Podcast Ep. 24 – Actually bridging departmental silos: A cross-team case study at Autodesk w/ Alissa Briggs

In this episode, we hear from Alissa Briggs, Director of Design at Autodesk

Alissa takes us on a journey from her experience at startup PlanGrid to joining Autodesk as Director of Design after an acquisition. She’ll share how she used collaborative design thinking to transform their approach to product development and customer value. Having a wide variety of experience and roles in her background, Alissa is very well positioned to talk to the topic of rallying stakeholders around omnichannel initiatives.

What you will learn:

  • The importance of aligning messaging and content across teams like sales, design, and product for a seamless customer experience that drives revenue.
  • How to overcome organizational silos and collaborate effectively to scale your business.
  • Real-world examples of using design thinking to create impactful product transformations.
  • Insights into how Autodesk is navigating a shift from point solutions to a holistic ecosystem.
  • The role of collaboration and governance in achieving omnichannel excellence.



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Alissa Briggs is Director of Design at Autodesk. She’s a strategic and energetic leader, speaker, and coach with a successful track record of scaling top-notch design, research, and content teams. Previously, as Head of Design at PlanGrid, she scaled the design organization 5x and led the team through a $900M acquisition. She’s also led design organizations at Brigade and Intuit.

Alissa speaks at top conferences like Enterprise UX, UXPA, and SXSW, and has been featured in FastCo.Design, O’Reilly Media, and other industry publications. She holds advanced degrees in Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.

Full session transcript


Noz Urbina  00:02

Hi everybody. This episode is actually recorded ages ago is with Alisa Briggs, who is of Autodesk. And Alyssa is brilliant. And we recorded this episode. And we didn’t get a chance to publish it, things got a little bit crazy, there was a whole pandemic, and it just got shelved for ages and ages. But we don’t think that that should be a reason that you should not get to enjoy it and learn from Alyssa. She is a Director of Design at Autodesk. She is an amazing speaker, energetic leading, energetic leader, coach, she has a design thinking background, and has worked with design research and content teams, she was previously Head of Design at plan grid. And she’s gonna be telling a little bit of the story of going from plan grid, which was, you know, a small medium sized company to being an Autodesk which is a massive organization. So she has got a kind of a case study here for us, where we really see and hear on omni channel store, it’s really perfect for us, in the sense that she’s looking at how design and experience changes and collaboration across teams to focus around the audience and audience experience can deliver real business value, you know, getting recognized by management as something that is really bringing a new level of experience and with that experience, improved customer relationships, improved sales, not only sales, but also sales, personal experience, include the relationship with the customer, and include improved understanding of the value proposition, all while in a changing environment. So going from doing this in a small organization to be in a large organization, to bring on new and different stakeholders. So you know, the value proposition and the offering shift along the way, and you have to rally people around a new direction, and change what people think you’re about as a as a as a as a team as a as an offering. And I think in many projects, we’ve seen that where content teams are or documentation teams or design teams, or product teams are trying to change what they’re about, they’re trying to level things up, that’s very, very common. In omnichannel projects, you’re introducing something into an organization that they’ve may have never done before. So you have to navigate that transition. And you have to show internal stakeholders, peers, executives, different departments and different roles, what you’re now about, you know, what the new value proposition is, you need to communicate that effectively internally, you need to rally people around it internally get the support that you need, top down, bottom up and laterally. And then you also need to communicate externally so that customers understand your changes, you’re making customers or partners. However it is you your your stakeholder ecosystem works. Everybody’s got to know what the new value proposition looks like and has to be kept up to date. And all aspects of your offering have to be kept up to date, content design, governance systems, internal communications, and so on. So couldn’t have a more perfect omni channel X case study. So I really hope you enjoy this episode. Tell me a little about yourself.

