Design Thinking at Citrix – An Interview with Julie Baher

1. When we met in San Francisco in February, you said that in five years Citrix went from “I didn’t know we had a design team” to “I do customer-centered innovation”. How did this happen?

Back in 2008, the company had an executive meeting and they were trying to figure out how to really differentiate our IT products. Our products were difficult to use, clunky, and not very well designed, and companies were no longer willing to accept that as the status quo. That’s how our industry had been. Until they thought “You know, what? We can really differentiate by being the Apple of the IT world. We could consumerize these products.” This led Citrix to create a role for VP of Product Design, which was later taken by my boss, Catherine Courage. This is how the story started.

Then Catherine went to one of Stanford’s design thinking boot camps. She discovered that design thinking could be applied more broadly; it was a way to think about innovation and improvement not only of products, but also services. Essentially, everything you do can be designed well.

When she went to the boot camp, there were two or three other VPs who went with her, also from the product side of the business, and they got really excited, too. They loved the physical space. The, where you’ve been, is a really cool, open space where everything is on wheels. We happened, at that moment, to be renovating a building, which is how we got 2,000 sq. ft. (185 sq. m) to create an open, collaborative design studio at Citrix. This started a wave of employees, including myself, who attended the Stanford bootcamps. The movement grew organically from there.


Design Thinking Evolution at Citrix


2. Glad that you mentioned the space. It is one of the most important components for the success of design thinking. How did the space impact your work?

Everyone who saw the space wanted to have one for their team, too. So it became a little bit of a copycat. We converted a space in Santa Clara, and one in San Francisco. Our team has created little design thinking niches in our offices in India and the UK. We’re opening a new office in Raleigh, North Carolina, that will have an open, collaborative design space.

It’s not so much about the space, but one of the interesting by-products of spreading design thinking within Citrix was that a few of us developed an expertise in leading workshops and events. Now colleagues call us all the time and ask for tips how to organise more interactive meetings. Recently, I got a call from the Customer Support team. They wanted to brainstorm how to solve top customers problems identified with Net Promoter Score. We gave them a bunch of tools and ideas on how to assign problems to teams, how to unpack the problems, and how to use brainstorming techniques to generate potential solutions. There are lots of creativity-related tools that have practical use for business.

The studio space has also led people to be more interactive in bigger meetings. Whereas before they would start with a long presentation, get a couple of ideas, and make a committee, now we hear people say “Let’s have a working session and use some of these tools that we learned from Stanford and from Julie’s team”.


3. Coming back to the beginning – what were the first steps your team did to promote design thinking in Citrix?

One of the things we did when we got back from Stanford was to organize internal workshops for other employees. At first, we went with the momentum and partnered with anyone who wanted to work with us, which wasn’t necessarily a strategic approach to selecting projects. However, it was strategic in terms of building a movement and finding those who were willing to try something new. Our change management strategy was to lead through example.

The Citrix Education team was our first internal customer. They design and run external training for our customers. They wanted to redo their course experience to improve our customers’ efficacy with our products. The very first project was to redesign some of these training programs. That was our first challenge: How do we design a better training experience for our customers?

As we expanded our projects, we worked with many other operational teams, such as Human Resources, Legal, and IT.

Later, we started taking on more cross-functional projects. One was a project led by Legal. They wanted to redesign their compliance training. In fact, it was just one guy from Legal who was eager about design thinking, so we added a lot of other people from relevant departments like HR and IT. Every time we did a workshop we brought new voices from the company to participate. This worked very well for projects focused on our employees, yet also brought more voices to conversations about our customers’ experiences. And our colleagues liked it because they got free help with their projects.

We used those first couple of projects to learn, and then we created a more thoughtful process. We began to use a design brief, so when people would come to us, we would have a list of questions, e.g. What’s the point of the project, who’s the sponsor, who else should be included, what’s the timeline. Basically, everything we wished we had asked in the first few projects, we asked in the design brief. This proved valuable to the teams we engaged with because it helped them get aligned on the goals and communicate with their management teams.

Later on, we got more rigorous about connecting important business objectives at Citrix. We became very strategic about who to work with and picked projects that would have a significant business impact. Yet, at the same time, we continued to iterate on our approach, based on learnings from each new project.


4. At Citrix various teams have already run more than 50 projects using the design thinking methodology, focusing both on customer experience and employee experience. Which is the one Citrix is most proud of?

My favourite one with the employees is the legal compliance training. We worked on it like an internal consulting agency and facilitated various workshops, but the main lawyer from Legal took it and ran with it. He really had the empathy piece right. Through the project, he designed a training experience that is shorter, that you can do on the iPad, and that you are able to re-certify in subsequent years, rather than mindlessly repeating the same course. He was also able to differentiate the training curriculum for employees exposed to high risk. The whole thing rolled out in the beginning of 2013. When he sent out a survey asking for employees’ opinions of the new training, he found that employees were much happier.


5. In the last 5 years Citrix has invested a lot to equip the company with 21st century leadership skills and was very methodical in implementing design thinking to achieve this goal. What is the actual return on the investment in design thinking beyond the favourable PR and the many design awards that Citrix received after implementing design thinking?  

We started calculating ROI at the project level. For example, on the compliance training project, we calculated how much time it saves employees. By streamlining the course rollout process, reminders, and curricula, we estimate a savings of 3,600 hours of employee time in 2013, and over 9,000 hours in 2014. If time is money, then a conservative estimate is ~$3 million savings over the first four years.

Recently, we’ve been incorporating Lean Startup into the solution development phase. In several parts of the business, we use metrics such as customer loyalty (Net Promoter Score), engagement, and retention.

As to the whole investment—training 50% of our employees—4,000 people sounds huge. But we did a lot of it on a shoestring. We spent some money working with a consultancy (Lime Design) to develop some of our programs, but we ran many of the workshops on our own. We strategically used our partnership with Lime to build our own skills and develop materials that we could re-use. In the very beginning, it was just two of us, and we worked like a small consultancy. Like any culture change you do, it wasn’t easy. You are trying to change the operating system of a company. We started a movement, and now we’re a team of seven people.



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