Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ownership of the user-customer experience

Last month, I referenced a lament for "the many 'folks in the trenches' who are still fighting 'a constant battle, where they are forced to defend their position as user experience experts'." In the specific case that prompted the lament, the culprit was identified as Marketing. However, I've heard many similar complaints about Product Management, Engineering, assorted executives, and others from user experience practitioners in a wide variety of companies.

Frequently, these frustrated user experience folks proclaim that they are the ones who should own the user experience.

The editors of interactions magazine are among those who agree, as I quoted in "Walls":
"...product management doesn't build or design products: their job is to own product vision and strategy (naturally with the other stakeholders' input). Engineers own code development and code quality, with a wide range of specialties (architecture, code design, QA, and release management, to name a few). Product marketers take clear ownership of marketing communications and product campaigns, keeping the pulse of the marketplace, and trying to detect what it will buy. Therefore, it's only logical that human-computer interaction professionals take ownership of the user experience. We are, after all, user experience experts, despite the fact that we depend on other development participants to meet user and business needs."
Another who appears to agree is Cisco's Jim Nieters, who, in a paper to be presented at CHI 2007, describes the role his user experience design focus team must be permitted to play before it is willing to get involved in a project:
“The UXD Focus Team functions as the architect who provides the blueprint for the elements of the product that defines the user experience, and the developers function as the carpenters who deliver to the specifications. If the product team does not agree in advance to these roles, the UCD group does not accept the project.”
However, contrast those perspectives on ownership with the perspective of Jeremy Ashley, VP of Applications User Experience at Oracle:
"A culture of UI entitlement creates an atmosphere where the UI designer will not perform until he or she is given a driving role in the process. ... The valued participant often finds a way to compromise..."
And consider the broader view of Don Norman, which I referenced in my first blog entry ever ("In a business, which organization should own the user experience?") as well as again in "Where should 'User Experience' be positioned in your company?". The latter includes the following words from Don:
"Why should any particular organization own it? The company should own it. ... Who owns user experience at Apple? In part it is Steve Jobs, but in many ways it is the company. Yes, it was Steve Jobs who put in the focus and said 'do it this way, or go away.' But I think a successful company is one where everybody owns the same mission. Out of necessity, we divide ourselves up into discipline groups. But the goal when you are actually doing the work is to somehow forget what discipline group you are in and come together. So in that sense, nobody should own user experience; everybody should own it."
Don's perspective is extended somewhat by Forrester Research, which in a report published just this month states:
“Treat customer experience as a competence, not a function. Delivering great customer experiences isn’t something that a small group of people can do on their own -- everyone in the company needs to be fully engaged in the effort.”
However, consider the following related perspective that implicitly references an important role which perhaps should be owned by "user experience personnel":
"We want to make customer experience everyone's business by making the process of creating experience intuitive and repeatable."
The above words are from Secil Watson, Wells Fargo's SVP of Internet Channel Strategy, and the "we" she refers to is her Customer Experience Research and Design group. As I described earlier this month, her group goes about doing this at Wells Fargo by embedding ethnographic research insights in user-centered design tools for strategic business planning. And this is changing the Wells Fargo culture. As stated by Wells Fargo's Robin Beers and Pamela Whitney:
“The UCD tools enable designers, researchers, and business people to make meaning together and this meaning is co-constructed such that no one functional area holds all, or even most, of the knowledge on a project. The willingness to invite full participation in the research and then release the findings so they can evolve within the organization are key factors that continue to push the Wells Fargo culture to become increasingly customer-centric."
So, are the user experience practitioners who think they should own the user experience wrong? Or are there at least some aspects of the user experience that "user experience personnel" should own? Is ownership advisable in some situations but not in others? What exactly does "ownership" mean?

This important issue of the ownership of user-customer experience is among several issues that will be addressed by a group of senior management personnel from a mix of companies during a session I'll be leading at CHI 2007 -- a session entitled, "Moving User Experience into a Position of Corporate Influence: Whose Advice Really Works?" Secil Watson, Jeremy Ashley, and Jim Nieters -- all three of whom are quoted above -- will be among the session participants.

Papers quoted include:
  • Arnowitz, J. & Dykstra-Erickson, E. It's mine... interactions, May+June 2005, 7-9.
  • Beers, R. & Whitney, P. From ethnographic insight to user-centered design tools. EPIC'06 Proceedings, 139-149.
  • Kowalski, L., Ashley, J., & Vaughan, M. When design is not the problem -- Better usability through non-design means. CHI'06 Extended Abstracts, 165-170.
  • Nieters, J. E., Ivaturi, S., & Dworman, G. The internal consultancy model for strategic UXD relevance. CHI 2007.
  • Tempkin, B., Manning, H., & Hult, P. Experience-Based Differentiation: How To Build Loyalty With Every Interaction, Forrester Research, January 2, 2007.

1 comment:

Richard I Anderson said...

What has been your experience where you work? Has "ownership of the user-customer experience" played a role in moving user experience into a position of corporate influence, or has it not played such a role? If it hasn't, could it? If it has, what role has it played?

Please share your stories here or send them to me via email.