Thursday, February 01, 2007

Does it matter where User Experience is positioned in your corporate structure?

Last May, I posted a lengthy blog entry entitled, "Where should 'User Experience' be positioned in your company?" that received a great deal of attention. In it, I referenced several factors to consider when determining organizational positioning. Among them:
  • what "user experience" means in the company
  • the nature of and effect on working relationships
  • organizational goals
  • who has the power
  • the corporate culture
I also referenced how organizational positioning is considered to be very important to a lot of people, including a lot of User Experience Managers, Directors, and VPs, and including everyone who had taken our Managing User Experience Groups course (many of whom were in user experience management positions). Indeed, figuring out where User Experience should be positioned is one of the many things students of the course work on, as reflected in the nearby photo.

And since last May, I've learned about additional situations in which organizational positioning appeared to be impactful. For example, Peter Merholz wrote about "the frozen middle" in August of 2006:
“The people we worked with were deep within ‘interactive marketing.’ Their lives were the website. They didn’t really know the people who worked on the monthly statements or at the call center. And even if they did, they didn’t have the time to collaborate with them -- they had too much on their plates already. …our contacts understood the need for addressing the customer’s experience across multiple channels and media. But they couldn’t move on it.”
However, in March of last year, Forrester Research published a report entitled, "Culture and Process Drive Better Customer Experiences" that challenged the importance of organizational positioning:
"Companies place a high priority on improving customer experience — and they cite a lack of organizational alignment as their top obstacle to making improvements. But our interviews with experts show that there is no single organizational structure that paves the way for delivering better customer experiences. Cultural factors and internal processes matter far more than organization."
While I agree that cultural factors and internal processes are very important, does the fact "that there is no single organizational structure that paves the way for delivering better customer experiences" mean that organizational structure has little impact? I don't think so.

Can't organizational positioning impact culture and internal process? Aren't culture and internal process among the factors to consider when determining organizational positioning?

Can culture and process trump any organizational positioning?

This issue is among several that will be addressed by a group of people in senior management roles 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?"

As I reported last month, "ownership of the user-customer experience" is another of the issues that will be addressed during that session. And, of course, I'll address all those issues as well as the CHI conference session itself further in upcoming blog entries.


Richard I Anderson said...

What has been your experience where you work? Has the organizational positioning of User Experience in your corporate structure 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.

lukek said...

In the past few companies I have observed a general pattern:
More influence can be gained the closer one is to the exec controlling the means of production. In software this usually means engineering.

-I have been stuck in marketing, and this means that I get tapped for marcom, web site design, and icon duties. Strangely enough... being in marketing did not mean that I was involved in requirements gathering or focus groups. In most places the vision is owned by the techies and marketing tends to be reactive.

-Being stuck in doc did happen to me once, as well. This was mostly the least effective place, and most removed from influence, power, and early stages of design. We are now seeing a pattern where some orgs are putting doc inside UX organizations (more online or contextural help on the screens vs. in printed books).

-Being close to software architects was quite interesting. They own the vision, but they do not own, or have the patience for the development process. They are good agents for UCD, but not the people to ensure that is happens early in the software dev cycle. The collaboration between software architects and designers was the topic of a SPARK conference organized by MSFT at the Ritz Carlton. It was attended by a few local gurus, including Jakob Nielsen. A nice blog post comes from a colleague at frog, Adam Richardson

-The engineering co-location that seems to be the most effective also has its issues. If you are too far down in the hierarchy, have lousy relations with the person controlling the requirements docs and release process, or cannot speak the language, you will be just as ineffective.

Other general truths about this topic:
-Having an exec champion usually helps (Intuit)
-UX org location independent factor: People skills and a multi-disciplinary, all inclusive approach always helps. I have a Good Designer / Bad Designer blog about this:
-UCD can be a competitive differentiator, but it needs to be translated into a business benefit or a technical argument. If it is not, it is just another faction whining about their unique and special needs...

Luke Kowalski, currently in the corporate architect role at Oracle, which is more of a technology policy role for UCD.