Orchestrating UX. It’s now your business.

A while ago I wrote that if you really want to make UX count, then you need to orchestrate the effort. If you’re solely focusing on designing and building a web interface, then you’re not working hard enough. (Sure, in my post that point was couched in a rather convoluted way. But then, this is MY blog and I’ll write in an esoteric manner if I want to… Remember, other, more easily understood content is just a click away!)

Recently I have been motivated to expand on this point about orchestration. First of all I have been doing work that has opened my eyes to this reality. And second, Leisa Reichelt posted on the topic, in a thought-provokingly ranty way, which then also appeared on our company Yammer network. (We’re sooo digital in our company, honest!)

So, let’s explore some thoughts about what I mean by orchestration.

UX isn’t without it’s company politics

It’s been pretty clear to me throughout my career that it’s OK to forget about org structures and company politics if you’re creating your own brand new spangly product. Hopefully in that set up, most people have a sense of buy-in and commitment to the cause. Things are fresh and new, and you’re covering new ground together.

However if you’re in a properly established, competitive and commercial operation with any sense of heritage, culture and right-and-proper work ethic, then when you work in an online capacity and particularly in UX, you’re soon going to hit a few barriers.

With travel, and perhaps in a lot of other verticals, the barriers come thick and fast:

  • The technology isn’t there or is too damn expensive/slow for what you want to do
  • The legacy system wasn’t designed to do many things you would take for granted elsewhere, it can’t be changed in one person’s lifetime, and it doesn’t play well with other systems
  • Sales are down and you need to do something quick and dirty
  • The help you need from another part of the company is not forthcoming – they are busy doing OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS that you wouldn’t understand
  • You don’t have the tools or expertise you need in your team to do good work

Those are all more or less givens in travel.

But one barrier looms larger than any with real customer-focussed change: lack of desire.

Change comes from the top

We are living in an era where most “proper” company CEOs have had to listen to us Internet up-starts for quite some time, yet they didn’t always need to take much notice. They smirked at our trendy specs, our MacBook Pros and endless barrage of indecipherable jargon. They could initially write us off as the Latest Big Thing On The Block. But in possibly the last five years those same people have had to seriously go back over their Michael Porter books and think again.

We are now in an age where it’s not just the dotcoms that are making waves, real businesses and age-old business models are falling by the wayside because of the impact of disruptive technologies and newer, faster ways to upset incumbents and exploit and grow niches to create value. (Hello, Kodak!)

So, CEOs are sitting up and listening. They want to us to paint a picture that they desire. And what are we telling them? Your web interface is too confusing. You don’t have enough engaging content. Your social media presence SUCKS.

This is far from being good enough.

Is your CEO “hip to the game”?

If you really want to change things, you need a CEO who “gets it”. When I say that, it doesn’t mean that she regularly posts mealtime updates to her Twitter and is “friends” with work colleagues on Facebook. It means that she understands how the onrushing consumer requirements for decency, transparency, simplicity and good old fashioned brand engagement is potentially going to ruin everything that she has strived for, and most importantly will ultimately prevent her from raking in her disgustingly whopping bonus at the end of the financial year.

I am perhaps one of the few lucky ones: my CEO is one of those CEOs who gets it.

When you have a CEO like that they will gather together the massed bands of your company to tell them that they all need to get with the program. They will re-organise the business around the activities and people required to transform the current business model into a new one. They will challenge the people that are key to the “old traditional thinking” and make them understand that they need to drive this change, rather than wait for it to happen. Importantly they will re-prioritise investment so that the change is funded and resourced. And they won’t take no for an answer.

So once THAT is done, and by no means is this an easy feat – remember these CEO types have numbers to hit and their own lords and masters to satisfy – it’s then down to us UXers to take up the baton. This is where I believe orchestration comes in. Are you (wo)man enough?

No “I” in TEAM (oh, but there is a “ME”)

It is unlikely that even as a very senior manager with a UX bent that you’ll have all the intellectual firepower and resources at your disposal to create change in the entire company. Yet it IS likely that you’ll be able to learn what needs to change in order for your website/mobile app/Web 3.0 magical and revolutionary device to do its work properly.

If you can work that out — and maybe you could do with understanding more of that stuff anyway, it’s how your business ticks, remember? — you’ll need allies. You’ll need these allies to fight the good fight against the people who say it can’t/shouldn’t/won’t be done. Suggestion: be nice to these godlike people. Buy them donuts/beer/shoes/golf balls/whatever.

Then, for the people who won’t budge, you’ll maybe need to get a little Medieval on their ass. Read the Art of War by Sun Tzu and that kind of business. Ends justifies the means and all that. I always like to think of that series of Armstrong & Miller sketches. When they frustrate you press your own imaginary intercom button and mutter under your breath: “KILL THEM” as if to your own imaginary band of henchmen.

Momentum ain’t nothing without results

Soon enough you’ll have some momentum behind what you want to do. But people will remain sceptical unless you can demonstrate delivery, and most of all RESULTS. You can mock Mark Zuckerberg as much as you like, but “done” actually is better than “perfect”. (Well unless you’re Path and you’ve just screwed with people’s private data I suppose).