Alissa Briggs  03:32

Yeah, sure. So I’m currently working at Autodesk today Director of Design in our construction business unit. And for almost a year now, but the way I got here actually was through way of acquisition. So I worked at a startup called PlanGrid, which was also in the construction space join team as the head of design when the team was quite small, about five people grew it to about 25 people and mixes design research and strategy. And then third in just the last year. So that’s been kind of an interesting ride. And then before that, for just a small 50 person startup, and then also at Intuit, which is a big 1000 person, enterprise company. So

Noz Urbina  04:16

we think there are four pillars to omni channel customer experience, which are content. So what am I going to say? What am I trying to what are the messages that I’m trying to get out to the world, either to help people or to express our brand value proposition? But you know, we advocate if you if you’re not helping people do something, even if that’s deciding whether they want your product? Why the hell are you publishing that thing? It’s, you know, it’s got to be some value add somebody in your audience or else minds will archive it. So what are the what is the message itself? Design, which is how am I going to package up that message? So that’s, that’s app design, web design. In, you know, product design, all the all the design aspects of how I’m going to package up what my value add is, systems, which is the technology bit and the platforms that we use, that are integral integral to all of it. And finally, governance, which is, once we got all those three other bits going, how do we handle collaboration and roles and responsibilities, like racy charts and escalation paths, so that it all doesn’t collapse into dust immediately, once an account manager has an argument with the product manager, or once a support person is, you know, saying something should be fixed on the website, like, all these different all these insights that cause huge delays and friction within the company, which add no value to anyone anywhere? How do we govern properly and collaborate properly to this, this bigger omni channel experience? That’s what we’re about. And we’re very excited about changing the conversation in the industry to be what we think is more focused on the future of of customer brand relationships.

Alissa Briggs  06:07

I love it. Oh, this is so cool. I think this is an amazing topic, like the pillars that you called out, I think are great. They span across the different disciplines, and they get people focused on how do we envision what our customers need? And understand that and then how do we bring that to life, working collaboratively across a lot of different functions. So I love that that’s great. And thank you so much for sharing that

Noz Urbina  06:27

that’s really cool. You clearly get the vision and the pain that we’re trying to solve for. So tell me, I would love to know how you how you feel you could contribute what experiences you’ve had at Autodesk. Any successes or initiatives, you’ve had to try to address this? Yeah.

