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Presented at the Enterprise UX Meet-Up in Austin 2.24.16
Discusses ways UX professionals to build and gain trust in organizations that aren't immediately disposed to support them. Examine the different roles that can help you along with understanding their concerns and pressures. Use the tools you already have to shed light on the value UX brings to an organization.
User Experience is important! Everyone from the CEO on-down says so. How come I can’t seem to get any traction or worse-yet why does it seem like everybody wants my help at first but I get swept aside. The next time I go to a kick-off meeting and they ask me when the wireframes will be ready, I’m going to jump out the window…taking the CMO with me.
There are answers to those questions and “The CIO is just an evil bastard” isn’t one of them. He may be, but there are more likely reasons why it seems like decision makers are keeping you from doing your best work. It’s maddening because you know, if you could just do your work, you would be helping them and their users. In a perfect world you’d have a champion; someone with the organizational stroke to clear the path for you. In a perfect world, that person would be batting for you from the day you arrived. Maybe some of you have that champion, maybe you did once but something changed, they left the company or switched departments. May be you can be that champion! It sounds silly but why would you have to ask permission to do the thing you were hired to do?
Well…you shouldn’t. The decision makers and the key holders should have an expectation of what you’re there to do and the importance of it. Sometimes they don’t. They think they do – wireframes! But they don’t. That’s why you might have to find a way either directly or indirectly to make an impact and don’t bother asking because you’ll just confuse people.
Just like any other UX effort, you begin with research. The first thing to do is understand what the current expectations are for you. What are you known for. Are you the wireframe monkey? Are you only associated with deliverables? If so, how was that expectation set? Was it how you got in the door? Did your role devolve to that. Did the organization change and the current stakeholders don’t have a reason or the understanding to expect more from you? Your value isn’t in your deliverables; the artifacts you churn-out, it’s in the thinking that informs those artifacts and people’s ability to understand what they mean.
Thinking takes time. You know who get’s the time to think about their work? People who are trusted. Are you a trusted advisor? Are any of the people who drive projects willing to support your need to think, do research, conceptualize, test before there’s evidence to prove the value?
Jeffrey Gitomer is a Sales Consultant. He’s written several books of various colors on various topics and he travels around talking about successful sales. I got news for you, you are always selling whether itsideas or in this case, yourself. You may have a resume that will give you credibility but it’s trust that gives you the freedom to work the way you need to. My dad used to say Trust is like a bank account, you have to invest in it over time. You can withdraw from that account too and lose trust. You may be lucky and someone will give it to you to lose but that’s like an audition. The benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t usually survive under pressure. Lasting trust shows itself when the pressure is on; when there’s no evidence that you can deliver other than your track record and the trust you’ve built in those around you. There’s no quick way to build lasting trust.
This sounds like a hard question to answer
Start with yourself. How would you rate your trustworthiness? You should look back through your annual/bi-annual reviews, look for anything that suggests people trust you especially if they are higher in the organization than you and more especially if they are people of influence in the company. The broader their influence the more they can empower you.
Trustworthy people have characteristics. Gitomer gives us a pretty good list. Who do you think of when you read this. How closely does this describe you. Be brutally honest with yourself!
Having trust means that people are giving you something they value, something that needs protection. What do stakeholders have that you can protect for them? Usually it’s their ass. You can keep them out of trouble. It’s their reputation, you can make them heroes given the opportunity
People are motivated by two things: Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Two activities that cause people to do amazing and ridiculous things, it’s that second one that makes people move heaven and earth, Unfortunately, it’s an unwillingness or inability to gut-it-up or solve the problem that results in a lot of bad decisions. Denial, procrastination, deferral, passing the buck, all result in problems that grow and fester until they inevitably come to a point where they simply can’t be ignored and then the laws of physics take-over. Anything that wasn’t deliberately accounted for will be either incorporated under duress or cut from scope. Blames are laid. Costs are counted and hopefully something can be salvaged from the wreckage. Let’s talk about the kind of pain others in your organization may be trying to avoid.
Your stakeholders. It doesn’t matter if it’s the CEO or the product manager, Everyone considered to “own” a project is going to have to answer to someone from the board of directors, public shareholders, the Executive VP of something or other. They usually are being measured against Key Productivity Indicators that were established the previous year or quarter. It may be a dollar amount - either revenue or profitability. It may be a C-Sat score, market share or some measurement of cost savings. Those KPIs may be reasonable or not. Often, you may not know what they are. Ask. There might be a way for you to influence those measurements.
The designer may be you or it may be someone levels above you. How do they feel about their impact. Are they in the same boat you are: “just shut-up and make stuff pretty”? Or, are they responsible for design across channels; print, video, events and digital. What’s their digital IQ and how well are you supported? Do they place any value on internal applications that are both functional and elegant? How is their success measured and how can you contribute?
Bless their hearts! These folks carry to world on their backs. On one hand, they have the kind of skillset that doesn’t breed the kind of back-seat driving that UX does on the other hand, they are often asked how long it takes to develop something without knowledge of the systems they have to use or outcomes they have to meet. Tell them the project will last 9 weeks and they will tell you they’ll need eight of them. Maybe they do have the systems understanding but maybe that system is flawed and they’re reluctant to open the hood. Let’s face it, when the project runs over, they’re the ones who take the beating not you. Can you convince someone that front-loading, due-diligence and UX will lighten the load for Dev and more importantly, mitigate potential costs of re-development?
Remember them? At an enterprise level they can be an interesting bunch. You could be working on an app that will be used by 5 experts or 2000 suppliers. What do you know about the environment they occupy, what drives them, what work-arounds are they using? How is their success measured can you talk to them – maybe even sit with them for a day?
