Rather than seeing this type of response to design decisions as an obstacle, I encourage my team to see this as an opportunity to help stakeholders understand that they are not representative of users. In all of the cases that I mentioned, my team already had direct user feedback that indicated the stakeholders’ assumptions were in fact incorrect. However, even this type of data may not be enough to change such deeply held beliefs.
On projects, for example, I have seen limited success when using tactics like providing access to usability test–session videos as a means of helping internal stakeholders to understand current user needs. While such an approach is helpful in building stakeholder understanding of specific user needs relating to a particular project, this type of learning is not necessarily portable across an entire organization.
After closely observing this organizational dance for several years, I conducted some research on how to help non-UX employees to develop a deeper understanding of user needs. The research that resulted from my curiosity about this issue eventually evolved into my doctoral research topic.
During that research, a pattern emerged that revealed a gap in UX professionals’ typical list of truisms. While “Know your users, because they are not you” is already on that list, we should add “Know your internal stakeholders, because they are not you” to the list. UX professionals are not representative of the average employee in an organization.
The Listen, Learn, Act Framework
Employing this new point of view, I began to research a more systemic way of communicating current user needs to stakeholders—that is, non-UX employees. I created an initial, three-step framework—Listen, Learn, Act—to support more systematic user connectedness. During my research, I found that many non-UX employees feel frustrated when
- they want to listen, but do not have access to voice-of-the-customer (VOC) data
- they want to learn about, but do not have a clear sense of their firm’s customer-centric vision
- they want to act, but first need to engage in training so they can learn how to apply customer-centric behaviors in their daily work
Conversely, UX professionals—who are often more directly connected to user needs—become frustrated when internal stakeholders cannot understand how a design fulfills known user needs and, thus, their rationale for design decisions.
More recently, I have been working with my team to develop the Listen, Learn, Act framework into a UX pattern for customer-centric organizational change. Communicating this framework using the familiar construct of a UX pattern has helped the designers on my team to tackle the problem of the stakeholder-user disconnect as a design problem instead of an issue relating to organizational politics. By applying this type of design thinking, we have reconceived our typical UX artifacts for the purpose of communicating with an internal audience and bridging the stakeholder-user gap.
In applying this pattern for customer-centric organizational behavior change, we start by listening and applying qualitative analysis practices to UX artifacts such as
- Usability Reports
- Ethnography Studies
- Usage Metrics
During our analysis, we apply qualitative thematic coding across various customer-feedback listening posts.