A student just starting in the UX design field?
Working at an organization where leadership doesn’t understand what UX is?
At a job that has never adopted UX practices?
Let’s face it. Many companies (yes, even big companies) have not reached user experience maturity…yet. When user experience is a new concept, it can be challenging — ok, downright hard — to introduce (and apply) proper UX processes.
UX core concepts can be hard to practice, and changing processes at an established company, within an established team, is no simple task. If you are looking to introduce UX in your organization, I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve seen teams with diverse roles struggle with UX for many reasons, but primarily because they don’t understand how UX impacts business goals in a positive way. They’ve heard it can have a positive impact, but haven’t seen it for themselves, and may not know where to start.
Here are some handy strategies I’ve learned along the way to ease user experience adoption within your company.
Know who you are working with.
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
— Theodore Roosevelt
During your career, you will get objections to the work and projects you propose. Pushback is a good thing. It allows the opportunity to use our skills of empathy and deep listening to get the root of the problem. The first step is to understand your colleagues, just as you would your customers.
“Sarah, we don’t have enough time to test;” “Just make it pretty;” “I know what customers want, we don’t need to talk to them;” “…we’ll get to that later…” (only to find your UX suggestion goes into a black hole of nothingness — never again to see daylight).
In the beginning of my career, I would often feel deflated by hearing these comments made by management and stakeholders.
The thing is, nearly all of those objections or comments can be addressed with a smart, user experience-centric approach. By understanding your colleagues and their objections, you can put yourself in their shoes to better explain the value of user experience.
As a mentor in Springboard’s UX design course, I often recommend applying the training and techniques taught by the program to a working situation. Do your UX due diligence and treat this opportunity like any other UX project. Let’s dig in.
Take a moment to identify and interview* key roles on your team.
Know who you are working with through informal research and interviews*, and engage in conversations with the end goal of creating personas and empathy maps. First, identify the team roles you’d be working with most.
Here are some examples of key people to invite:
- Product Owner/ Manager
- Project Manager
- Front End Developer
- Scrum Master
*Tip: Words are important for framing and setting tone. Personally, I prefer the use of the word “conversation” in place of a “interview” when approaching the person I want to meet with. This is because an interview tends to be one-sided, whereas a conversation is mutual and will provide a means for you and the other person to better understand each other’s role and gain trust.
Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes.
Getting to know your team members, and identifying the characteristics and perceptions within each role, is vital to understanding how they see the world. You’ll first start with user research and conversations to establish (or affirm/contradict assumptions, if they exist) persona and empathy maps of the types of team roles you’ll work with most.
*Tip: It may sound covert, but by offering to go to lunch, get coffee, or have a walking meeting, you’ll get more information in a more relaxed setting. Be genuine and honest by letting them know you would like to get to know them better. If they are skeptical, that is fine. Be open to sharing information about your role too, and place the conversation on equal footing.
Here are some topics and questions to dig into:
What does a day in the life look like at their job? Ask them to describe it.
What do they think about most during the day?
Where do they spend most of their time?
What are their main motivations at work?
What are they trying to achieve?
If they could do things differently, what would be their ideal situation?
If they could wish one thing be made easier what would it be? Why?
What do they love about their job?
What would they want more of?
By creating personas representing the different roles of your team, you will have a reference guide. This guide will help you position, convey, and more persuasively present a UX action plan for today and in the future.
Use soft-skills to build support of your endeavor.
If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your path.
Recently I’ve studied the leadership model Savior-Relier, which is based on people-skills called the 3 G’s. Now I bring these soft skills into every meeting, conversation, and encounter:
Genuine: Be yourself. Understand who your constituents are, and be clear about what you can and will not do.
Generous: Be inclusive. Involve all team roles in the UX process.
Generative: Be open. Collaborate, and encourage off-the-wall ideas.
In the section above, we touched upon being genuine by understanding the people and roles we work with most on our team.
Now, let’s focus on being generous and generative by being inclusive, involving the team in the UX processes, and asking for their collaboration.
Here are some ways to do it:
Light the way
In all my team’s projects, my UX leads provide a kickoff presentation defining what we do, our role within the team, and how we can contribute to the business goal. The presentation is always tailored to what we learned through interviews and better understanding who we were working with, which we talked about earlier.
This presentation is important because it establishes what role UX will play, how UX will contribute to the team, and debunks common UX myths. If there is a misalignment of roles and expectations, this is where you can address them head-on. I will describe more in depth later in the section titled, “Describe what you do today and the future—an action plan.”
*Tip: What if the project has already begun? Light the way anyway. Your goal is to avoid blindsiding your team with your new plans. It may feel a bit strange, but what this presentation does is realign, confirm, and establish the new understandings between roles. Be transparent about any changes you are about to make and leave the conversation open to conversation.
Roughly once a month: This 15-minute checkpoint addressed where UX is going, what we have accomplished, and what our pivot points are. Walk your team and decision makers through what you are about to do in small steps. You are not going to boil the ocean.
Each sprint: Prior to each sprint, be proactive with your stakeholder or team by saying, “Upcoming we are going to do XYZ,” so they are aware of what is to come and have time to ask questions while getting settled in with the new idea. This takes time, so have patience, resilience, and be empathetic.
*Tip: In fast-moving organizations, a Slack message or an email post can also serve as an update/checkpoint. But beware, the downside is that these updates can sometimes be overlooked.
Your work is going to show your value. Invite the different team roles into your world of UX so they can understand exactly what you do and how it benefits them.
