Right now I’m looking for two things in particular:
the dark side: examples of things that are commonly called ‘our strategy’ but are not really strategy at all.
I think there are plenty of these out there. Some examples:
1. I’m often shown things that are called ‘our strategy’ but are usually a list of tasks in groups, like, say ’Our Social Media Strategy’ with a list of things we’re going to do (make a facebook app, make a twitter widget, etc.)
2. Another one I often see is an incredibly vague product description something like, ‘we’re doing social mapping’ – again this is not a strategy.Do you have some other examples of things that are currently misconstrued as strategy?
the bright side: good ways to keep strategy alive (known, understood, attended to) in an organisation – communicating strategy
These examples, I fear, may be a little more scarce, but I’d love your help to try to uncover as many good examples as possible. What have you seen/made/used to help an organisation maintain it’s focus on it’s purpose/strategy/mission? (where that purpose/strategy/mission is a real one and not just a marketing soundbite).
This could be some kind of physical thing, an activity, a tattoo (just kidding… I think) – whatever works to help make sure that people in the organisation know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, who they’re doing it for.
I’d really appreciate your help compiling two sets of examples and, of course I’ll happily share them back with you here (wherever/however possible, taking commercial sensitivity into account of course).
An excellent thing about writing a book is having the excuse to read. Until recently, I’ve read a lot of people writing about Peter Drucker (a pioneering management theorist), now I’m actually reading his work myself. I recommend you do too.
One of the issues that it is really clarifying for me is something I’ve had a gut feel about for a long time. The role of the commercially or business savvy designer.
What does it mean to be ‘business savvy’ when you’re a designer? For some, it means you have an MBA, you take pleasure in doing SWOT analysis, and you love to spend your afternoon doing some double entry book keeping. For most of us, I think it means that we’re willing to ask for or define and then design for measurable outcomes that the business cares about. Increases in sales, page impressions, things that accountants and managers care about.
While I’m all for helping my client/employer be profitable so that they can continue to pay me and so we can work on more and better projects together, the description above doesn’t really fit well with most of the other aspects of User Experience. All too often, we find ourselves making compromises, or doing things that don’t really make sense, because of these clearly defined business objectives or ‘commercial reality’.
Reading Drucker has helped me to better articulate why this feels so wrong. It’s because it is wrong.
Most of the business people we’re taking orders from are actually doing business wrong. And if anyone can help them, it’s a User Experience person who has a firm grip on how business should be.
Actually, if you read Drucker (and I’ll post you some snippets in a moment), I think you’ll be amazed at how – if business is done the way he advocates – business people and UX people are actually coming from precisely the same place. Working together, doing things the right way, we can actually be firm allies rather than – as is so often the case – being mildly suspicious of each others motives and usefulness to the organisation.
There is so much of the first part of my copy of Drucker’s book highlighted I can hardly choose which bit to share with you. Here are a few pieces I had to underline then make a big highlighter star in the margin about:
To know what a business is we have to start with its purpose. Its purpose must lie outside of the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society, since business enterprise is an organ of society. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.
It is the customer who determines what a business is. it is the customer alone whose willingness to pay for a good or for a service converts economic resources into wealth, things into goods. Whatever the business thinks it produces is not of first importance – especially not to the future of the business and to its success…
What the customer thinks he or she is buying, what he or she considers value is decisive – it determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper. And what the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always a utility – that is, what a product or service does for him or her. And what is value for the customer is anything but obvious. (pp 56-57)
We really need a value measurement. What economic value does innovation give the customer? The customer is the only judge; he or she alone knows the economic reality. (pp60)
Profit is not a cause but a result – the results of the performance of the business in marketing, innovation, productivity. It is a needed result, serving essential economic functions.Profit is, first, the test of performance – the only effective test… Indeed, profit is a beautiful example of what engineers mean when they talk of feedback, or the self-regulation of a process by it’s own results. (pp65)
With respect to the definition of business purpose and business mission, there is only one such focus, one starting point. It is the customer. The customer defines the business.
