Fostering Innovation and Creativity | Project Scoping

Ask UXmatters

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A column by Janet M. Six
December 22, 2014

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts discusses two topics:

  • how to encourage innovation and creativity within organizations
  • when and how to define the scope of a consulting project

While innovation is something that many companies would like to achieve, most long-established companies fail to innovate. How can organizations foster innovation and creativity? In this column, our expert panel first describes various ways to encourage innovation and creativity within an organization. They also consider these philosophical questions: why should organizations foster innovation and creativity and what do they gain by doing so?

Our expert panel then discusses the importance of consultants’ defining the scope of their projects to ensure that they get paid for all their work. They describe the approaches that they take to project scoping.

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Each month in my column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts provides answers to 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].

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

  • Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director, Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
  • Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
  • Cory Lebson—Principal UX Consultant at Lebsontech; President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA)
  • Eryk Pastwa—Vice President of Design at Creatix

Fostering Innovation and Creativity

Q: How can organizations encourage innovation and creativity among their people, on UX teams, and throughout a business?—from a UXmatters reader

“Innovation and creativity are the lifeblood of any company that creates products or services,” answers Pabini. “Without them, businesses stagnate. Most startups have creative, innovative cultures, but as companies grow, they often move away from the ways of working that originally made them successful. Product teams in startups are highly collaborative; their organizations are not siloed.

“In contrast, the goals of established companies typically involve reliably delivering quarterly profits, and managing projects is about productivity and efficiency. In The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble describe such companies as Performance Engines. Unfortunately, such organizational cultures are antithetical to innovation. Thus, established companies typically struggle with their innovation efforts. Ultimately, their failure to innovate stunts their growth and leaves them vulnerable to disruptive innovations from other companies, which may even drive them out of business.

“Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not just about generating lots of creative ideas. It’s about execution—actually bringing innovative products to the marketplace and delivering business impact. Successfully running an innovation project is very different from running well-oiled, day-to-day operations. A successful innovation project requires

  • a great, innovative idea
  • leadership that knows how to foster innovation and creativity
  • the right organizational model for innovation
  • a dedicated team that is creative and collaborative, but disciplined
  • shared staff from the Performance Engine
  • managing the partnership between the dedicated team and shared staff
  • planning that evolves through rigorous experimentation and learning

“The Build–Measure–Learn Feedback Loop of Lean Startup and Lean UX embodies the essence of that last point. Innovation teams are highly collaborative. Collaboration is a core skill for both UX teams and product teams. We’ve discussed both Lean UX and collaborative teamwork in depth, in these past editions of Ask UXmatters:

“Design thinking fosters creativity and innovation throughout an organization,” continues Pabini. “These are engines of growth. According to Roger Martin, the three essential components of design thinking for business are ‘deep and holistic user understanding; … visualization of new possibilities, prototyping, and refining;’ and ‘the creation of a new activity system to bring the nascent idea to reality and profitable operation.’ We discussed design thinking in great depth in this edition of Ask UXmatters:

Design Thinking | Employing Design Principles | Defining Ease of Use.’”

 “There’s been a ton of research on how to encourage innovation and creativity within an organization,” replies Jordan. “Things like brainstorming techniques, seating arrangements, playing music, scheduling down time, and conducting team-building exercises can all play a role in encouraging innovation and creativity. But the real goal should be to enable niche passions within employees. This is a tougher exercise because it requires making an investment in individuals rather than an investment in the organization. For instance, building a huge boardroom with tons of different games, bean-bag chairs, and whiteboards is an investment in the organization. It’s a facility that any employee could use. In contrast, giving an employee a day off to attend a conference or read a book is an investment in that individual, whose acquired knowledge only a few employees might be able to leverage.

“Encouraging diverse teams to develop knowledge on subjects that they are passionate about is one of the most effective ways to build a culture of innovation and creativity.”

Leo refers us to his discussion of Presumptive Design in “Making User Experience Part of Business Strategy | Understanding a Product’s Target Culture.” You might also enjoy reading “Here’s Why Innovation Dies at Big Tech Companies, According to Steve Jobs.”

Freedom, Ownership, and Dialogue

“From my perspective as a design team leader, three things are necessary to encourage creativity: freedom, ownership, and dialogue,” answers Eryk. “Perhaps the most critical of these is freedom, which is the best and fastest means of unlocking creativity. The freedom to be creative is important for more than solving just the big problems. It also results in the iterative improvements that turn a good product into a great one.

“Giving your people ownership of their work is a great incentive for creativity because they can see their contributions take form in a product or service. Intense, creative team discussions are necessary to turn early ideas into proven products. As humans, we have inherent desires to be free, to influence the world around us, and to be part of an engaged community. Enabling the fulfillment of these three desires unlocks creativity for individuals and teams.”

Project Scoping

Q: Do consultants include scoping as a stage of a project? Is it an activity for which they receive payment or is scoping part of the business-development process—and, therefore, unpaid work? Which is more typical? How have consultants been successful in getting clients to agree to include scoping as a stage of a project for which they’re paid?—from a UXmatters reader

“As a consultant, scoping is one of my least favorite words,” responds Jordan. “It’s an ambiguous term and really discounts the work that scoping a project requires. Typically, organizations just want to know whether I can get a job done on time and on budget. So the majority of my unpaid scoping work focuses on figuring that out. Usually, it doesn’t take long.

“Sometimes, UX design consultants are not in charge of the final design solution. In many cases, we can scale the fidelity of our deliverables to fit larger or smaller budgets. Often, I spend the majority of my time on a consulting project immersing myself in the problem and researching the solution. While my final deliverables often differ, the problem immersion and solution research are never unpaid activities. I would never spend days immersing myself in problem without having an agreement regarding how much I will be paid. Some organizations are reluctant to pay for invisible deliverables and require that you give them something tangible such as an insights deck or a report that summarizes the results of your work.

“If you want to get paid for scoping, you need to stop calling it scoping. Determining a project’s scope shouldn’t take more than a one-hour phone call. When you start brainstorming with a product team, interviewing stakeholders, or performing contextual inquiries, you’re actually doing work. Sometimes, it will be up to you to create or ask for a contract for both the company and yourself to sign. As soon as it’s signed, you can be secure in the knowledge that you’ll be paid for the work you’re doing. At the very least, asking for a contract will force a discussion about what work should be in and out of scope.”

“For me, scoping is generally part of the unpaid, business-development process,” replies Cory. “I may have one or two meetings with a potential client, during which we scope out what they’re looking for. Then, I’ll generate a proposal based on those discussions, including the cost of the engagement. That said, while I often give clients the opportunity to choose whether to pay a fixed price for my team’s work or to pay me and my staff on an hourly basis, even after scoping, there may still be some uncertainty as to how much effort something is going to take. If there is too much uncertainty, I’ll take one of the following approaches:

  • Give the client an hourly rate and provide an estimate—but not a guarantee—of how much they can expect that the project will cost.
  • Give the client a fixed price, along with a bulleted list of expectations that, if not met, will require us to create a change order and allocate an additional amount of funding for the project.” 

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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