Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eliminating noise and confusion

With lots to do -- often much too much to do and not always what would be most beneficial for them to do (as referenced in prior blog entries, including "Realities, dilemmas, framings, ..."), user experience personnel aren't always able to do their best work, which can make them and those with or for whom they are doing the work less than fully satisfied. Past blog entries have referred to some of the ways of dealing with this; recent blog entry suggestions include saying "no," improving soft skills, and offloading certain types or parts of the work to others.

But there are additional possibilities.

One of them -- which can come in all sorts of variations -- was described by Craig Peters during the User Experience Managers and Executives Speak course I offered this past spring. Craig founded and oversees the work at Awasu Design and was co-founder of Bolt | Peters.

Craig has discovered that even some of the best user experience organizations and personnel, and the organizations and personnel with or for whom they work, are continually experiencing a considerable amount of noise and confusion, which gets in the way of doing the best or most appropriate work.

User experience personnel have long expressed frustration with others' lack of understanding of and appreciation for them and their work, (potential) users, and/or the impact user experience can have on business success. This has prompted many to develop materials to be used as part of ongoing "evangelizing" efforts.

However, such efforts, while important, are usually not all that is needed. Noise and confusion often persist, in part because there are additional sources of noise and confusion, many of which are experienced by user experience personnel themselves.

Among these additional sources of noise and confusion:
  • an inadequate understanding of the organizations for or with which you do your work;
  • an inadequate understanding of the organization you are in;
  • an inadequate understanding of the processes used by the organizations for or with which you do your work;
  • lack of certainty regarding who is responsible for what;
  • and lack of certainty regarding how to negotiate with and explain the work you'll be doing to those for or with whom you'll be working.
As explained by Craig, such noise and confusion leads to all sorts of problems, including:
  • others' inconsistent experiences of user experience personnel and their work from project to project;
  • work activity selections that are not the best for the situation;
  • things falling through the cracks;
  • scheduling and timing difficulties;
  • unwanted creeping project scope;
  • management needing to step in much too frequently to solve problems;
  • designs that are not as good as they could be;
  • and missed opportunities to do work that is particularly needed or particularly strategic.
All of these kinds of problems hinder critical working relationships and leave personnel feeling overwhelmed and unhappy.

Craig described the process followed to discover the nature and characteristics of such problems and to design their solutions in work done for Wells Fargo. And he described the nature of part of the solution developed for and with Wells Fargo personnel. At Wells Fargo, the core of the solution was a Customer Experience Lead program, complete with a guide and a collection of materials and tools to be used by whomever plays the role of Customer Experience Lead on a project. (Those materials and tools included organizational explanations, forms for a customer experience brief, numerous checklists, and numerous one-page explanations of customer experience work activities.) Additionally, a new stage was added to their user-centered design process, training was developed for Customer Experience Leads, and various personnel were designated owners of different components of the program, providing a mechanism for making improvements to the program going forward.

The program developed for Wells Fargo is receiving rave reviews. Wells Fargo's Secil Watson, SVP of Channel Strategy -- the organization which includes the Customer Experience group -- even recommended Craig and this type of work during her presentation at MX (Managing Experience) 2008.

What I think makes this kind of effort especially valuable is that it puts organizations in a much stronger position to address many other critical issues (see past blog entries for discussions of many examples of these) that the noise and confusion can cloud. And if done correctly, the process for identifying the nature and characteristics of such noise and confusion will begin to reveal the nature and characteristics of other critical issues, providing guidance for subsequent improvement efforts.

It is important to emphasize that the program developed for Wells Fargo will not be the solution for noise and confusion experienced elsewhere, whether involving an "internal" organization (akin to the organization in Wells Fargo) or an "external" agency. Certain components might be similar, but the program developed for Wells Fargo is working because it fits the way things work at Wells Fargo and addresses their specific needs. Things work very differently in different companies.

It is also important to emphasize the high quality of the customer experience (and related) personnel at Wells Fargo. For example, I've referenced and quoted Secil Watson repeatedly in this blog (see, for example, "Breaking silos"), and I invited her to write an article for my first issue of interactions magazine as Co-Editor-in-Chief (which she did -- see "The Business of Customer Experience: Lessons Learned at Wells Fargo"), because I think so highly of her approach. I've also referenced the excellent work done by other Wells Fargo management personnel in this blog (see, for example, "Developing user-centered tools for strategic business planning"). Highly capable and successful personnel are not immune from such noise and confusion or from the benefits of outside assistance regarding it or other important issues. And they recognize that.

Craig and I are now teaming up to offer such assistance. Give us a holler to learn more.