General Manager and Editorial Director,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video, Mike Vizard talks to Andy Ford, global head of product design for Kimberly-Clark, about why design plays such a pivotal role ensuring digital business transformation success.



Mike Vizard: Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Andy Ford, who is head of product design for Kimberly-Clark in their consumer goods division ending welcome the show.

Andy Ford: Awesome. Well, thanks for having me – excited to be here.

Mike Vizard: It seems to me that a lot of folks struggle with their digital transformation projects. And I think part of the issue is that they didn’t think about the design part of the equation. First, they kind of took what they already had, and tried to digitize it without actually understanding that we have new mediums, and therefore the design needs to match the process. And in some ways, design dictates the outcome. So I don’t know if you’re seeing that yourself, and if so, what’s your advice to folks about how to go about addressing that particular challenge?

Andy Ford: So I would say first and foremost, I’m going to contextualize with my current employment at Kimberly-Clark, which is, you know, a very large organization, you know, and so in a lot of cases, you’ve got a lot of moving parts and pieces, and in those instances really kind of have to understand from a timing perspective, where it makes sense to get design introduced. In our case, we have a lot of key stakeholders, and for the most part, you know, really want to be introduced at a point in time, that one allows us the ability to start to work with them to help to drive out a lot of the goals they have. And at the same time to make sure that we’ve got the time that we need to really kind of be able to ensure that we’re going to drive out high quality as a result, we do those things, ultimately, that’s going to make it a lot easier downstream for the others who have to pick up that work and then go develop it, ultimately launch it, those sorts of things. And then it is birthed into the world. And it goes into the wild. And from that point on, really that’s where we want to start to be able to keep an eye on these things so that we can understand from a measurement standpoint, what’s successful and what’s not. We want to double down on our strengths, minimize our weaknesses, for the most part, really understand what types of things are connecting with our consumers. Think about the products that Kimberly-Clark makes. It’s literally from the cradle to the grave. Huggies, Kotex, Cottonelle, Kleenex, Depends, the list goes on and on. So we literally make products for everyone and could literally be in everyone’s household, you know. So the things that we want to do is, as consumers begin to, you know, research a lot in terms of like what consumer trends are these days are wanting to understand more about things like ingredient transparency, what’s going into the products, they’re consuming, those sorts of things, we make a very premium, high quality product. So we want to be able to convey that in everything that we do. There’s a lot of research and engineering that goes into the products that we make. So we want to have that quality reflected in everything that we do from a digital standpoint as well. So it’s critical for us to make sure that we are connected with the stakeholders at the right point in time not viewed as more so a retroactive capability to help to remedy these types of things.

Mike Vizard: If I didn’t make the right design choices upfront, and I just kind of lifted and shifted a proverbial process into some sort of digital transformation initiative, is it too late for me to go back and fix that? Or do I really need to start over? I mean, because I’m asking the question, because a lot of people rush things after COVID. And the question is, can they go back and retrofit that? Or do they really have to blow it all up and start over again?

Andy Ford: I think at the end of the day, you know, if you’re able to look at the analytics, the metrics, the insights, my opinion, there will always be some nuggets there, you know, in whatever has existed, whether right or wrong, you’re going to be able to kind of pick through some of the trends. So yes, you can go back and retrofit. But ideally, you’re doing it, you know, from the perspective of being able to leverage a lot of that data and the insights that are there to then be able to inform those decisions, so it’s not too late. But ideally, you would want to have a process where those things are much more informed up front so that you can ensure that you are making the right decisions.

Mike Vizard: How do you get business executives that have confidence in the data? There’s a long history of a little bit of distrust between business executives and it’s because they know where the original data came from in the first place. So they’re always a little dubious and their recommendations that get surfaced, although everybody says they want to be data driven. So how do we get folks to like look at that data and actually act on it?

Andy Ford: I think in our case, a lot of what we have seen even to be successful is to show what the potential of these things look like, you know? So yes, while there might be some distrust around a lot of the data, at the end of the day, I heard this, which was – don’t pitch a concept pitch an outcome, you know. And so in our case, a lot of times when we start to look at, in particular, our consumer, we do know some things about what potential customer lifetime value looks like, and those sorts of things. So then we can take that as a pillar, then be able to say, if we do this, this is what we could potentially see, and so I think in those cases, you really kind of have to be able to leverage data, in ways to be able to frame up what the opportunity looks like.

Mike Vizard: When you have those conversations with folks, do they kind of say to you, “That’s a great outcome, and we trust you to go execute that.” Or do they want to be involved in every step of the way, and to what degree is that helpful enough?

