Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Partnering with power

In a presentation at CHI 2005, Dennis Wixon emphasized the importance of partnering with power in order to play a strategic role in a business. In a January+February 2005 interactions magazine article entitled, "Ease Your Design Anguish," Deborah Gill-Hesselgrave and Mark Hall stressed the need to "become business partners with the people whose mortgage payments rely on meeting business-performance objectives and incentives."

But how do you do that? How do you go about "partnering with power"?

Partnering with power is rarely solely a matter of walking up and saying, "Hey, partner with me." Plus, it is often the case that those seeking such partnership hold less power, and sometimes, in part because of that, the existing relationship is strained.

In a previous blog entry, I referenced a couple of examples of partnering with power from my work, calling them "perturbing the ecosystem," since they were such a signficant shift from the norm. In those examples, the power consisted largely of ownership of important decisions (e.g., about product strategy, concepts, designs, ...) which those of less power wanted to own or wanted to influence more substantially.

As stated in that previous blog entry, involving those with power in an intensive process of rapid ethnographic research and its analysis/synthesis in certain cases and in an intensive process of rapid iterative design and evaluation in others was key. And they were involved in such a way as to enable them to exercise their ownership, enabling them to directly experience how important user experience should be to shaping those decisions. The ultimate result was an elevation of user experience personnel into a relationship of strategic partnership.

As reflected in the case reported by Dennis Wixon, the business benefits of such a partnership can be phenomenal (see www.mgsuserresearch.com).

Do you still feel undervalued and not strategically positioned where you work? Consider developing a strategy for partnering with power akin to that described above. And if you are among those with such power, consider developing a similar strategy in which (other) user experience personnel can demonstrate the importance of the roles they can play in your decision making process.