Focus on Winning Small Victories Often
Regardless of the cause for your company’s resource crunch, focus on getting small wins as often as possible throughout your involvement in a project. This is a fairly common piece of advice that crops up time and time again, but it’s very much worth repeating. And it applies just as readily to both situations where time is short and those when there’s just not enough of you to go around.
This advice is equally valid for UX professionals who find themselves in new positions as the sole user experience person. It’s common for new hires to ask: “How do I sell the benefits of UX?” The answer is generally something along the lines of: “Focus on small wins.” In other words, don’t waste your energy putting together a series of case studies on how other people have created value at other organizations. Instead, do something positive and tangible—however small—and it’ll carry a lot more weight.
Go for Impact
Concentrate on getting bang for your buck. Depending on your circumstances, you may not get many opportunities to demonstrate the value of UX, and when time is short, there can be a tendency to just do something—anything. It’s an urge you should try to resist. If you want to have a greater impact, ask your project team—the project manager, the development team, and the business stakeholders—a few pointed questions before you get started:
- What are the critical features of the Web site or application?
- What features would be hardest for the developers to change once they’ve developed them?
And then ask a few more questions:
- How can I best document my user research findings, so the project team can use them?
- Do we have time for iterations? And if so, how many?
With this information, you can start planning some activities that focus on the most important elements of the project—the critical features for success; the features that are hardest to change; or the gray areas of the project—and deliver some real value.
It’s all very well to say “do something small,” but what, exactly, can you do?
You can demonstrate the value of UX during the early stages of a project—such as scoping, initial designs, general requirements, and so on—when there’s the potential for more leeway in the feature set of an online service and more ambiguity around users’ needs. Some activities that can demonstrate value early in the process—and may even alleviate some of your resource constraints further down the track—include the following:
- user interviews or contextual enquiries—Get out of the office and meet some of your prospective users. This is a really low-cost way of rapidly building up an understanding of your users’ needs and their context of use. You’ll also learn in what ways users differ from each other and may uncover some surprises. The best part is that—aside from the cost of your time—it’s largely a free activity.
- competitor reviews—Help map out the current state of the domain, allowing your team to set better targets. Look at the existing offerings of your competitors to identify the things they do really well and the things they’re failing to do well. Competitor reviews also provide you with a baseline set of features that represent the barrier to entry and can also help to identify opportunities the obvious gaps represent.
- internal stakeholder interviews—If you don’t have direct access to your audience, go and talk to the business stakeholders and ask them about the decision-making process by which they selected and prioritized features. This can help you uncover assumptions that you can test as a project progresses. It can also provide insights into the mental models in operation for the project.
- mud map personas—There’s a good chance you won’t have the time or resources to conduct the in-depth user research you’d need to turn out well-defined audience personas. However, low-fidelity personas that capture all of the information you do know about your audience segments can be valuable as time progresses. While you can flesh out these mud maps as you learn more about your audience, they also serve to demonstrate how little your team currently knows first-hand about your target users.