Management always, and understandably, considers its product or its service to be important. If it did not, it could not do a good job. Yet to the customer, no product or service, and certainly no company, is of much importance. The executives of a company always tend to believe that the customer spends hours discussing their products. But how many housewives, for instance, ever talk to each other about the whiteness of their laundry? If something is badly wrong with one brand of detergent, they switch to another. Customers only want to know what the product or service will do for them tomorrow. All they are interested in are their own values and wants. Any serious attempt to state ‘what our business is’ must start with these truths about the customers. (pp 72)
The customer never buys a product. By definition the customer buys the satisfaction of a want. The customer buys value. Yet, the manufacturer, by definition, cannot produce a value, but can only make and sell a product. What the manufacturer considers quality may, therefore, be irrelevant and nothing but a waste and useless expense. (p 76)
Maybe I’m unlucky but all too many projects that I come into contact with seem to start with the sales figures. They have noisy shareholders demanding dollar value results in the next three months. They focus on traffic, page impressions, ad revenue, numbers of customers. Yet ask them what the purpose of the business is, what the value to the customer is, and often the response you get is a sigh and a look that makes you feel like you’ve drifted off into touchy-feely-designerland.
Well, no more. Forget ‘design thinking’ and any new-fashioned mumbo-jumbo. And forget being an order taker for sales figures and page impressions. By not focusing properly on customer value, defining their business in relation to customer value, our business people are doing business wrong. Putting the cart before the horse, focusing on the feedback and not the system. And it’s not me that says it, it’s the guys who defined what management is.
(And, for the record, Drucker kept saying pretty much the same thing for the next 20yrs until he died, in 1995 – you reckon you’re frustrated, try being him. He ended up giving up on business and working with non-profits instead).
Yes, its going to be a tough job turning some businesses around. Yes, sometimes you’ll need to give up and go somewhere where people actually want to listen. Working out this customer thing is much harder than setting some sales figures and then pressuring everyone around you to try to meet them… somehow.
But that’s our job, right. The customer thing. Let’s stop feeling bad that we don’t understand all those complicated tables in Excel and how to read a profit and loss table. Let’s focus on what we know – gaining customer insight and designing products and services that deliver value to customers – because more than anything, that’s what business needs.
Do this confidently, and that’s the best way you can ever be a business savvy designer.
Having been a relatively vocal critic of the UK-UPA and some of their current activities, I would hate for it to be said that all I do is snipe from the sidelines. I do have some suggestions as to how the UPA can address this issue, but it will take significantly more than 140 characters.
I think that focussing on the lack of members voting in these committee elections might be totally missing the point. Here is a classis situation where we’re focussing on tactical problems when, actually the issue is strategic.
What does the UKUPA do? A quick scan of their current website tells you this
‘UKUPA brings together UK professionals from the design, technology and research communities who share a vision of creating compelling technology that meets users’ needs and abilities.’
Blah blah blah – what on earth does that actually mean? According to the predominant content on their current website it seems to mean they do job listings. And very little design.
But wait – the UKUPA are in the process of (very slowly) launching a new website. Perhaps it will give us more information about what they do?
Why, yes it does – it tells us that they have a committee, and they vote.
And, yes they certainly do vote. A lot.
A quick scan of the discussion on twitter involving UKUPA will show you that pretty much all they’ve been talking about for the past few months is voting for committee positions.
Now, clearly *some* people are interested in the committee and who is on it but I think the (surprisingly small) membership may be sending a big message – shut up about your committee already. For every one person that’s on the committee there are dozens who are not. Making such a big deal of your committee is not really a particularly inclusive strategy. It certainly doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about the UPA. It makes me feel like Not A Committee Member.
The very fact that it *has* a committee, to my mind at least, makes the UKUPA seem dated – many of the great things happening on the UX scene at the moment are grass roots initiatives that are so busy getting stuff done that the idea of a committee is ludicrous. Let alone a committee of 8 people!
That, combined with the fact that the name of the organisation centres on the term ‘usability’ I think is indicative of the problem you’re facing – relevance. What are you offering the UX profession that is worth handing over a membership fee? Do you really need a committee? If so, what are they actually doing?
You may well have good answers to all of these questions but these are not being well communicated. Spend time answering these questions and less time dreaming up prizes to coerce people to vote for a committee they probably don’t really want.
As I write this I am conscious of four things:
the committee is very much a part of the UPA’s culture
The UK UPA is part of a global UPA machine
the UK UPA does provide valuable services to the UX community in the UK – in particular, the events they run each month are generally very relevant and well attended and provide a great service to the community.
the UK UPA currently has 300+ members.
