Championing UX During a Company Merger

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A column by Janet M. Six
June 18, 2012

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss how to evangelize the value of user experience when going through a company merger or acquisition.

Every month in Ask UXmatters, our UX experts answer readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

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The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
  • Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer at Cummins and Author of Designing Mobile Interfaces
  • Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
  • Mike Hughes—User Assistance Architect at IBM Internet Security Systems; UXmatters columnist
  • Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
  • Baruch Sachs—Director of Human Factors Design at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist

Q: My UX team was just getting established in our organization when we merged with another company. Suddenly, we’re faced with having to teach people about the value that user experience can add all over again! Can you suggest ways to get past this obstacle quickly?—from a UXmatters reader

“I feel this question has a seed of contempt in its phrasing—almost saying, “How could anyone question the value of UX?” exclaims Jordan. “I’ve worked with dozens of UX professionals, and 80% of them were tourists. By that I mean they don’t really care about user experience; it’s more a way they earn money. Even worse, many of them don’t provide any real value and actually confuse things. Often, great UX people don’t see this because they tend to be the only UX person working on a given project. Conversely, the deficiencies of many bad UX people don’t get recognized because the rest of their team tends to make up for their poor work.

“If I were you, I’d figure out whether the company you’ve merged with has had bad experiences with UX professionals in the past, educate them on how you like to work, and include members of the new company in early design sessions. The best way to convince a team of the value of user experience is to show them how valuable you can be throughout the lifecycle of a real project.”

Get Back to Basics

“Even if we’re lucky enough to work with an organization that basically gets user experience, there are always new team members, new aspects of the work, or new suppliers or customers to work with,” replies Caroline. “Get back to the basics: get your coworkers to watch people work with—and struggle with—your products in usability tests. Don’t assume that because people say that they are user-focused or customer-focused that means they are really up to speed with user experience. Show them that you consider users when making every decision; they’ll rapidly get into the habit of doing the same. Consider “UX squared”—the UX of your UX deliverables and how they meet the needs of your new colleagues.”

Show Your Value

“As a long-time member of the technical communication community, I have heard this lament literally for decades,” responds Mike. “So excuse me if my reply sounds a bit crabby or battle weary. Don’t teach people how you add value, show them. If your value isn’t evident as they work with you, ask yourself whether you truly are adding value. This means understanding the problems your immediate team is trying to solve and focusing your skills and contributions on those problems. Avoid their perceiving the UX presence on a team as one more hurdle developers need to overcome to get their job done.”

Adrian agrees, “Don't teach. Demonstrate. Find something, no matter how small, that you can fix that’s going to help the organization. Beg, borrow, or steal the resources to get it fixed. Document the improvement in the bottom line.

“Workshops and talks are nice—but nothing convinces people better than a little hard evidence. You can then leverage your small win to get the resources to do something else. Once you start delivering value on a regular basis, the conversation about the value of user experience to the organization becomes much, much easier to have.”

Pinpoint Specific Examples of Success

“My experience is that this won’t be the last time this happens to you,” says Steven. “The first time this happened to me, I was at the apex of getting along perfectly with everyone—from the newest developer to the legal team. Then, they outsourced the whole IT department and turned much of the organization upside down. But, even aside from catastrophic changes like mergers and reorganizations, you’ll have to work with new vendors or teams who may have, at best, a vague or misleading impression of what you do. 

“Try to analyze what you did to prove your value before. It probably didn’t actually mean taking months or years to prove yourself on project after project. But proving the value of UX probably wasn’t a steady upward climb either. You’ll likely find that certain specific examples and explanations and certain specific types of successes helped jump the department from one level to the next.

“You should be able to focus on these—whether they were process improvements, success measures, or demonstrable ROI calculations—to shorten the UX adoption cycle for your new organization. And of course, leverage those working across the organization—from executives to business analysts—who already recognize the value of user experience enough to sing your praises without your even asking.”

Educate Your Organization About the Value of Good Design

“As a manager of a UX team myself, I can certainly relate,” says Baruch. “One thing that I have learned to be invaluable is always to remember that you must not only manage down, but manage up as well. There are always opportunities to ensure that peers and senior management are aware not only of what you and your team are doing, but also the value you are providing. Explore opportunities to conduct learning sessions, during which you can share both the particulars of the types of activities your team does, as well as some of your accomplishments.

“I find that there is a decided lack of UX professionals within an organization who make sure that people know exactly how much value user experience brings to a project. If you’ve saved thousands of dollars on a redesign or increased user adoption rates by some percentage, people need to know about it. In most organizations, specific groups have weekly or monthly team meetings. Identify the groups you need to influence most, and find out whether you can spend 10 to 15 minutes of their meeting time talking about what your UX group does and how people can get you involved in their projects. Chances are that they will relish the opportunity to have you speak to their team, because most of these meetings are starved for topics. If this type of forum is not available, record a short, interactive Webinar, and post it to your company’s collaboration site. Then advertise it through email to let people know it is there.

“Luckily, general knowledge of good design is more prevalent—even if the term UX is foreign to people. This allows us to relate the value we bring to the design of gadgets and consumer applications that people use in their everyday lives. Instead of getting deep into the disciplines, language, and activities of user experience, at this point, you really need to educate your organization about the value of good design. And your team is perfectly poised to provide that value. Good luck, and remember: educating people about user experience is just as important as practicing it. A little time invested in evangelizing the value of user experience goes a long way.” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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