Monday, September 25, 2006

Attending to the entire experience

A couple of months ago during a special tasting in San Francisco to mark the introduction of the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Mocha Freddo to the menu of Peet's Coffee & Tea stores, Jim Reynolds, Roaster Emeritus of Peet's, and John Scharffenberger, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, described the importance of removing everything from one's mind that could impact the experience of tasting. But to what extent can one really do so? To what extent is that even desirable?

The special tasting featured multiple pairings of different types of chocolate and different types of coffee. For one pairing, the taste of the coffee washed out the taste of cherry in the chocolate. For other pairings, the taste of one enhanced the taste of the other. Clearly, it was not possible to negate the impact of the taste of one on the taste of the other. Nor was it assumed that you could do so.

The special tasting also featured Jim's and John's descriptions of the origins, history, and benefits of chocolate and coffee and of their chocolate and coffee making process. These guys really know their stuff and made the experience of the evening event a delight.

I was already a big fan of Peet's coffee and of Scharffen Berger chocolate. Many of their offerings simply taste great to me.

However, my experience of Peet's coffee in their cafes has almost always been enhanced by my experience of their staff, the look and feel of the cafe environment, and the community of Peet's devotees. Somewhat similarly though perhaps less extensively, my experience of Scharffen Berger chocolate has been enhanced by my tour of the Scharffen Berger factory a few years ago.

And whenever I taste the products of either company -- separately or now sometimes in combination, I am probably not able to remove from my mind the effects of all of those experiences, including my impressions of Jim and John and other aspects of the delightful experience of that special tasting event. Nor do I expect Jim or John would really want me to do so.

Of relevance to this blog entry are the three very different definitions of "user experience" that are presented in a previous blog entry entitled, "Where should 'User Experience' be positioned in your company?" Which of those three definitions is the most appropriate definition for your company?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Changing the course or pace of a large ship

The challenge of building and establishing a corporate user experience function, getting it understood and valued, enabling it to contribute to a business to the extent that it can, etc. can be a big one. As the head of a now large and quite successful corporate user experience organization recently told me, early on (i.e., ~5 years ago when he joined the company as manager of a very small UI group), he felt like he was rowing a small boat to try to change the course of the large ship to which it is attached via a rope.

Interestingly, a director in another very large corporate user experience organization recently invoked a similar metaphor, describing the pace of change he was able to achieve as akin to the pace of an oil tanker rather than a speed boat. However, he was talking about the situation now, not years ago when the organization was in its infancy.

Does this boat metaphor never lose its relevance in the business of user experience?

It has long been argued that changing the role "user experience" plays in a business can take a long time. Back at CHI 96, I led a discussion about what was needed to achieve such change as suggested by several papers presented at the conference. At the top of that list of needs: a considerable amount of time.

How much time?

Well, to reference one example, a DUX 2005 case study entitled, "Creating a User Experience Culture at a Non-Software Company," describes a 5-year process that had its beginnings before that 5-year period and was not yet complete.

Over the years, several scales have been published which demarcate stages companies pass through as their way of addressing user experience (or some aspect thereof) matures. Earlier this year, Jakob Nielsen presented his version of such a scale, accompanied by estimates of the time it takes a company to move from one stage to the next:
  • "Stage 1: A company can remain hostile toward usability for decades. Only when a design disaster hits will it be motivated to move ahead.
  • Stages 2-4: Companies often spend two to three years in each of these stages. Once it enters stage 2 (usability recognized, but derived from the design team's own opinions), a company typically takes about seven years to reach stage 5 (forming a usability group with a usability manager).
  • Stages 5-7: Progress in maturity is considerably slower at the higher levels. A company will often spend six to seven years each in stages 5 and 6, thus requiring about thirteen years to move from stage 5 to stage 7 (integrated user-centered design).
  • Stage 8: Few companies have reached this highest level of usability maturity, so it's premature to estimate how long it takes to move from stage 7 to stage 8 (user-driven corporation). In most cases, it's probably twenty years."
Must these things always take so much time? Do companies always have the luxury of taking so long?

