functional and distributed teams to achieve internal alignment on the core problems they are trying to solve, so that they build products and processes that truly serve. Shipra believes that including all voices in the creative process generates better solutions than any single person could achieve on their own. She therefore teaches every team member, no matter their assigned role, to be a designer: to listen to multiple perspectives, challenge the status quo, and build a shared vision of what could be.
Shipra is a thought leader on remote work and distributed teams, and she specializes in teaching teams to collaborate across time zones, cultures, and knowledge silos. Her most satisfying moments are when team members realize how much they were missing out on before they discovered how to work across invisible boundaries. After going through her process, team members come away with a sense of mutual purpose and pride.
Shipra is also the founder of Siriforce, a QA services start-up that bridges the talent/opportunity gap between Silicon Valley and East Africa through a distributed workforce model. Shipra’s goal in creating Siriforce is to challenge conventional expectations about how professional, high-quality QA work gets done — and by whom. Drawing on the skills of “unlikely” professionals — mothers in hijabs, urban youth, refugees of war — Siriforce is setting out to prove that everyone, no matter how they look or where they’re from, is equally capable and deserving of opportunity. Shipra’s ultimate hope is for clients to be wowed by Siriforce’s quality of service and delighted to be part of a global movement breaking down the barriers that separate us. Born of her experience as a design leader, entrepreneur, global citizen, and mother, Siriforce is an intimate expression of Shipra’s deepest values and vision for the world.
“Get the user’s voice heard and make an impact and make an impact on the roadmap.” -Shipra Kayan
I spoke with Shipra about a meeting she designed called Voice of the Customer, the purpose of the meeting, what it helped accomplish, and why it was so unique.
Converting User Feedback into Action Items
Voice of the Customer (or VOC) was a monthly meeting designed to bring together and highlight the most important user input and customer feedback from various sources (social media, customer support, etc.) to the product organization so they became aware and could work on fixes. It was created to convert user feedback to prioritize Jira tickets (Jira is an issue tracking and agile project management tool).
The meeting was initially prompted when Shipra was in a hybrid design/research role at a company, and realized she had a wealth of information about what users wanted fixed but that knowledge wasn’t being converted into action. Although she doesn’t work at the same company anymore, the Voice of the Customer meeting and process is still going strong. “I realized we have all this knowledge, but it’s not effective or productive; we’re not really impacting anything. That’s when I designed, not just this meeting, but it was a process that I led for three years, and that is still going on now that the company is still going,” she explained.
The company was organized with each product team having their own Jira streams and each product manager owning the Jira priorities. The goal of the meeting was to bring five smaller (but annoying to the user) issues raised by customers to the executive team and product managers, in order to be prioritized over other product initiatives. Shipra explained this meant aligning on expectations that the larger, more visible projects might need to be put on hold in order to fix the smaller but more immediate user needs.
“The goal of this executive meeting was just to help PMs be able to prioritize some of these fixes and also make sure people had an idea of some of the things that were broken about the product. Everyone wants to build something new, build something sexy. We wanted to align everyone on the level of quality that we expect and how we value these little issues, smaller issues that our customers are really annoyed by,” she said.
Let’s take a closer look at Shipra’s process to learn what made this meeting magical.
Prior to the monthly VOC meetings, 4-5 customer-facing team members (or informers, as Shipra calls them), including Shipra, would do a lot of upfront prep work. They kept an ongoing spreadsheet to track all of the issues being flagged by customers, and then they’d meet before the VOC meetings to decide which five issues they wanted the product team to prioritize that month. For each issue, an owner from the customer-facing team would be assigned to speak with the dedicated product manager to align on reasoning, possibilities, expectations, and impact. This upfront discussion with the PMs allowed for presenting a list of very concrete asks in the VOC meetings. Slides were created in Google Slides before the VOC meetings by each customer-facing owner to enable decision-making during the meeting.
