To actually put this into practice, though, we need to convince our clients to follow our UX approach. Why is this sometimes difficult? Because our clients are naturally more focused on their business goals than on user needs. In truth, though, there’s no contradiction here, because users are an essential part of any business. A Web site’s users are the people who, hopefully, will buy a client’s product or service and avail themselves of the resources and knowledge that it provides—thereby generating income for the business and keeping it running.
Well, just as we ask our clients to focus on users when making design decisions for their Web site, shouldn’t we similarly focus on our clients when making service decisions for a project? After all, a Web-site design project exists for the sake of the client. So, perhaps if we endeavor to consider the client’s perspective in making every service decision, we can help to ensure the successful delivery of the project on time and within budget.
In this article, I’ll flesh out these ideas, but first, let’s take a look at a case study.
Case Study: Cultural Roadblocks
A recent client of Stamford Interactive had many difficulties with the user-centered design approach. It became apparent early on that they were steeped in the traditions of their medical profession and used to having the final decision. Their existing Web site was typical of the 90s. I had spent a little while browsing through it when the penny dropped: the site was entirely business centric. Each of the primary sections was named after the business unit that managed its content and had its own variation of branding, and much of the content wasn’t relevant to anyone outside the business. Presumably the business units just wanted to let the world know what they do.
So, how did this realization affect my approach? I spent three-quarters of the kick-off meeting explaining the user-centered design approach to the client. I asked the stakeholders to tell me what they understood to be the purpose of their Web site: “It represents the business.” “It’s a portal for our users.” “It’s the technical interface with our doctors.” Then, I endeavored to demonstrate how each of their answers was really a component of something greater. “Really, you have a relationship with your doctors,” I said. “Your doctors want to be able to serve their patients, and your services are designed to help them do this. The purpose of the Web site is, therefore, to facilitate your relationship with your doctors, helping you better help them.” We then proceeded with brainstorming the user profiles for the Web site.
They loved the kick-off meeting, and everything went smoothly for a couple of weeks as we continued the project with workshops, stakeholder interviews, and other requirements-gathering activities. Eventually, we got to a content workshop, during which we began the process of compiling a list of the site’s necessary content to use for card sorting. The workshop went well, and we left the client with the task of finalizing the content list. One week, two weeks, three weeks went by. I didn’t receive any content list, just excuses. “What’s going on here?” I asked myself. After gently nudging and dropping hints about our project’s timeline, it eventually came out: They needed the business units to create their relevant content and were having serious difficultly selling the user-centered approach to managers who didn’t want to see their business unit’s name fall from the glamorous heights of the primary navigation bar.
Okay, so I managed to convince my client, but how on earth do we convince the other stakeholders in this political web? The classic project-management options to get this project moving again would be to either
- find a way to connect with these stakeholders and get them on board, beginning by acknowledging their concerns, or
- concede that they’re not reachable and just proceed the way they want, with the risk of compromising the user experience
On this particular project, though, there was no way for me to get in front of the stakeholders, and my head spun when I tried to envision how I would design a Web site that organized the information according to business units. This problem had me stumped until it occurred to me that I should shift my focus from the project to the client. I realized that I actually have a relationship with the client. Therefore, there was another way to get the project moving forward: help my client solve their problems.
Turn Up Your Warmth
When a client seems to be creating unnecessary project hurdles, it may be tempting to play hardball and tell them that the timeline and budget slippage will cost them or, at the other end of the spectrum, to concede and do anything just to get the project over the finish line. But, by taking a more client-centered approach, you can quickly uncover the underlying problems that are causing your client’s recalcitrance, giving you the ability to keep the project moving by helping them solve their problems.
There is an old Jewish adage that is a great illustration of the principle that is relevant here: One day the sun and the wind were watching a man walking through the desert, and they both noticed that he was wearing a jacket. It seemed strange to them that anyone would wear a jacket in the desert, where it was very hot. The wind said to the sun, “I’ll bet you that I can get him to take his jacket off faster than you can.” The sun said, “You’re on!” Then, the wind blew and blew, trying to blow the man’s jacket off, but the harder he blew, the more tightly the man grasped hold of his jacket. After a while, the wind stopped blowing and made way for the sun to have a go. The sun shone brightly with extra warmth, and in a short while, the man slipped off his jacket all by himself.
What’s the lesson? Although it is sometimes tempting to push a client when they’ve become too aloof or to push back when they’ve become a bit too demanding, the truth is that the best way to keep a project rolling and sustain a healthy relationship with the client is to turn up your warmth. What do I mean by this? Be exceedingly collaborative, practice immense patience, and focus your attention on solving your client’s problems.