“Sigh… That’s Gonna Be a Hard Job.”

Selling UX

A unique perspective on service UX

A column by Baruch Sachs
September 22, 2014

These are words that one never really wants to hear from a home-improvement contractor. Or any type of contractor really. Recently, I built a new house. And I heard these very words from a person who was coming in to clean up a mess. At some point, the tile guy had messed up the work the hardwood guy was doing and left an inch gap between the place leading into the bathroom—where the tile floor ends and the marble threshold begins. Or maybe it was the hardwood guy who had messed up the tile guy’s work. It’s hard to tell these days. We live in an era when the deflection of blame and the avoidance of personal responsibility are common.

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At that point in my story, all that I knew—and all I really cared about—was that I, as the customer, was being inconvenienced; one contractor or the other would have to spend more time fixing the problem; and fixing the issue would cost me more money than I’d planned to spend. It would have been so much simpler and more cost effective if it had just been done right the first time.

So, what does this have to do with UX consulting? Quite a lot actually. It all comes down to effective planning, which is something that differentiates a truly successful UX consultant from one who is merely busy—constantly putting out fires.

Planning for Success

Almost every day, I notice parallels between my interactions with people in my personal life and my interactions as a professional UX consultant. There are useful lessons to be learned from these daily interactions. The basic interactions that we have with people are similar across all aspects of our lives. I am no more inclined to give work to a contractor who does not meet my expectations when working on my house than I am to give work to UX consultants who are unable to do what I ask of them. When I look at the reasons for not hiring a person, more often than not, they are the same—whether I’m hiring someone to install a hardwood floor or create a stellar user experience for enterprise software.

IBM did a famous study whose findings still hold true today. The gist of it goes like this: $1 spent in planning, saves $10 when doing development, and saves $100 over what it would cost to do the same work during maintenance. This formula breaks things down simply, but it is applicable not only to software design and development, but to almost everything in life. Plan properly and doing something is cheap and simple. Don’t plan to try to fix a problem later on, after everything is done, when fixing it would be expensive and complex.

Anyone may seek the cheap-and-easy fix at some point. Sometimes doing so even makes sense. Day to day, we never have just one problem to solve. We’re confronted with multiple issues that clamor for our attention. We sometimes make snap decisions about things that really require us to slow down, think, and plan out what is necessary—not only tactically, but strategically as well.

The 5 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Following this famous adage sounds simple enough. But modern ways of working require so much multitasking that it is sometimes difficult to really plan and even more difficult to take action on something that you know is going to be difficult. The key to success, though, is that, if you plan properly, doing something may still be hard, but you will be able to accomplish the work.

Unfortunately, in the UX arena, we often see a lack of planning. Clients continually ask me whether, instead of planning a proper UX strategy or program, I can somehow just bless a design through a serious of random, infrequent, one-hour meetings. During these meetings, I am asked to “just look at some screens” and expected to have a clear understanding of the business requirements and design constraints and considerations, immediately digest the screen designs, and come up with alternative designs if problems arise.

This happens so frequently that I can almost anticipate the request before it happens. It’s almost always necessary for me to reset expectations about what clients are going to get out of such meetings. The first step is to understand that the real desire behind these requests is not to get UX design on the cheap. Instead, it results from the fact that software development projects require very smart and capable people to do much more work than it’s possible to execute properly—let alone plan properly. So clients look for the quick-and-dirty solution to check a box that they’ve gotten something done. Then, when things blow up, they can point to the fact that a UX person blessed a particular design.

A lot of the UX professionals who I know feed into this dysfunctional approach. And why not? We are no less busy these days than anyone else. Plus, as a design exercise, it is very easy and even fun to take a look at an existing design, break it down, and suggest new ways of doing it—without our ever having to consider the business needs that went into the original design.

Doing the hard work means creating a UX design strategy, proposing it and getting it approved, and actually implementing it. That is the work that usually needs doing. Waiting to do this does not make things easier.

Planning a UX Engagement

For an engagement to be truly successful, you need to spend anywhere from 15 to 25% of your time planning. Plan for contingencies. Plan how your work meshes with that of others. Know how your work fits in with the overall strategy for the project you’re working on. Most important, be flexible in your planning. Too many UX strategies and program plans fall apart in the face of unexpected adversities. In my next column, I’ll discuss some specific ways in which you can go from lamenting all of the hard work that you face to your being properly prepared for success. 

Vice President, Client Innovation, at Pegasystems

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Baruch SachsAt Pegasystems, Baruch helps global clients develop new ways of streamlining their operations, improving their customer experience, and creating real transformations—digital or otherwise. Previously, during his 12 years at Pegasystems, Baruch led their global User Experience team and served as the principal end-user advocate for the Pegasystems Services organization in their delivery of user-interface design and user experience to customers and partners. He has led and participated in successful efforts to improve user experience across various industries. Baruch earned his Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing and Philosophy at the University of Hartford and his Master’s of Science in Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University’s McCallum Graduate School of Business.  Read More

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