If we were running the UKUPA, what could we do with this information?
Here’s what I’d be doing.
Firstly, look at your member data, talk to your members. Find out from people:
how long have they been members? Are lots of new people joining up or are most people long term members?
why are people joining? are they looking to validate themselves in the profession by showing they are ‘members of the Usability Professionals Association’ or do they want discounts at events?
why are people not leaving? Can they not be bothered cancelling the standing order or do they feel that they are getting value from their membership? if so, what do they value?
why are people leaving? what are you not delivering that they want?
what do the members think the UPA could be doing better? What do they want the UPA to do for them?
Do NOT do this in a survey.
Secondly, look at your value proposition, branding and positioning
find out what image the UK UPA is projecting and ask whether it’s the right one. Talk to people who aren’t in the UPA, let them be critical (stop being so defensive)
think seriously about changing your name. ‘Usability’ isn’t helping you now and it’s not going to get any better as time goes on. (Yes, of course I know you’re part of the global UPA – that’s a whole other issue)
think about what value you’re providing to the UX profession and communicate that clearly. Talk much more about that on your website/twitter etc. and much less about the committee
re-think the whole committee thing – why do you have so many committee positions? really – why? who is it really serving?
spend less time organising elections and more time organising mentoring (not that I want to pre-suppose what you might find out when you’re doing your customer research)
Finally, deliver content and communications that match with an updated value proposition and update the website design so that it communicates those values effectively- both in content and quality of design.
As a general rule, the events that the UKUPA runs are excellent examples of content that is desired by the UX profession – that’s why the people vote with their feet and attend these events. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the disconnect between the success and relevance of these events and the rest of the UK UPA machine?
As friends and colleagues of mine have put themselves up for committee positions in the UPA I’ve been tempted to become a member and support them with a vote but every time I consider it, I opt out.
From where I’m sitting, there’s no value to me professionally to align myself with an organisation that feels generally out of touch with the UX profession as a whole.
As a fellow event organiser, I know that UXers are crying out for more opportunities to come together and learn from each other – there are UX events every other week and every event seems to go to a waiting list – the need is there and the community is there.
I hope the UPA is willing to firstly admit there’s a problem and then be brave enough to UXify themselves. Then perhaps we ‘ll all become proud and active members. And then, when appropriate, respond to your calls to vote.
I had the pleasure of mentoring at the first Design Jam in London today. The event brought together about 50 UX designers from student to seasoned professional to form teams of about 4-5 to design a solution in response to a design challenge.
The challenge for today was:
What is the ideal interface to keep track of previously viewed online content, across multiple devices and locations?
You can see what the teams came up with by checking out each of the team wiki pages.
It was a lot of fun running around from one team to the next seeing what they were working on and, hopefully, helping to guide them towards a solution to present at the end of the day. It was really interesting to be able to observe nine teams approaching the same design question, and to see where the common challenges emerged. Some observations and advice:
Spend less time choosing your idea and more time defining it. Specifically, what problem are you solving?
Peter Drucker, a business management guru said ‘Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action.’ Nowhere is this truer than at DesignJam. If you want to have something interesting to present at the end of the day, you need to quickly identify a specific problem that you can solve, and then you need to be able to describe that problem in a concrete story. ‘ Keeping track of previously viewed online content, across multiple devices and locations‘ is so broad as to be meaningless from a designer’s perspective. But, being able to re-find a hotel website I saw a week ago when considering a holiday, or the location of the event I’m going to tomorrow, or finding the link to that funny website my friend emailed me about the other day – those a real, concrete, solvable problems.
It doesn’t really matter which one of these you choose, what matters is that you quickly identify a relatively small, concrete problem that you can solve and that you can describe the problem clearly and believe that the problem is real, and describe how life will be better for people with this problem resolved.
The elevator pitch technique is one method you might want to consider to help get yourself to a stage where you *really* *clearly* understand what you’re working on and why.
I really can’t stress how important this part of the project is – this is the foundation on which all the rest of your work is built on, and the most important thing is not *which* idea you choose, it’s about how clearly you’ve defined the problem you’re going to solve and the value you’re going to deliver – your value proposition.
