Saturday, February 15, 2014

UX Strategy - Be the Catalyst

My focus, lately, has been on UX Strategy, mainly because we don't have one.  And no one has thought about it.  While I feel we're making some impact in the limited number of projects we're involved in, I also feel it was time we intentionally start institutionalizing UX.  That's not to say we haven't made some strides.  We've grown our team and the company is more aware of the benefits of having UX.  But there's still much work to do.  We've done the many World Usability Days and evangelized the heck out of it along with numerous workshops in the past, but now UX needed to grow up if we're to make any kind of progression.  The problem is, we have to do it from the middle even though we have an executive champion. So how does one start?

It takes guts.
If you feel sometimes you're the lone person having this vision and wanting to see it through, you're not alone.  That's how I'm feeling right now.  It's about establishing a foundation on which to build upon.  And you have to realize that this won't happen instantly - it may take years, or not, depending on how you approach it and the resistance you get along the way.  I tried to find some quick fixes, but it just wouldn't happen that way.  For instance, some say, the best relationships that happen over time are ones that happen the slowest - with progression.  There's a gestation period to everything and while having the vision and fortitude will push you and motivate you along, you still cannot force it.  But that doesn't mean staying where you are.  Be the mover and shaker.  Be the catalyst.

Starting a strategy also means sticking your head out to make a difference.  So beware if you are thin-skinned.  If you approach it all wrong, it will backfire, so you need to keep your actions tempered and controlled.  Make a case for everything you do.  Have specific intent.

Read. Then read more.
That doesn't mean just reading the numerous articles about UX Strategy.  It also means reading business books.  I've been at it for over 10 years and I'm still learning from the best.  Anything from Jim Collins is a great start as this will give you the kind of business mentality you need to make sustainable change.  All the MBA's are doing it, so why not?  And to accompany his series, anything from John C. Maxwell is a great read.  He talks and writes about leadership the way it was meant to be - and that means changing yourself.  If you're to create a UX Strategy, that means you have to create leaders - and that starts with you.  Of course, you cannot forget reading about UX.  Lean UX is a great book for times when you and your colleagues have to adapt to how a project is undertaken.  Also, refresh your reading starting with Alan Cooper's book.  It will change your perspective in subsequent readings when put in the perspective of developing a strategy.  Now there's purpose to reading!  (Not that there wasn't before.)

Consult with your peers and find a mentor (or two).
The best way to learn is to ask those who have done it before.  Granted, your situation may not be the same, but at least you gain insight from talking with your peers.  You can also ask one or two persons to be your mentor so that you keep your thinking based on reality, not just on cloud nine and the Ideal - the things you want to happen.  The people who you reach out to for support will give you the sanity you need when things don't work out the way you expect it.  But that doesn't mean it gives you a license to complain.
Build your team.
Growing up meant that we also had to take stock in our own abilities, our strengths and weaknesses, our values, and also develop our code of honor.  That also meant that we had to determine what projects were actually worthwhile to get involved in - but that didn't mean we wouldn't be involved if conditions weren't ideal.  That's naive.  The point is to be on the same page whenever a project comes through our door, and that meant managing ourselves.  Taking stock meant the team got together for several hours to talk about each other in every different light through anecdotes and getting to know each other's personalities.  We took this test.  This gave us a better understanding in each other, inevitably creating a form of trust, a bond that would be difficult to break.  A stronger team will get everyone far.

Get out there - get context.
You can't design in a vacuum.  And the same goes for developing a strategy and institutionalizing UX.  You can't do it from your stall (aka cube).  As a person in UX, our best attribute is listening.  So why not put it to good use?  Part of the plan to developing any strategy is to get context meaning putting ourselves in someone else's shoes.  The best way to get context was to interview those who we are trying to serve.  That meant talking with the various product managers, developers and department heads to get an understanding of what they're up against.  Empathy - remember that word?  A proper ethonographic study would have been ideal, but it wouldn't be the best use of our time (and it would be creepy).  The objective was to gain insight and then create a course of action that would address everyone's concerns.

By talking with your stakeholders, that signals to them that you're actually interested in who they are and what they do!  And you should be, because if you think you're just creating a UX Strategy for yourself, then you're not doing it for the correct reasons.

Conduct workshops.
Who needs workshops?  Some say, it's in the projects that we are involved in that make the difference.  But how would everyone know what we do if we didn't show them to be aware?  The thing is, to everyone who's not in UX, it's all foreign - we're speaking alien.  It's a different language and they don't understand it.  (I know my parents and siblings still don't know what I do!)  While yes, smaller projects would be the smartest way to gain entry through the barrier, it doesn't create instant buy-in.  My thought here is, if you're going to understand UX, you have to do it and go through the process.  A UX workshop in the form of a Bootcamp is the fastest way to get understanding and buy-in.  It teaches everyone what activities you partake in and the reasons why in a very fast, impactful way.  But of course, you still have to sell the idea for everyone to attend the workshop.

Keep the momentum.
You can't just do something one month and then just disappear.  Have some sort activity every month or two to get into everyone's minds.  That's the only way to build momentum.  Whether it's a workshop, meeting or some sort of fun activity, do something to stay in people's minds.

All in all, I thought a lot about whether we were really ready for this.  I was told I was forcing it but I knew I wasn't.  Sometimes, you just have to do it.  With the ever-changing technologies and its fast pace, and our ever-evolving products, if we didn't do something to continue on our course, to facilitate maturity, I just know we'd lose many other opportunities in the future.  And a big part of that is to get UX ahead of the curve, the instant ideas start to become projects.

Above all else, you have to be the catalyst.  You have to make your own assessment.  Mind you, there's no one easy or correct way to do this.  Even this blog entry isn't the end-all.  When you embark on this journey, it will test you in many ways you never thought it would.  And it all starts with you.