Online panel: UX strategy in the real world
Everyone wants to improve their user experience strategy. Whether it’s re-evaluating an organization’s general strategic approach to UX, or building out a strategy for a specific product, there are some common challenges user experience professionals face at organizations of all types and sizes.
During this online session, Shannah Segal, Usability Matters, Andy Vitale from 3M Healthcare, and Ryan Cummings from UPMC Health Plan shared their experiences leading, implementing, and improving user experience strategies.
Anita Sedgwick: Welcome to our chat today. We’ve got Ryan Cummings. Ryan would like to say a quick hi.
Ryan Cummings: Hi guys.
Anita: Ryan from UPMC Healthcare. Andy, can you say a quick hi and a quick intro from where you are? Where you’re from?
Andy Vitale: Hey, I’m Andy. I’m the lead interaction designer for 3M Healthcare. A lot of you guys know 3M for Post-It Notes and Scotch Tape, but we make physical and digital products for patients, providers and payers on the enterprise level. So I support six divisions, everything from food safety to infection prevention to health information system software.
Anita: Nice. Actually, Ryan, if you don’t mind doing a quick intro like that, too, that would be great.
Ryan: Yeah, no problem at all. My name is Ryan Cummings. I’m the senior manager of user experience here in the consumer division department at UPMC Health Plan. So we’re actually in a unique place because we actually service that, as an idea of PES where we have both the payer and the provider. A lot of the work that we do are around different products and service designs. We support the health plan, but as well as, there some initiatives within our system. As well as we have a branch that does enterprise work so we also consult with them, as well.
Anita: That’s a lot of work over there. Okay, Shannah, Shannah Segal is one of the co-founders of Usability Matters.
Shannah Segal: That’s me. Hi everybody. Thanks so much for spending your lunch hour with us, or maybe another time if you’re in another zone. Yes, I’m one of the principals and founders of Usability Matters. So we are a user experience, design, strategy and research organization. And we consult with many different kinds of organizations from not-for-profits to higher education to entertainment, media, travel, financial, insurance. You name it, we do it. I’m really glad to be part of this panel today.
Anita: Okay, alright. So let’s get started. Today is we’re gonna just walk you… Do a little preamble. I’ll walk through a few administrative things. Today’s discussion is gonna be super helpful. There’s a ton of people that have signed up for this. Really a lot of curiosity out there on how to enable UX strategy in the real world, especially with larger organizations that even know how it works in smaller organizations. Again, Ryan has made his intro. Really excited to have heavyweights out there, such as Ryan, Andy and Shannah, joining in on this chat. My name is Anita Sedgwick. I run marketing here at Usability Matters, and I’ll be hosting this session today, answering these guys some of the questions you are sending our way. Just to cover off a few of administrative things.
Anita: This is being recorded, so for those of you that would like to go back and listen to this recording again and share it with friends and colleagues. It will be made available on our website shortly after the session. We are also going to be monitoring Twitter for any incoming questions. Our handle is @umatters. The hashtag is #uxstrategychat, all one word. #Uxstrategychat is the hashtag. We will be sure to pick up any questions on the board from there. This session is slated to be 45 minutes long. We wanna keep it tight. We wanna keep the questions moving. And if you have any questions around certain technology issues, there’s a ton of attendees. Feel free to just post those questions through Twitter, if you’re having trouble with your control panel. Okay, without further adieu, the first question that has come up is kind of about research, actually, because research does inform strategy, right? So how do you apply UX research? Can you elaborate on the types of research used most often and why? Can we start with you, Ryan?
Ryan: Sure, there’s varying types of research we use here at the Health Plan. One of the primary used cases is… Or methodologies is remote usability testing. One challenge that we definitely face here at the Health Plan is a lot of regulations from PHI, PII, in regards to recruitment, incentivization. As a Health Plan we can’t even go to our facilities and recruit because that’s actually seen as soliciting, so we have some interesting challenges about, even within specific populations, government populations, such as Medicaid and Medicare. So a lot of the work that we do is around general population, gen-pop studies, utilizing remote usability testing platforms that either have built-in panels or will use outside recruitment panels to help with the recruitment of the participants that we need. We also do a lot of participation design sessions.
Ryan: We do a lot of moderation with different groups within the Health Plan, as well. Sometimes it’s a little bit of herding cats essentially and being able to bring everybody onto the same page. And sometimes what it requires is, we’ll start out with a group participation design exercise and then actually splinter off into individual groups with a person representing a different department to really sort of get that synergy in regards to, Okay, what are we trying to accomplish here, what are our goals, what are our objectives at the end of the day. That usually sort of flows into kinda co-creation process, so being able to work with our stakeholders and really come up with solutions that meet the needs and expectations. Of not only into the business, but also we’re here to represent the user, of course. And I think the last thing is that we do try to do a lot of in-person usability research, so as much as we can get in front of people, along with the sort of regulations that we have sort of have, that we’re handcuffed with. But any opportunity that we’re able to sort of either speak with members…
Ryan: Around things that don’t fall into PHI or PII. To be able to sort of sit down with them and really understand what their needs are is extraordinarily important.