Logistics: The Voice of the Customer meetings included 4-5 product and engineering executives and 4-5 customer-facing team members (the informers). The informers included someone from customer support, user experience, social media, community management and marketing. The meeting was hybrid, as the company had offices in two different locations along with a few remote employees. Therefore, information was shared via video conference and on Google Slides. “Our goal with that meeting was to just showcase and get executive buy-in to fix things,” Shipra said.
VOC Ground Rules: The only ground rule was that no more than five minutes would be spent on any given issue or topic. If something wasn’t clear, it would be taken offline for further discussion in a smaller group. “We didn’t want to waste people’s time, it was very snappy. We brought things in a way that you could make a pretty easy decision on. Anytime it was more than five minutes on that topic, we’d just be like, ‘Okay, we’re going to pause and come back next month with something easier to decide on,’” Shipra explained.
Agenda: The agenda itself was very consistent. The meetings always opened with five minutes of positive information, such as sharing wins from the previous month. Next, the five issues were discussed (no more than five minutes each per the ground rule above). Each informer led the discussion for their assigned issue and walked through their slides, highlighting what the issue was and what users were saying about it, potential solutions, why it was important to be resolved, and what the impact of fixing it would be. Then the group would have the conversation of prioritization and decide how the issue at hand should be prioritized vs. everything else going on.
“It was a very simple agenda. It wasn’t written down, I didn’t honestly keep time. We never went over, we were okay with just, if something couldn’t be resolved, we were okay pausing. Then we just got better at resolving things in the meeting. We just got better at bringing all the data to the meeting that was needed. That was the iteration,” Shipra said.
Ten minutes were reserved at the end for the leadership team to ask the informers questions and to discuss upcoming updates and initiatives, or if there was anything specific to keep an eye on.
Outcomes and Deliverables
I asked Shipra what outcomes and deliverables came out of these VOC meetings. The tangible outcomes were the Jira requests and any re-prioritization of them. The Google Slides document outlining the top issues and priorities was also a tangible deliverable to come out of the meeting. Shipra mentioned the intangibles were having product, engineering and customer-facing leadership all coming together and aligning on priorities and creating a benchmark of what quality meant to their organization. “That was also a very important moment for…all of us to calibrate on this is what we as an organization, this is the level of quality we need and these are the kinds of things that we can drop and so it was this calibration meeting.”
The Value in Customer Feedback
We also discussed what made this meeting unique, along with what Shipra is most proud of related to VOC.
“I think what was really unique about this meeting, and people really loved attending it, was how action-orientated this was. We were just making a lot of decisions on pretty tactical topics. It’s hard to make a lot of decisions on strategic visionary things in one meeting, but because there were a bunch of tactical things, we were able to make a lot of decisions and make a lot of progress. And the fact that we had a bunch of people from leadership, really interested in a relatively tactical meeting, and they really felt it was their job to set the bar, set the standards of how we listen to customers. I think that was the most unique thing because it wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t a sexy topic, but everybody wanted to be there,” she said.
She’s also proud of this meeting, which she says is a strange thing to say because most people aren’t proud of meetings in general. Shipra said she’s proud of the ability to create the belief that customer feedback and addressing issues are important: “Get the user’s voice heard and make an impact and make an impact on the roadmap. What I’m proud of is this is generally a difficult thing to get going, it requires a lot of coordination and a lot of just believing that this is helpful from a lot of people, and I’m really proud that we were able to create that belief that this was important.”
I like to end these Magical Meeting Series conversations by asking where there’s opportunity for improvement or what else could be done if the interviewee were to be really bold. Shipra says the opportunity here would be not needing the meeting at all, and if product managers and designers could make decisions instead of a whole team of leadership needing to be involved. In an ideal world, the voice of the customer would permeate everything and there wouldn’t be a need for a centralized team to bring a list of issues. Until then, the Voice of the Customer meeting and process will continue to live on.