First, ask the various roles to participate in UX workshops such as journey mapping, mind mapping, even the research and discovery process. Including these roles to be observers in user testing can be a useful eye-opener.
After inviting the roles to be involved with these events, follow-up with them to get their feedback.
Again, actions speak louder than words. You will quickly find being inclusive creates ownership, and rewards those who participate.
*Tip: If you don’t have the experience to talk through first-hand pitfalls or need to reference facts and figures, use articles and data. YouTube videos, such as the ROI of UX by Susan Weinschenk, articles from reputable places like Nielsen Norman Group and UX Matters, and even “lunch and learns” can come in real handy.
Throughout the sprint, my UX leads would take time to sit with the lead developer, product owner, and lead QA person. Knowing that the UX work will go to the developer to build, and ultimately to the QA person to test, the UX lead would walk-through the work to avoid snags with developing the feature, and to let the QA person know what automated script to write, what to look for, etc.
By shining the light on what is to come, you will build trust among your team and encourage further collaboration.
Describe what you do today and the future—a UX-implementation action plan
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
— Stephen R. Covey
Not many people like surprises — especially in the workplace. Unless you plan ahead, guiding your stakeholders and team—shining the light on what is to come—most situations end up dead in the water.
If your organization is not accustomed to UX practices, you will need to explain what you are about to do as well as reasons for the new direction you intend to head. You can do that with a clear UX-implementation action plan.
*Tip: Some company cultures admire jumping in and taking charge while others do not. Taking the pulse of the company culture, creating personas, and empathy mapping will create a path to smoother UX adoption, while providing guidance in the areas to address.
Connect your UX plan to the needs of each role
In the first segment, you worked on getting to know your co-workers, constituents, stakeholders, etc. and created personas and empathy maps. Now’s the time to assess the situation and tailor your message to each role’s perspective. This goes back to what we first discussed—put yourself in the shoes of the people you work with.
Apply what you have learned from your own UX actions and make sure to connect the reasons “why” UX will:
- lessen their frustration;
- increase motivation;
- allow them to focus what is important to them.
Now is the moment to use your knowledge from the first section of the article to connect your UX role (or roles) to what they do, how your role helps them, and how they can help support you in your UX initiatives. Your findings will be unique—here are some first-hand benefits from my own experience.
Benefits of UX by role:
- Product Owner/ Manager
Benefit: UX can help a Product Owner by providing insight into user’s needs.
- Front End Developer
Benefit: UX can help by working closely to make sure ideas are feasible to build.
Benefit: UX can help by measuring outcomes that affect the business.
Benefit: UX can help by making products easier to use and streamlining processes.
Benefit: UX can help by keeping customers informed without overwhelming them with information.
Benefit: UX can help by increasing revenue for user-centric products.
Your plan should address common UX steps*
Now that you have connected with your team’s needs, establish the UX process steps. Here are some examples—for each of these steps/action plan headers, be sure to include a line relating to your group, the project, and real-world examples to give context.
- Research / User testing
- Persona / Empathy map
- Information architecture
- Wireframe creation
- Style guide creation (or UI template)
- Visual design
*Tip: You may not be able to get all of the steps of UX applied to a project in one go. Implement as much as you can and use the successes and lessons learned to build upon in the next product, iteration, feature, etc.
Define and outline roles for UX
Using what you have learned in the first segment, you now want to identify the UX-specific roles that best suit your organization*.
If you are a UX team of one, a notion coined by Leah Buley, you will wear many hats and possibly take on all the roles below. Otherwise, you might have one role, or share one or two roles below. In any case, here is a good place to start.
These are the roles in my division at Disney:
- Interaction designer
- Information architect
- Product designer
*Tip: Roles can be different from company to company because of resource constraints and the varying needs of product teams. For example, there can be interaction designers that help perform research and product designers who also create prototypes.
Now that you have connected with the needs of your team’s roles, defined what UX is (and isn’t), and how UX plays a role in the team, you need to identify and measure your success over time.
Here are some ways I measure UX adoption success. You can choose one, or multiple combinations. Be sure to measure in small increments over a given time of your choosing:
- Adoption rates of projects (or teams) using UX
- Number of projects using UX steps holistically*
- Budget amounts for UX (is there more money put aside for UX processes and/or UX-related items such as software, training, hiring?)
- Number of projects (or teams) advocating on behalf of UX
- Number of team members actively participating in UX-related activities (i.e. observers in user testing, participation in UX checkpoints, actively participating and providing feedback in UX workshops)
- Inclusion of UX in high level roadmaps for product development
*Tip: I separate adoption of UX vs using UX holistically. In the beginning of UX adoption, individuals and/or teams may not fully understand all the processes within user experience. Therefore you may find projects and teams claiming to use UX, only to find that they are using a portion of UX processes (i.e. wireframes and visual design, but avoiding research). Therefore I also like to measure the number of projects that begin using the entire gamut of user experience steps and processes over time.
Test your plan
Once the plan has been created and signed off on by your stakeholders, it’s time to gather feedback as you go. Set periodic dates on your calendar to check in with the different roles on your team. Good touch points include after a feature has been completed or a product has been shipped; these points are key in providing an opportunity to talk about improving and continuing adoption of user experience.
Remember, just like any other UX project, you will want to measure, come up with new approaches, and refine.
Now it’s your turn
I’m curious to see how this approach helps you and if you have come up with new variations of your own. I invite you to include comments below on how you’ve been able to take this approach and make it your own.