Anita: Andy, can you share a little bit about how you approach research within 3M?
Andy: Sure. So one of the main things we use research for is value driven prioritization. So we do a lot of the same useability testing, contextual research observations. And then I’m lucky enough that I work with 3M, we’ve got a great relationship with hundreds upon thousands of our customers. So whether it be food safety for a food lab, or health information systems to observe medical coders, it’s pretty easy to pick up the phone and contact one of our customers and get on site within a couple of days. And we kind of pick that core team once we drew our observation. We get them involved in also our procreation process where we bring them into our design sprints; where we set up these weekly or bi weekly tasks that we have them kind of reiterate with them and have them provide feedback right on the fly. We use resourcing for a lot of our remote useability testing. But most of the time it’s observations, it’s shadowing, it’s going on site and spending that time with our customer.
Anita: Shannah, would you mind sharing a couple of stories of contextual research that we’ve done and useability testing? And…
Shannah: Sure. So we also do a lot of research obviously and we tend to do it on behalf of the organizations that we work with. So it’s not for our own purposes. And the research generally falls into either short of a generative framework or an evaluative. So evaluative is actual product in place and we’re testing it, and then generative is more user needs and requirements and such tables. So some of the really great ones we’ve done are contextual enquiries, we did one for a mobile app for example where we were able to go in stores with users looking at a prototype of a loyalty programme app. And what’s so great about doing contextual inquiry is you get to more than just what’s on the screen or what’s happening on the device that a person’s using. In that instance, we were able to discover that some of the real gotchas were actually part of the service ecosystem and not to do specifically with the app.
Shannah: So that’s really, really valuable feedback that you can only get if you’re in context with your users. And another thing that we have done a few times which has been really successful is research to build consensus within an organization. So sometimes, especially in larger organizations, there ‘ a lot of disparate needs and objectives and there’s a lot of departments that may or may not be used to working with each other. So one of the techniques we’ve used for a sort of large group research is called world cafe. Kind of a funny term from the ’70s. But it’s a way to have a sort of guided discussion with a large number of people, that gets people talking to each other in ways that they wouldn’t normally have. And out of that we can draw a lot of requirements for design, but it also serves the purpose of letting big organizations speak across departments to each other, and we found that to be really valuable as projects go forward.
Anita: Perfect, cool okay. So research is obviously a really important piece to creating great strategy. In terms of some of the hurdles… Actually this is a good segue Shannah. What are some of the biggest hurdles that your business deals with? So for example, the adoption of new technology, or there’s an acquisition so perhaps that tool doesn’t work as well in the acquired organization or the merged organization. Andy or Ryan do you have any stories out there that you’ve run into that are sort of speak to some of the hurdles that you’ve run into?
Andy: So the biggest hurdle we have here is that design is still kind of in its infancy. So 3M has utilized design and we’ve become a strategic partner as they’ve invested in design. So all of our designers have kinda co-located no matter what business group that we support. So it’s really… Our hurdles, I guess, are kind of those elements that really brought me here. That ability to really evangelize design and user experience and user-centered design within the organization. That ability to educate our stakeholders, our business partners to really become that true strategic partner. And it’s really about helping them tell their story through our designers’ lens. So really for us it’s about communicating what we do and then kind of providing or showing the impact of what we do and what we bring and then getting that overall buy in. So what really we don’t have many hurdles as far as just being young within the company, but those are all opportunities for us.
Anita: It sounds like people buy into the concept of UX, so that’s a great win for you folks at 3M.
Andy: Right. Exactly. It’s been delegated kinda from the top down as each business group has their own design team, and that kind of helps us. Because sometimes that hurdle would be the middle management that’s worked with somebody that wasn’t a designer for years. And now kind of understanding what designers do and how we can help, really helps us help them grow.
Anita: Thanks, Andy. I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that are listening in that wish their senior management would understand the value of user experience design, from the top down right? Throughout the whole organization because for it to be effective it really needs to be embedded. Randy, Ryan rather, do you have any examples on your end?
Ryan: Yeah, actually we’re the opposite approach is that we actually have really good buy-in from our executive leadership in regards to design and being open to what it means to be the voice of the consumer so I’m kinda blessed in that regard. What is actually the harder part is our members or our users. So there’s this stigma of being a health insurer. So you have to battle sorta the populous view about health insurance is just in it for the money and the whole death squads and everything along those lines. You know, it’s all the negative things that you hear about health insurers and health systems and how health care is broken so it’s a big hurdle for us. One of the things that we’re tyring to do is change the mind-print, maybe not for the whole health insurance industry but really a lot of people associate their health insurance with their car insurance. They only use it when they need it. So and we sorta wanna change that mind-print; essentially at the end of the day is being able to say, “No we’re here for you!” Really. It’s not about us making money. Basically what it is, is we want to make sure that we decrease the amount of claims and how many times you have to see a doctor. So that we can be a better provider for you at the end of the day because we want to reduce costs.