“Results” means something is measurably better once you have delivered compared to when you started. What you’re measuring better tally pretty closely if not 100% with how your company measures success. A 1,000,000% increase in Facebook fans is not going to impress a CEO facing a £2m hole in his financial year budget forecast.

So, get over your perfectionism for once. If you
can’t demonstrate extremely quickly that you’re doing stuff which supports the company’s immediate objectives, it’s unlikely Ms CEO will stump up for your game-changing project. Simple as that. If you’re extremely clever, though, you’ll be able to fend off all those requests to do things that don’t actually align with your long term view. For bonus points, use analytics and customer research to demonstrate why these projects don’t add value or don’t fit with the strategy. (You do have a strategy, right? Well get one; and publish it!) Worst case scenario, moan to your boss. In a nice way. Mainly though, just keep your focus on the bigger picture, which day by day is hopefully becoming clearer.

Make sure you’re seeing the whole picture, and not just the nice bits

By this stage you’re developing a vision with the CEO and a few other people that unites your view of how the UX should work with how the rest of the company needs to work to deliver the UX. And it’s showing everyone around you how you’re going knock seven bells out of your competitors and deliver beaucoup de l’argent to the powers-that-be as a result.

However, remember to get a grip on ALL the customer touchpoints, not just the Internet-enabled ones you’re down with. Too narrow a view can drive serious challenge from your blindside, cause resentment and leave you fighting a nasty rear-guard action. Yeah, that’s right: call centers can be cool, too.

Short-term, mid-term, long-term – what means more?

Meanwhile, you’re also delivering on short-term objectives by channeling the resources under your control into results-driven work, and hopefully this delivery is informing and refining your vision for how things should work when you’re “done”. (Or at least once you’re properly up and running). Plus people in your organisation are starting to recognise what you’re doing as “the new way”. You’re encouraging a new way to think about things and do things differently which is driving some sort of measurable benefit. This drives more momentum. Some will fall by the wayside because they a. don’t like it b. think they can do it better or c. have got supposedly more interesting job offers elsewhere. So be it.

Then comes the tension. How do you allocate resources such that you keep your CEO’s endless worrying and sleepless nights about the £2m hole at bay, while you develop the vision, strategy, objectives and requirements for your Next Big Thing? (Note: usually these things have no tangible outputs while you apparently waste lots of people’s time on endless meetings, supplier lunches, scribbling on whiteboards and unfathomably dull documentation).

Pick your battles

There will come a time when you will have to fight your corner for your decision to ignore short-term issues and keep plugging away on the big goal. Suggestion: bring data. Ask yourself, what do these people care about that they are going to lose out on if their short-term work gets done now. Is it delays? Is it cost? Is it results? Use your data to push their buttons. See if they come round. Maybe they won’t straight away but then you’ll need to know in your own mind if this battle is one worth fighting, or whether you need to focus on winning the war instead. Also, maybe you’ll just have to listen while they teach you the errors of your ways.

Work your power through your people, and keep it real

Having got through a few of these types of humps in the road, you will have a much better understanding of who in your organisation is going to make the transition to a new way of working and who is in your mind is… well, “doomed” isn’t the nicest way to put it, but let’s face it, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. And hopefully you’ll have lots of smart contacts waiting in the wings ready to come in to your organisation and work wonders in their place.

Then comes another real test. Do you have the confidence, chutzpah and downright BALLS to suggest to your boss and other senior managers that maybe the organisation shouldn’t tolerate dullards, stragglers, and one-pace wonders. Once you’ve got momentum, see what it buys you in terms of toughness and clout in these conversations. Done the right way, it’s often surprising how easily it can work your favour.

Nevertheless, to do this you need to be extremely self-aware. Pride comes before a fall and all that. As people at work always tell me: “nobody likes a smart-arse, DJ”. I smile as sweetly as I can, and stop talking. Just for a split second.

Skills for orchestra conductors

Thinking about it though, perhaps this is the main attribute to orchestrate all these aforementioned activities. ‘Communication skills’ is the simple nomenclature, but I think it’s much more than that. Leadership, management, people skills, social skills. I think there’s a certain kind of person who can combine left-brain reason and language – to articulate a logical argument – with right-brain creativity – to bring together previously tangential or siloed thoughts into one holistic, creative concept. Yeah, I’d like to think I would fit into that pigeon hole. I’m working on it.

So, to my inital point, and as a riposte to Leisa’s post. Some companies do get UX, and have UX represented at a senior level. That’s good, but not enough. The understanding needs to be orchestrated around the business, and the delivery through UX and through the other parts of the business needs to be orchestrated too. There is no one way to do this, no methodology plan or process that can map it out for you, as far as I am aware. (If there is one, tell me QUICK!)

Right now, I think that’s because to orchestrate change to deliver UX, you need to focus on the people.

Messy, unpredictable, emotional, irrational people. Amen to that.


3 thoughts on “Orchestrating UX. It’s now your business.

  1. Thanks for the great article. I’m grappling with these issues in my organization and its difficult but I’m loving the challenge. I think perhaps you’ve misunderstood Leisa’s post – she did attribute the organisations culture and process as a prerequisite of good UX

  2. Hi Sham,Thanks for the comment. I got that too from Leisa’s article. Just that there’s not a lot out there about how you (as a UX person) start to drive that change, rather than waiting for it to happen. This was my point.CheersDJ

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