If you don’t feel trusted, it’s probably not personal. Projects are governed by three things, Time, Cost and Quality
To a great degree each of those things is “owned” by Business, Development and UX. The problem appears when pain starts to occur: The timeline is slipping or unreasonable to start with, the budget is evaporating. These things can start to happen early so what do those pain-avoiding decision makers do? They look for a way to make pain stop. If we cut costs. If we cut features, we can earn-back the time or money we lost. What can we defer? Poor quality has a cost too but it’s downstream and we have pain now. Quality winds-up on the curb and UX along with it. The reason for the panic is usually because the team didn’t take or wasn’t given the time to answer questions while the risks were low resulting in a too-aggressive timeline or an unrealistic budget. The opportunity for UX to build trust was pre-empted. No success, no trust.
Here’s a different way to look at projects from the start. You may have heard the axiom that says “Between Good, Fast & Cheap, you get to choose two. That’s a lie. You get one. Here’s what I mean by that…
At the outset of a project, you have to gauge the flexibility of each constraint. “If cost has to compete with time, which one wins”. It’s a matter of minutes to compare each constraint to the others and what you determine is where the flexibility lies. Which constraint has the least flexibility and which has the most. That doesn’t mean the most flexible item is a low priority, it just means that if someone had to choose, the other two would win. You may be able to recognize this at the beginning of a project. It may be obvious if it’s not talk to Project Management and see if you can’t discover it.
When you know where the flexibility lies, you can figure-out who is anticipating the most pain and begin to think of ways to head it off.
One bite at a time. That’s how you eat an elephant. The tools you have as a UX professional give you the ability to take little bites out of big problems and over time build trust. Whatever you do, your efforts have to meet certain characteristics.
They have to be Simple. By that I mean simple to understand. Long narratives about the philosophical importance of UX are going to generate snoozes or worse, impatience – the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Make the points digestible and succinct. [AARP Story]
Practical. “Blow-up the app and start-over” will go over like a fart in a diver’s air-tank. You may have to hold your nose but sometimes you have to look for wins within the losses. Can you identify one thing that will benefit the project at large if you can refine it?
Actionable: A problem without a solution is a rant. Outline the steps to realize the win.
Quick: Nobody has time for Sea-change at this point. The solutions you offer need to be timely [UX Bug Squasher Story]
Most importantly, stick to your expertise. You’re not going to become a little MBA overnight. You worked for years to develop your craft well guess what, so did they so if it pisses you off to see your expertise marginalized, don’t do that to them. Respect their expertise and stick to yours. That’s your position of strength.
Speaking of expertise, the heuristic analysis play directly to that. Using a set of recognized guidelines, you can offer an expert analysis of a web-site or application. Maybe you can get a few folks to review the app using the same guidelines and combine your findings. If you don’t have access to the app or it requires domain knowledge you don’t have maybe you could use the analysis to interview someone who does.
Get on the phone with someone. Someone who can get you time with users. Create profiles and learn the good, the bad and the ugly about an app or process as it exists today. Develop your findings into a report or presentation with recommendations. What did you observe? What are the obstacles? How could they be eliminated? What’s the pay-off?
Some remote testing software companies offer demo or trial periods. Learn what they include and develop a test script. If you can legally provide access to the app, use their testing pool to get some quick observations back. Capture screen-grabs and audio to help support what you observed.
Are there competitors or similar applications you can review. You can re-purpose the heuristic analysis or do a feature comparison. Include a narrative or user journey.
Especially, when it comes to mobile apps, nothing drives the point home like having the device in hand. There are several prototyping tools that offer trials like, Flinto or UXPin. You can make a prototype from sketches, screen-shots or any high-fidelity assets.
Not every method in this list is suitable or even possible in every case. You may have a narrow gauntlet to run. Use your judgment. Think about the person you want to see your report or presentation and imagine what will make a difference to them. Team-up with someone you know from Dev, Marketing, Business Development or the Lines of Business to bring another perspective to support a UX solution.
The harsh reality is that you may be working someplace that isn’t likely to support you. It may be an individual or a culture. It’s disappointing to realize that “Our UX focus” is either not true or misinterpreted as something else. Get the hell out. Life’s too short and there really are places that want what you can do. Also a reality is that there are places where the opening exists and all they need is a look at how their life is better when UX is supported. To be fair, It’s easier to get someone to understand and support your point of view when there’s nothing at stake. Even then, the perception that you don’t have the same skin in the game as someone else can make it hard to sell the value. You may be able to get someone excited enough to champion you in a project but don’t be surprised if they get cold feet when the pain starts and they haven’t seen the UX payoff yet. It may take a few tries but if you can stick it out long enough to get and demonstrate the payoff, you’ll have a convert who’ll wonder why they haven’t pushed for a UX effort in the past.
How can I do my best work?
Creating Impact Without Permission
What are you known for?
Are you a trusted advisor?
“Trust forms the foundation for
everything you do in business
& everything you do in your
- Jeffrey Gitomer
How trusted are you?
Begin with yourself
Tell the truth
Do what they say they’ll do
Communicate in a timely way
Bring unexpected value
Are on time
Are genuinely gracious
People trust you with what they value?
Personal Value = Pain Avoidance
How is success measured?
What’s their influence level?
What are their constraints?
What do they want?
Why don’t you feel trusted?
Value is subjective and often a reaction to pain
Build Trust: This doesn’t happen over-night
Trusted Advisors make pain go away
Acknowledge bias and it’s affect on scope
Operate from your position of strength
YOU HAVE THE TOOLS!
DON’T WAIT TO BE ASKED!