Alissa Briggs  06:45

So I think one of the things that that’s really been on my mind over the past couple years is this intersection between design and business, and how do you take and create a business that is successful, because is continuously anticipating the needs of the market, and then adjusting and rallying whatever the team is that you have working on it towards actually delivering on that, that value, because I value does change over time. So what I was thinking about was potentially sharing a case study about how we use design thinking and collaboration to expand the business value of initially, what was planned for it. And now is our Autodesk suite of construction tools. And just to give you kind of the rough outline that I had in mind, first of all, introducing the idea of design thinking or whatever you want to call it, sometimes I call it facilitative leadership for a crowd that is not a, you know, a design conference, I’ll just call it facilitated leadership or something like that, because it’s a little less stigmatizing sometimes, but basically talks about, you know, facilitative leadership is I think whatever you want to call it is things like using brainstorming, collaboration and working cross functionally. Got it, got it, got it don’t need to probably don’t need to introduce it much to this crowd. But saying, Okay, you can we talk a lot about design thinking, a lot of times it looks like it’s this fun thing where you can, everyone’s got posted notes out, no one really knows what they’re doing. But we have posted notes, and we’re winning, you know, and actually, how do you use tactics like that to bring people together and further the process. So there are kind of three chapters to this story. The first is, and this is sort of thinking of that as a case study. So when I started at PlanGrid, the company was a really interesting place where they were kind of an early stage startup at that point, they had just had a cool idea and then run with it. And they built an MVP, and that was starting to get traction. And a lot of how that happened was from the founders being incredibly close to customers. So they were our two founders actually did not, didn’t have a ton of experience in the software industry. But what they got was customers actually worked in construction. And so they had deep customer empathy. They, you know, they wouldn’t have called a design thinking because they didn’t know this term, but they were out with customers every single day, they gave them iPads to be able to test out their stuff. They’re doing rapid iteration. As they hired up the team around them, they brought Customer Support Engineers, all these people were had specific hours where they would sit with customers, and listen to customers and use that to inform engineering decisions, marketing decisions, sales decisions, all these things, right. So that’s kind of chapter one is early days of the company. This collaborative, customer centric way of working is what helped them quickly get out the MVP. And from there started to see success. So when I joined, the organization was in a really interesting place where they had found this this first version of the product, which is basically around providing digital blueprints to people who are doing construction. And at this time, what was happening in the industry was the industry was actually shifting where new players were coming into the market. The the needs of people using mobile devices was changing the actual power of mobile devices with changing there’s a lot of stuff kind of changing in the industry and the company had this realization of if they want to continue to grow so sale and when in the market, they need to do is actually build on the success they already had, but go far beyond it and actually address new types of users and bringing new types of functionality into the product. So I started running these little tests, which was great. And they tried using techniques from before with customers and all that some of it was working. But because the company was at a certain size, scale and level of success, what had worked in the past was no longer working. So part of what I did when I joined PlanGrid was working with the leadership team. This is not just me, but this is me working with our leadership team, our marketing and sales engineering product to figure out how could we approach actually building out the next version, and expanding what that looked like in the market, how people used it, how we sold it, and ended up radically scaling the business through that, you know, really collaborative approach. And then from there, we were becoming like a very strong player in the market. That’s when we got acquired by Autodesk. And that is actually been really, really interesting, because a lot of what we’ve been doing is taking something that was a point solution and making it more more like an ecosystem. And now that we’ve joined Autodesk, which is sort of master ecosystem for everything related to construction, architecture, engineering, manufacturing, we’re now starting to take the same approach that we have, but again, at massive scale at a 12,000 mi, and applying this to say, how do we now take what we what we have in this product and start to connect it to all the other products. And that requires a lot of coordination, a lot of collaboration, a lot of design thinking, again, to paint the vision for the future of an entire suite of construction tools that in five years, 10 years, then becomes part of a even larger suite of architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and construction tools all together. So it’s sort of like this crazy story of how you could start with one little thing. And by focusing on the customers prove out success, but then over time as the needs of the customers and market, your business change by a team approach of collaboration, design, thinking and focus on the cars, you can continue to scale your business, to go into new directions and to do so in a way that is inspiring and motivating for your teams internally, but also helps you to really quickly deliver value to your customers. Oh,

Noz Urbina  12:20

my God. Yes. I love the story. It’s it’s, as you know, it’s dead on. It’s exactly what we’re trying to say is possible. If you address the internal collaboration and customer centered approach, have you done anything which you think is different in terms of platforms, or technologies are the result? So I love that I love the methodologies and the the working together bit and the process change and the attitude change? Have you? Do you know much about the content side? Or you said you were working in marketing a little bit? Can you tell us a little bit about how you actually integrated with some of those other functions and some of the steps you took to like an example where you think that this was helpful for you to take an appropriate decision that I haven’t