In earlier postings, I've referenced cases in which significant change was achieved quite rapidly, and described approaches to contribute to such change. But, as stated simplistically in a paper I co-authored entitled, "Improving the Design of Business and Interactive System Concepts in a Digital Business Consultancy," "old habits die hard." In that consultancy, process and role changes were made in such a way as to become infectious. However, in spite of the enthusiasm, groups tended to return to more familiar ways of working without an adequate system of support for the new ways.

Indeed, much is needed to make such change an ongoing and increasingly effective part of a company's culture.

In addition to a considerable amount of time, needs suggested by the papers I referenced during that 1996 CHI conference discussion included:
  • collaboration with others;
  • benefit (likely and realized) to all participants;
  • high-level organizational committment.
However, there can be numerous obstacles to achieving these three. (See "Organizational obstacles" and "What to do about those organizational obstacles.")

Yet, when such needs are achieved, stable cultural change can be possible; when they are not, ... (See "Making changes to a company's culture.")

A corporate user experience VP I spoke with recently talked about how her medium-sized company's DNA was still akin to that of a start-up. Several other user experience management personnel with whom I've spoken describe their companies as technology-centered through and through.

What is the nature of the culture of the company where you work? Does that nature impact the role user experience plays or can play?

What boat metaphor describes the feeling that you and/or others focused on user experience experience in your place of work?

See "Corporate usability maturity: Stages 1-4" (Alertbox, April 24, 2006) and "Corporate usability maturity: Stages 5-8" (Alertbox, May 1, 2006) for Jakob Nielsen's full description of the above-referenced maturity scale. These types of maturity scales have their critics, but they do provide some helpful guidance.

The CHI 96 papers I refered to: Atyeo, M., Sidhu, C., Coyle, G., & Robinson, S. "Working with marketing"; Comstock, E. M. & Duane, W. M. "Embed user values in system architecture: The declaration of system usability"; Gale, S. "A collaborative approach to developing style guides"; Miller, A. "Integrating human factors in customer support systems development using a multi-level organisational approach"; and Sawyer, P., Flanders, A., & Wixon, D. "Making a difference - The impact of inspections." There is lots of good stuff to be found in such older publications.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"The way we work has enormous power"

"The way we work has enormous power," stressed Curtis Carlson during a presentation last week at PARC about a new book he has co-authored entitled, "Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want."

According to Curtis, innovation is now the primary means of growth, prosperity, and quality of life. Yet, he claims, remarkably few individuals, teams, and enterprises possess all of the disciplined skills needed to identify and develop opportunities for innovation.

Claiming a need for a new generation of innovation best practices, Curtis identified Doug Engelbart as an exemplar of someone whose very different way of working enabled his achievement of profound innovations.

I had the privilege of interviewing Doug on stage at PARC back in 1996. During that interview, and again just a few months ago when the photo to the left was taken, we talked about the obstacles Doug has experienced getting people to consider new ways of thinking about technology and ways of working. According to Doug, prevailing paradigms prevent serious consideration of alternatives.

One "paradigm" likely to impede consideration of Curtis Carlson's message is the view that "good management kills innovation" -- a commonly-held perspective described on the PARC auditorium stage a couple of years ago. Curtis argues that the opposite is true.

And there are many "paradigms" that impede consideration of some of the ways of working that are particularly conducive to identifying and developing opportunities for innovation.

A new book by Luke Hohmann entitled, "Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play" describes some of those ways of working. "Collaborative play"? (See my blog entry on Effective Collaboration and Fun.) Might there be existing ways of doing things where you work that would impede consideration of engaging in collaborative play?

Are your ways of working particularly conducive to identifying and developing opportunities for innovation?

photo courtesy of Eugene Eric Kim and taken at the 3rd anniversary party of Blue Oxen Associates; that is Trace Cohen on the left, Doug in the middle, and me on the right