5 Best UX Practices to Create Business SuccessFeatured

The last 20 years in business have seen the evolution of the UX professional from a rare, little-known curiosity akin to a puffin in a land-locked state like Tennessee (“you’re a whaaaat?”) to the ubiquitous cardinal, self-proclaiming its scarlet presence in backyards all over the U.S. (“I’m… [proud yet dramatic pause] in UX”). For UX professionals to thrive, organizations must create an environment that adequately supports their work. Today, while UX roles are better understood by most organizations and recruiting requirements have risen, building user-centric products and services in organizations that value speed and the latest tech continues to challenge businesses large and small. The most common barriers to success for UX pros are created by their team’s position and influence within an organization, whether early startup or global behemoth. The key question: how does UX become a valued strategic function instead of superficial window dressing? Here are five best practices that will support your UX team in doing their best work and making a meaningful contribution:UX is executed by a multidisciplinary team, but a UX perspective belongs to all employees. A minimal UX team includes a designer, content developer and researcher, each with different skill sets. They create a collaborative, symbiotic work group and, as a team, develop collaborative relationships with the leadership, product, development and other functional teams (sales, marketing, HR) across an organization. The first mistake with UX is assuming that this team function can be executed by an individual, no matter how talented. A second mistake occurs when an organization views its UX team as the only ones who “do UX.” In this situation, other concerns (e.g., ease of development, deadlines, speed to market, executive preference) often have stronger influence on business decisions, resulting in poor consumer-product (or service) fit. Everyone in an organization is responsible for prioritizing user needs over competing interests if creating delight and loyalty for customers are the ultimate goals of business. UX occurs across a product lifecycle. Another common UX mistake is to complete some quick design work late in a development cycle, possibly even executed by uber-talented UI designers, and call it UX (aka, putting lipstick on a pig). This approach isn’t UX. Instead, UX work (user research and design) occurs at all stages of the lifecycle and properly influences what the product or service is, as well as how it looks and works. It’s quite common that talking to users reveals that the pig (product) you’re building should actually be a goat (different product) and you’ve inaccurately predicted what your market wants. Rigorously-executed UX methods, plus influence on product strategy, are the minimal necessary components of UX practice. To have actionable flow of evidence-based input, UX usually works at least two sprints ahead of developers.Conflict is an inherent part of doing UX. User requirements frequently lie in direct conflict with business or technical requirements, or both. UX is charged with providing adequate user feedback (aka, research) to support product decisions against competing, and often strong, opinions from other groups and even leaders. Being able to engage in productive conflict (e.g., negotiate, compromise, assert, educate, listen) is vital to relationships between and across teams. When teams and leadership avoid or defer this conflict, as is the case in many organizations, conflict debt develops and employees become less innovative, productive and more likely to seek jobs elsewhere. Executive support is essential to successful UX outcomes. UX often sits within another group, like IT or product, and reports through their leadership without equivalent representation at the level of strategy. This organizational structure disempowers the UX function and means that when inevitable conflicts occur between ease of use and ease of development, the user experience is compromised. Ideally, UX is represented by an executive peer on par with Product and Engineering executives so compromises can be made with a holistic understanding of business, user, and technical requirements and the consequences of not meeting them. A UX team is often a wellspring of emotional intelligence and diversity in an organization, requiring leaders with high EQ. Women continue to be an under-represented group in technology but dominate many of the fields from which UXers flow (e.g., psychology, anthropology, design, education, liberal arts). A UX role also reinforces women’s and other empathetic individuals’ natural tendency to focus on what other people feel as critical variables in decision-making. However, in many business cultures, research has shown male leaders usually achieve their positions by assertively making decisions based on what they think. As high EQ people, UXers are more likely to be sensitive to and stressed by the interpersonal dynamics and culture of an organization, particularly if it’s dysfunctional. This awareness requires more engaged, empathetic and attentive management and conflict resolution if UXers are to be successful.If the goal of your UX function is to get that incredible designer in IT to make the MVP prettier two weeks before launch, you’re doing it wrong. Strategic and meaningful UX occurs through healthy, empowered, multi-disciplinary teams with emotionally intelligent leaders; otherwise, your UX pros, like your consumers, will flourish about as well as puffins in Tennessee.Melanie Polkosky, PhD, ACC is a social-cognitive psychologist, UX researcher/strategist and certified professional coach who has been working in UX for over two decades. She lives near Memphis, Tennessee, where cardinals visit her birdfeeders daily, but she’s never seen a puffin. Contact her at [email protected].