Andy Ford: I would say in any organization we are always going to have politics. And I think, it’s definitely a skill required in terms of how to navigate those things. But I think for the most part, as long as everybody can, more or less kind of buy into the vision, at the end of the day, you know, while you do have a lot of, very contingent perspectives that do make their way into the picture, we’re all on the same team, and so that’s the key thing is just kind of take a step back and remember that – there are going to be varying degrees of interest that do weigh and influence a lot of the direction overall. But I think overall, you know, from my perspective, as long as we can come at it in a very collaborative sense, that really kind of helps to ensure that, you know, we’re all on the same page moving forward.

Mike Vizard: What’s your sense of the tolerance of consumers these days for clunky digital processes? It seems like everybody expects everything that worked seamlessly, and magically, are they a little more forgiving than we think?

Andy Ford: I’m kind of both, I guess, you could say, I think, overall bait, and, you know, we do a lot of testing upfront. And I think consumers in particular, like we have a lot of digital products that we’re creating to accompany our physical products, you know, and in a lot of cases, you know, we’re trying to help, for example, parents navigate diapering or young ladies who are entering that time of life to be able to understand ministration cycles, or we got some other examples where we’ve got a few other things that help parents, again, kind of navigate potty training, and some of these other things, in those cases, we’re trying to create tools that are intended to be very helpful. At the same time, our consumers look at it with a bit of skepticism as well – what are you trying to sell me, you know, what kind of space returned to operate in, and those sorts of things, so it’s a bit of a delicate balance that we have to ensure. And I think for us, it’s good that we go through a lot of this testing upfront, so we can identify that. So we don’t have those types of pitfalls later. But I would say overall, you know, consumers, generally speaking, are very savvy, and they’re going to be very weary of things that seem like there is some sort of other, you know, goal or objective in mind.

Mike Vizard: I think a lot of people also have it in their head that somehow rather, this is something that eventually is completed and done. And yet, what we seem to be seeing is that folks are updating their digital processes continuously. There’s software updates on a regular basis. So do you think that executives kind of think too much like, this is some sort of closed loop process when in actuality it feels like maybe it’s just a forever open ended process?

Andy Ford: Yeah, that’s quite honestly, that’s a lot of what I kind of preach around here. We, I think, and most organizations, probably are guilty of this in terms of, you know, when I call set it and forget it, so we’ll build something, and then we turn our back on it. We’re off to the next shiny object; meanwhile, what’s going on with the thing that we just built, and so I think that’s where, for us as an organization, or imagine many other organizations, we’re starting to treat these things, you know, in more of a mindset that is product focused versus project focused. And I think in that sense, that is where, for us, and I’m sure you know, a lot of organizations are new areas – new unchartered territory, you know? I think a lot of other organizations that are a lot more nimble, in those sorts of things probably are able to leverage this a little bit more. But in our case, it’s the type of thing where, again, when we do our homework, and we show that we’re really resonating with what our consumers are looking for, we began to unlock some new opportunities that we ourselves hadn’t even thought of, you know, those are going to be the opportunities for digital to really start to influence a lot of very traditional types of thinking,

Mike Vizard: Do you find yourself becoming something of a diplomat inside of your organization, because there’s all these different fiefdoms and you’ve got manufacturing and marketing and sales, and ultimately, if you’re going to build something that works digitally, it has to span all those things? So do you find yourself being engaged in a little old fashioned shuttle diplomacy to get things done?

Andy Ford: I would say in my role, that is a lot of what I have to do. But again, I think it goes back to you know, sort of that earlier comment, you know, pitch outcomes and not results. And I think, overall, it’s a matter of making sure that everybody’s on board with the vision; they’re gonna have their own perspective as to what that is, or could be. But I think at the end of the day, a lot of these things, and I actually just had a conversation very similar to this right before this, a very easy conversations to have, you know – it’s just a matter of, you know, getting connected with right people at the right time and being able to really kind of clearly articulate what processes look like. A lot of times I’d get approached, and most people are like, we didn’t know your group existed. We don’t know what you guys do, how do you operate – so I’ve got a deck that I take them through that really kind of helps to simplify and demystify a lot of that. And once we kind of level set, and we’ve got a pretty good foundation to then be able to move forward from; it’s really our job, I feel, to be that guiding voice in terms of you know, how we’re going to orchestrate a lot of these things, and really kind of show a lot of value in terms of how the organization can really kind of leverage this capability to meet their numbers. At the end of the day, in any organization, you know, design is really going to partner with stakeholders who have numbers to meet, and so a lot of what we do is really to illustrate how we can help them get to a better place.