Alissa Briggs  13:13

really and for you. So I think one of the big things is, you know, again, my my world primarily is on the design side. So that’s the filter, I look at things through. But a large part of what I did when I joined PlanGrid was I actually went out on a million sales calls. So it was very, very important for me to understand how we were positioning our product in the market. And what I found when I was going on these sales calls is that the sales people were trying to pitch our product. And initially, like the first couple of months I was out there, this was kind of a we had the realization we needed to evolve the business. All they would do tell people like hey, this is your number one point solution, it’s the best way to view blueprints in the field, let me demo all these things. And then they kind of just leave it at that, as we start to shift our strategies of business to saying, Hey, we have this additional functionality that’s kind of tacked on here, let’s stop talking about it so much as blueprints. Let’s talk about it as sort of a suite of construction tools. What I found is that the sales team was really struggling to do that, because they would come in and they tried to talk about it, how I tried to talk about how it’s this like, suite of tools, and then people would look at and be like, yeah, the only thing is literally blueprint stuff. Because the way that the had been designed and built, actually had all the additional functionality kind of hidden away in this like tiny icon that you would never think to click on. And so it was quite embarrassing to the sales people to try to come in and give a certain type of sales pitch about how we’re this this big, thoughtful ecosystem when anything be awfully reviewing was hidden in the UI. So one of the realizations I had from that was one of these low hanging fruit opportunities for us to start shifting the brand and the perception and make our sales teams life easier and change our story in the market was to actually change some of the navigation information architecture and structure of the app. So that Our suite of tools that came front and center. And it’s the kind of thing that just sounds kind of obvious when I pointed out to people, and I’ve done this show people, the before and after they just start laughing. They’re like, Oh, yeah, this is so obvious, but, but it was really a realization we had through working with sales and through watching the way that they were telling the story to customers. And so we ended up making that change, we got engineering on board, they slipped it in at the last minute, like in our one of our last releases. Before we had some kind of code freeze, I managed to get that in. And it ended up being highly impactful for the business customers start discovering stuff. So in their mind, the value of the product changes. And that was great. We had our usage metrics go way up. But I think the bigger thing actually was it changed our sales story. And what I saw after that was our sales team actually redid a lot of how they pitch our also our consulting team, which did a lot of education for customers. And I would not allow those as well, they totally changed their training decks around this. And then our CEO came out was like, Oh, we are, this is like the most impactful thing, changing how we tell our story, as, as a company, and it was, yes, it was a design change. But more than that, I really look at that as sort of this interconnected flow of learning through sales, and through marketing and support, who are the closest for immerse them feeding their insights into design, product r&d, and then us making changes, which then allows them to adjust their story. And the customer has all these touch points that kind of adjust for them as a result. And so, you know, look, look at something like that, that was so small, but so impactful with with the story and how customers experience it.

Noz Urbina  16:42

Story is the word that I was putting in my head as you were talking. And that’s I think, really, for me the tie in bit. The phrase that I use is, you know, is your is your marketing, making promises that your product can’t cash. Yeah, or signing checks that your product can’t cash. Right. And, and so you and it’s interesting cuz you I, my specialism, my background is content and the marketing side. And what you’re saying is, there’s there’s there’s been this give and take in yours, where the there was misalignment. Because the marketing, the marketing and sales were kind of collectively telling the wrong telling a story that you wanted to tell, but the product didn’t facilitate well. And so there’s just this friction, and then you made the correction. And that allowed them to go back and even enhance the brand in a way the brand promises.

Alissa Briggs  17:37

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I think that’s actually a great way to phrase that in a way that will really resonate and connect with more of the marketing and content audience. And actually, some something else that comes to mind with that is we actually ended up using a lot of the messaging we came up with from sort of this, like future future of our brand perspective in the big construction keynote that we ended up doing at our big customer conference last year. And I was actually on deck for that as the backup speaker. Thank God, I didn’t have to go up there and talk. But yeah, I remember that being something our our team was really proud of as well was the way that that story came together and then ended up being highlighted on the main stage with of course, no product market, all these other things kind of lining up to support it.

Noz Urbina  18:18

Do you have any metrics? Or can you kind of plot this or track it?

Alissa Briggs  18:23

I have to keep it a little bit vague now that we’re a publicly traded company and all that, but I can certainly do stuff like talk about 10x 2x, that kind of thing.

Noz Urbina  18:32

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to to following up.

Alissa Briggs  18:36

Thank you and appreciate your time as well. Thank you.

Noz Urbina  18:39

Thank you for listening. This has been the omnichannel podcast with your host Noz Urbina, founder of Urbina Consulting, let us know on LinkedIn or Twitter what you liked from this episode, what you think we missed and who you would like us to interview next. Now that you’ve heard what we’re passionate about, you can also check out Urbina consulting.com to find out a little bit about what we do. Thank you so much, and see you next time.