Define your audience by understanding the important behavioural characteristics.
Ah, the vexed issue of personas.I saw a lot of personas at DesignJam today and very little evidence of them being used as part of either the problem or solution definition. Personas *can* be very valuable but only if they’re used in the right way and that is as a tool to help you understand what are the behavioural differences that are significant to your design problem, preferably informed by real data points (your mum, husband, grandfather do count as data points in a DesignJam scenario!).
Time is precious in a DesignJam environment (as it is on all the project we work on, right?) – we need to make sure our time is being spent in the best possible way. I witnessed too much time being spent making personas because it felt like the next logical step in the design process. In most cases, I would have preferred to have seen groups spend time defining usage stories or tasks and then, if it became clear that there were divergent behaviours and we needed to choose to support one kind of behaviour or another, then capture that somehow – and perhaps a persona is a good way to make that behaviour more understandable.
Having said that, one of my favourite designs today emerged in response to an ‘extreme’/edge case persona – so persona’s can be a starting point – but what drove this design was not the persona as such but the behaviours we were able to identify that were specific to that persona (and very different from our own) – in this instance, the use of links in email as a primary trigger point for viewing websites, also getting relatively few emails from relatively few senders.
If you must do personas, then do as few as possible. If you’ve got more than three personas, I want to know why.
If you’re going to spend time making personas, then I want to see you actually using them in your design process.
Get sketching! Generate and evaluate lots of design solutions before you start wireframing
So, all that time you probably spent trying to come up with A Good Idea, spend it here instead. Quickly generate as many ideas as you possibly can. I reckon it was at least 2pm before I saw people starting to sketch out ideas at DesignJam today (teams started tackling the design problem at 10am and were supposed to present at 4pm).
A really popular approach to generating lots of ideas at the moment is to do 6-up wireframes another technique I quite like is Design Consequences. However you do it, the key is to get as many ideas as you can onto paper. And then – once you’re out of ideas – to use your clearly defined design problem and whatever user behaviours or personas you have defined to evaluate which aspects of which ideas are strongest.
Once you’ve evaluated the first round of ideas and you’ve got fresh ideas in your head – do another round of visual brainstorming. Rinse, repeat until the answer becomes obvious. Eventually, it will. Then everything will start falling into place.
A group is a resource and a liability (user your numbers, appoint a facilitator)
When you’re designing with a bunch of other designers (or actually, with any group at all), there are two key things to remembers – firstly – use all the people in your team, get them all actively designing, make sure everyone is sketching and contributing ideas, remember to do things quietly and individually sometimes and to do things collaboratively and together at other times.
Secondly – make sure that someone is driving the team – keeping you on a schedule, working out how you’re going to get from here to the end of the project, making sure that you’re staying true to the project problem you’ve defined, making use of the personas you’ve defined, keeping everyone focussed, on track, and working productively. Have this discussion at the beginning of the project rather than waiting for a ‘natural leader’ to emerge (especially if you’re working somewhere where politeness is at a premium and potential leaders might be nervous of treading on other team members toes)
Pitch clearly and persuasivelyThe day wraps up with each team presenting their design to the larger group – for me, this is as important as all the design work you’ve done throughout the day. A clear, focussed and compelling presentation enables you to convey to the group what you’ve been working on, what problem you’re solving, who you’re solving it for, and finally, to show the design solution you’ve come up with.That clear value proposition and the user stories or tasks that you’ve defined come in handy yet again and show be key to framing your work in a way that is understandable and compelling to your audience.
Don’t think of this as ‘just the presentation’ – as much as any of the design work you’ve done throughout the day is great experience and practice for your day to day design work, the same couldn’t be truer for this part of the process. As designers, we’re only ever as good as the design we can convince our client/team to implement and this means that we’re constantly presenting our work – explaining what the problem is, why we’ve done what we’ve done. This is something that, as designers, we should be able to do at the drop of a hat because of the preparatory work we’ve done earlier in the design process.
While these thoughts are specifically in response to the DesignJam day, I think they’re pretty much universally true to any design project and very common issues that come up on projects I’m involved with. The hothouse environment of DesignJam brought it home, yet again, how difficult it can be to facilitate a team around designing a solution – it’s tough work but very rewarding.