Messy Success and Ambiguous Failures, Part 2

April 6, 2020

In Part 1 of this series, I described how people often conceive of project outcomes in black-and-white, binary terms. They deem a project either a success or a failure. I also identified some common pitfalls that many organizations face in identifying an initiative’s desired strategic outcomes, then measuring results against them.

To look at these challenges using a wider lens, it’s necessary to understand how organizations can best position themselves, at a foundational level, to reap the most benefit from design thinking. How can they effectively partner with UX professionals to ensure that any shared undertaking achieves maximum impact?

Whether you’re a UX designer, working with one, or thinking of hiring a UX design team, the following tactics can help you put your efforts on the best path to achieve a positive outcome.

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Create Conditions That Enable Success

Whether User Experience is a new or an established discipline within your organization, it is likely that some stakeholders might be unfamiliar with the role that UX professionals play in designing new products, services, or interactive experiences.

While advocating for design is part of a UX professional’s purview, this responsibility cannot rest on the shoulders of these professionals alone. Every member of a product team must understand the value of the various disciplines that are on their team. Leadership can help shape these conversations, but staff at every level of the organization must buy into the value of all disciplines for cross-functional teams to operate at their fullest potential. While having questions and feeling uncertainty are a natural part of this process as teams mature, the teams that are healthy and productive are those that can recognize, respect, and value the special expertise that each discipline brings to the table.

To build truly multidisciplinary teams, it is critical that everyone on a team be clear on what the team expects from them. If an organization is using a particular methodology such as agile, Lean, or Six Sigma, it cannot successfully execute unless everyone who must adhere to that methodology has equal access to the appropriate resources and training. It’s wishful thinking to expect consistent results from team members whose onboarding has been inconsistent!

If an organization is adopting a new way of working, a one-time rollout is unlikely to be enough. Continue to monitor each team’s health and progress over time. Make adjustments as necessary, as follows:

  • for departments or organizations—Add resources, support, or structures that align with the organization’s strategic priorities and new ways of working.
  • for product teams—Invite all team members to provide input on what the team should collectively work toward, as well as what they would like to gain from their projects in terms of their individual professional development. (For more advice on building a strong team culture, read Dan Szuc and Jo Wong’s article “Understanding Cultures,” on UXmatters.)

Prime the Organization to Be Your Partner

One purpose of design is to foster change within an organization. If someone in your organization has discovered something that appears to be broken—whether in your current product, a process, or a system—reaching a meaningful solution is unlikely unless there’s a willingness to embrace change.

In practice, this is often easier to say than to do. Even welcome, necessary changes tend to be disruptive—as experienced UX designers understand. Much of our work focuses on maintaining patience and empathy throughout the change process. The issues at play have likely formed over years—or even decades! Expecting immediate change, even once an organization acknowledges a problem, may be unrealistic.

Organizational leadership can also help set a positive, productive tone by preparing the organization in advance and actively partnering with UX designers to speak to the value of the work UX professionals are doing. All stakeholders should invest time and effort in developing workable solutions over time.

Remember, it is not the job of design teams—whether in house or from a consultancy—to keep everyone comfortable and maintain the status quo. It may be helpful to bear the following in mind:

  • for departments or organizations—It can be challenging to remain patient and open-minded as the design team explores a problem space. There might be times when the work that is unfolding feels difficult. Resist the urge to become reactive. If you stay the course, you’ll likely reap benefits far beyond what you initially envisioned, by gaining a deeper understanding of what problems are in play and how significant they are, as well as their potential solutions.
  • for UX designers and product teams—Stakeholders might think the work is moving too fast or not quickly enough. Understand that their questions can often be an attempt to understand an unfamiliar process. Building trust takes time, so learn the language of your organization and frame your work in a way that resonates with stakeholders.

Problems can also evolve over time. For example, a cross-functional team I worked with received a directive to reduce the average handle time (AHT) for calls to a major retailer’s customer-support centers. Through our discovery work and on-site visits, we gradually uncovered a range of other issues—from callers frequently being placed on hold to agents having difficulty in locating the order a customer was calling about.

With these insights in hand, the team began developing a new software application to ease support agents’ painpoints. However, we knew that technology alone wouldn’t provide a complete solution. Along the way, we continually partnered with call-center operations to ensure that we remained in alignment with them as we developed solutions and that agents received the training and support they needed when we introduced the new application.

Our initial data suggested that AHT was dropping, which could yield a significant reduction in operational expenses. But the new technology had the potential to do far more. Agents, at any level, can now easily access information that enables them to provide better customer service. New features of the application let agents take action and immediately resolve customers’ concerns—for example, by reshipping a missing order or letting customers know their order will arrive in multiple packages. Not only have these features improved the customer experience, they potentially offer multimillion-dollar savings by reducing callbacks, unnecessary order reships, and the need to offer customers refunds.

Have a Dream and Tell a Story

What’s the vision that drives your work? What great things are you hoping to achieve? Looking into the future, where do you want to be?

Both UX professionals and the companies for which they work should be able to answer these questions. Horst Schulze, cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, put it this way in an HBR IdeaCast interview: “We don’t ask people to come to work and fulfill a function. We ask them to be part of our dream.”

Too often, an organization’s or team’s dream is either poorly articulated, not articulated at all, or there is misalignment between the articulated vision and the lived reality. In his book Unlocking the Hidden Customer Experience, global thought leader Colin Shaw notes that many organizations fail to recognize how the emotional engagement of both their employees and their customers affects a company’s overall performance.

This emotional dimension of business is too important to leave to chance. Paying intermittent, infrequent attention to emotional engagement is not enough. Organizations must intentionally create and change their culture. In other words, they must design culture.

Who designed your organization’s culture? Chances are that it wasn’t a single individual. Perhaps it wasn’t deliberately designed at all. Perhaps it formed by happenstance, over a period of many months or years. In any case, there’s never a bad time for honestly, candidly assessing where your culture currently stands. Is there a dream that everyone in your organization could get behind? Is there a story that everyone wants to tell?

Once the foundation of culture is in place, you can work together to articulate a dream and build your organization’s future. Intentional design can help you get there. 

Independent Consultant

Pittsburgh, Pensylvania, USA

Amy ArdenAmy loves working with organizations to solve complicated problems. She believes that every day is a chance to use design to make something a little bit—or a lot!—better. Over her career, she’s worked with nonprofits, federal agencies, professional-services firms, and Fortune 500 retailers. Her favorite projects include designing a chatbot to help provide information to the public about opioid abuse and creating an exhibition Web site and social-media channels for the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Amy enjoys talking shop and learning from other UX professionals. In addition to writing for UXmatters, she has presented at several conferences, including Customer Contact Week 2019, IA Summit 2018, and UXPA DC 2017.  Read More

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