Monday, June 02, 2008

Offloading work to others

In a recent blog entry, I claimed that many experience management and non-management personnel are overwhelmed with work, too much of which is often not that beneficial to a company, because of, among other reasons, the inadequate involvement of user experience personnel in determining what that work should be.

Another reason was described by Jeremy Ashley, VP Applications User Experience at Oracle, when he appeared as a guest speaker during my "User Experience Managers and Executives Speak" course earlier this year:
"Designers are expected to do too much -- to be project managers, liaise with PMs, liaise with marketing, liaise with development, liaise with executives, write technical specifications, and more, and while doing all these other things, they are expected to design the product. This is an impossible task. Designers are almost set up to fail at the start, because expectations are unrealistic."
According to Jeremy, at one time, Oracle designers were able to design only 20% of the time. So, among other things, he offloaded a lot of those non-design tasks onto other personnel. For example, he hired and now has a staff of user experience program managers who have taken over responsibility for lots of the liaising with others in the company.

Responsibilities of this role, outlined by Oracle's E. Killian Evers in the November 2007 AIS SIGHCI Newsletter, have included integrating, and continually improving the integration of, human-centered design into Oracle's system development lifecycle, and figuring out the most advisable projects to which Oracle's user experience resources should be assigned. Furthermore...
"Program managers are tasked to think beyond the usability organization to include partners in other parts of the larger organization. Effective partners can be found in program management, product management, strategy, development, quality assurance, technology writers, as well as in the sales and support divisions within the company. Program managers' responsibilities include leveraging resources from any of these organizations as needed to assist on projects."
Other companies have created related roles. For example, while at Microsoft, Kumi Akiyoshi served as a UX liaison responsible for building relationships with marketing, advertising, and branding.

Years ago, E-Lab assigned responsibilties for doing the work necessary to effectively communicate experience research findings to specially trained visual communicators, rather than being left (solely) to the researchers. Similarly, interaction designers at Cooper partner with design communicators who "lead teams in communicating research, requirements, and design solutions the right way to the right audience at the right time."

Some companies have created roles to facilitate the development of user experience methodology and/or a corporate culture that embraces design and design thinking. For example, Microsoft has a Design and Usability Training Manager (Surya Vanka), P&G a VP of Design Innovation & Strategy (Claudia Kotchka, whom I've referenced in three past blog entries), and SAP a Sr. Director of User Experience, Methods (Carola Thompson, former student of mine and another guest speaker at my "User Experience Managers and Executives Speak" course earlier this year -- see photo nearby).

Should you consider offloading some of the work of your user experience personnel to others, some of whom would occupy new user experience roles?