Mike Vizard: It seems like these days, you can wake up in the morning without somebody talking about AI and platforms like ChatGPT. And I’d love to get your sense of how do you think that’s all going to play out from a digital transformation perspective? Or is everything going to become that much more automated soon? And when we lose the human touch, where’s AI? And where does the human interface begin? And end?

Andy Ford: That is a great question. I wish I had a crystal ball to know, I’ll say this. I mean, from my perspective, I think there are some opportunities, you know, from a design standpoint. I mean, the main thing in what we want to accomplish and design is to create something that’s very well crafted, it’s of high quality. And it’s something that consumers want to engage and interact with, you know, where as we might be able to leverage those technologies, hopefully, would allow us to be able to get to a better place with all of that, you know, to understand where the attention, the eyeballs, the journeys are those sorts of things. So that, you know, ideally, we can craft these experiences, and to you know, contextualize that against a place like this, any ways that we can find ways to streamline that and make that happen a lot faster, is all going to be a win win. But I think, at this point, it’s kind of TBD, I am quite honestly, excited about the prospects; what that could look like. But you know, at this point in time, too, it’s still I feel a bit early as well.

Mike Vizard: And you’ve been doing this for a little while, so what do you know now that you wish you knew or might have known when you got started? What would have made your life a lot easier? As a good friend of mine goes – how do we lower the attacks from the next guy?

Andy Ford: Yeah, I will say that. There are definitely I think, a lot of things that I kind of wish I had known way back when. I guess on the one hand, you know, when I first started 20 plus years ago, in the way that things were being done then versus the way that things are being done now, we have the ability to get much closer to the truth, and really kind of understanding what do people want? How do they want to interact? Where do we have some new opportunities to kind of drive some innovations, do some things differently, really, at the end of the day be able to leverage a capability like this to help our organizations get to a better place? And so in that sense, I would say, on the one hand, always good to stay on top of not only current technologies, but some of the things that are going to be around the corner, again, to identify some opportunities where they may be able to be help and benefit and leverage the organization. And then I think, overall, just, the development of your own soft skills. The end of the day, you know, everybody’s got to be a salesperson to some degree. But I think the thing, you know, in terms of the way that we operate is we have to make it very approachable. So, again, a lot of people come to us, and they’re like, “We don’t know how you operate, we don’t know what you do, we don’t know what you know, deliverables and outcomes look like.” So as long as you can make a lot of those things very easily approachable for your customer, that’s going to make that intake onboarding and the overall project go well; then you have the people aspect of it in terms of the design team, you know, and overall, I think the key thing there is to get everybody to buy in on the vision, you know, at the end of the day, you’re always going to have to go through some challenges and things that don’t perfectly align with the way that you would hope that they would. But as long as everybody’s on board, where we’re trying to get to ultimately, you know, you have to be able to see the forest through the trees type thing. And I think that’s key, because, particularly, you know, in my, in my position, you know, I’ve got a lot of people who I manage. There’s always going to be somebody who’s not happy. And that’s just kind of  the nature of what it is. But, you know, at the end of the day, again, as long as everybody’s bought in on the vision, and they understand we might not be getting to where ultimately we want to get to in this round. Now we’ll set us up for the next round. So that as we get to that point in time, we will have gone through some of this other stuff, and we’ll be able to get to a much better place, you know, longer term. I heard a saying, “Macro patience, micro speed.” For me, in particular, the patience aspect of it was kind of the tougher pill to swallow, I did have a background where I was working with a lot more startups and innovation types of groups are able to move much, much quicker than larger sized organizations like Kimberly-Clark, for example. But at the end of the day, you know, you have variables that you can control, and you have variables that are outside of your control, but are the things that are outside of your control, you know, that’s where patience comes into play – for the things that are inside your control, that’s again, where you have to have everybody on board with a vision, to understand ultimately where we’re trying to get to how we’re going to get there. And, you know, really kind of cater to a lot of the interests of the design team as well. Because creative folks, in particular, like to have a lot of variety. And so, you know, in a case where we can get them plugged into a lot of different types of projects and initiatives, really kind of helps them to one really be bought in then to you know, really kind of caters to a lot of what their interests are from a career perspective as well.

Mike Vizard: All right, folks. Less grand vision and more patience and outcomes. All right, Andy, thanks for being on the show.

Andy Ford: Awesome. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Mike Vizard: All right. And thank you all for watching the latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insight series. You can find this episode and others on the website. We invite you to check them all out. And once again, on behalf of Techstrong Group, thanks for watching.