To advance these goals and help evolve leadership practice throughout the UX community, at CHI 2010 in Atlanta, Carola Thompson, who is Senior Director of User Experience at MindJet, and I co-chaired the Management Community. Our goal for this community was to bring discussion of UX management to CHI 2010, hear and answer the questions of those tackling new challenges in managing their UX teams, and gain insights from both experienced leaders and new voices. Our hope was to provide UX leaders the opportunity to share the tactics and lessons they’ve learned in managing their teams, as well as methods of ensuring strategic relevance for User Experience, working in partnership with senior leaders in all disciplines within their organizations. Thus, this Management Community had three areas of focus:
- Identify and learn from common situations leaders face.
Share knowledge about connecting User Experience to business, including tactics and case studies for evangelism, return on investment (ROI), and increasing the relevance of User Experience.
Provide venues for UX leaders to connect and share stories about both their challenges and their successes, so everyone could learn from their experiences.
Topics relating to UX design and research always generate a lot of buzz within the UX community. Management of User Experience often generates much less. So, I particularly appreciated the level of interest in this Management Community and the participation of both UX leaders and those who are interested in pursuing management at some point in their careers.
The reality is that, no matter how good the UX designers and researchers in a company are, if the practice of User Experience does not have credibility and respect equal to that of disciplines such as product management and engineering, our insights and designs do not make their way into the products that get built. In environments where User Experience lacks credibility and respect, UX designers and researchers spend an inordinate amount of time just trying to get their great ideas accepted. Few would suggest this is the best use of their time. Effective UX leaders make it possible for UX designers and researchers to do their best work by helping both business leaders and leaders in other disciplines understand the value of User Experience and fostering respect for User Experience throughout an organization.
With great UX management, UX designers and researchers don’t have to fight to be heard and are more successful. Why? Because effective leadership simplifies their lives. As Don Norman points out in The Invisible Computer, the best user interfaces are essentially invisible to users, because we notice only interfaces that get in our way. The same is true for UX management. The best UX management is essentially invisible. When UX leaders ensure their team members are respected and have a voice in the product development cycle—and that their work is relevant, their efforts on their teams’ behalf often go unnoticed by the UX designers and researchers who work for them. These individual contributors feel they are effective, because they are able to do great work and have it result in superior products.
UX designers and researchers notice management only when they experience friction. I recently encountered a situation where a UX designer on my team was unable to get some great ideas accepted by a product team. I intervened, and within six months, these ideas had become part of the product. In his performance review, this designer stated that he believed it was his superior idea that had enabled its adoption. He had forgotten that he could not get his idea implemented until I intervened and aligned the organization around the idea. That’s fine with me: I want my employees to be confident in their abilities. At the same time, I also recognized a teachable moment that helped this employee understand the larger context for getting his work accepted.
My point, though, is that we all need to recognize that effective UX management is as essential to the success of User Experience as great UX design and research.
The Management Track at CHI 2010 included several activities:
- Workshop: “Researcher, Practitioner Interactions”—Sunday, April 11
- Course: “Leading Innovation Workshops”—Monday, April 12
- Course: “Managing a User Experience Department”—Tuesday, April 13
- Panel: “Managing User Experience, Managing Change”—Wednesday, April 14
- Management Community Luncheon—A luncheon for UX leaders who are interested in building a robust management community on Wednesday, April 14
- Management SIG (Special Interest Group) Discussion—Thursday, April 15
Course: “Leading Innovation Workshops”
On Monday, April 12, Fabian Hemert and Stephen Gollner of Deutsche Telekom Labs, in Berlin, and my colleague at Yahoo!, Eric Bollman, and I taught the course “Leading Innovation Workshops.” One of the main benefits of our conducting innovation workshops or collaborative design workshops is that they place UX professionals in the position of facilitating dialogue around transforming their businesses, which is an important focus for most UX leaders and the key focus of business leaders.
When UX professionals conduct successful innovation workshops and create the appropriate visibility for them, they achieve more than just gaining themselves a seat at the table. As Carola Thompson pointed out, they are, in effect, creating the table at which all peer disciplines gather to develop strategy. Engineers, product managers, and UX professionals come together to brainstorm and design solutions for not only products, but business problems as well.
More than 40 people attended this course, which ran 4.5 hours. In the end, our students gave the course very strong positive feedback, and I felt that we had met our objectives.
Next, I’ll tell you more about a few of the other activities that I found to be of particular value to the Management Community.