Ryan: We want more people to join into our membership. So for us, it really is about; how can we help you? So, health care is something that you have from cradle to grave. So why isn’t that health insurer part of your life essentially? Why are they not helping facilitate you? Well, I’m looking for a gym membership. Or I need to find a health coach or I’m trying to quit smoking? Those are all things that a health insurer… That we do, that… But unfortunately not always things that people view us as doing. So, that’s really kind of like the biggest hurdle to get over that sort of hurdle of mind print. But also I sort of alluded to before is that we’re also governed by PHI, Personal Health Information. We have the government regulations to specific programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, SNIP. You know in regard to the government programs there’s only so much we can actually incentivize. There’s specific things that we can and cannot ask. So those are just, getting to our members, and being able to talk to those consumers is actually the biggest challenge and hurdle that we face. And being able to provide enough information that essentially drives our strategies about how we can better, you know be a partner is people’s health.
Shannah: So I wonder if I can weigh in from a slightly different perspective.
Anita: He was doing good.
Shannah: Can you hear me still?
Anita: Can everybody hear?
Shannah: Yep. So I’m coming from the services angle. So we have slightly different hurdles, I think that, than the two of you faced. Because we work across many, many different organizations and verticals I’d say one of our hurdles is diving into subject matter areas where we may not be completely familiar. So the expertise we bring obviously is from the design side. But there’s a lot of actual subject matter that we need to really quickly ramp up on and immerse ourselves in that world. So, it’s a hurdle, I mean it’s also one of the great joys of being a consultant. I’m learning about prosthetics one day and television channels the next. But it is something that we work on constantly, how to quickly ramp up and get all of that subject matter expertise under our belts so that we can go forward into a design exercise or into research from a position of strength.
Anita: Actually, I would argue that because we do touch so many different verticals we can often bring best practices and learnings from those verticals to verticals that perhaps didn’t think of a design challenge in a… In this way. That’s one of the beauties of that, for sure. Actually, I have a great question that just came in from one of our panellists. Where did it go? There we go. Norman would really like to know, “Is it effective to build personas and user journey maps for every project? How much time should it ideally take to complete then for a mid-size project?” Can you maybe help us with that one, Shannah?
Shannah: So, again, talking from the providers/agencies side, I’m gonna have to go with I don’t think it’s always necessary. Oh, my goodness. [chuckle] And the reason for that is that we have to be realistic about what our clients need as outcomes and what we can deliver to them effectively and efficiently. It is good to know who your users are, that’s a given. We wouldn’t proceed without that. But whether you need to go through a long research exercise to get to personas is a question that has to be examined in light of what the product is that’s being developed and what already exists in terms of information. So, I’m gonna give the answer that always happens, you know, it depends. But I don’t think people should be slavishly devoted to particular deliverables just because there sort of thought of as best practices in user experience. I think it’s really about understanding what the outcomes of the project are and how you can best get to those with the resources that you have available to you.
Anita: That’s a great answer. Ryan, Andy what’s your point of view on personas and journey mapping. And I’m sure you had to work with and you know, go into design without some of that and/or have the luxury of actually doing that.
Ryan: So, we’ve actually been down the path of actually re-visiting and re… Personas. The problem that we have within our organization is that first of all, we’re resource strapped, and let’s face it, personas take a lot of work. They can have lots of value, but there’s a heavy lift that is associated with it. And when we’re trying to be nimble and of course our team wears several different hats, it’s really hard to say, go to a stakeholder and say, “Hey, I’m gonna need like three, four weeks to go and actually develop out these personas.” Their problem is it’s kinda hard to… People within our organization have a tendency to look at the most extreme cases as well. So if 80/20 they look at the 20%. So when you actually present personas to them, they’re like “Well that represents most of our customers, but what about this customer? Where are they represented within that?”
Ryan: So, what we’re trying to do is be a little bit more leaner and be able to use micro-personas to kinda better align. So basically using them more as a tool for storytelling to basically convey a concept, rather than saying, “This is the customer and this is who we have to design to.” And quite honestly, in regards to the journey mapping, we do some of that, but luckily I’m also fortunate to have a separate team that actually works with our experience strategy, so they do a lot of the journey mapping and longitudinal discovery work for us. So that’s a huge help not having to do all that work.
Andy: So, we’re slightly different in that we’re still kind of in our infancy. So we do need to leverage personas. A lot of the personas that we have were done by other functions that we had, such as our insights division on marketing work. So some of the personas are a few years old, so as we come across certain projects, we do find the need to tweak them. But much like Ryan said, we try to deal with micro-personas ’cause we don’t have weeks and weeks to build our personas. So we need to get a quick understanding of who those customers are. And as we go out and research the customers, we find that there are new personas that exist that the business itself hasn’t thought of. Or, they weren’t a key user of our software at the time that we created the software. Or first visited the personas. But we support six divisions. We got infection prevention, critical and chronic care, oral care, which is dental and ortho, drug delivery, food safety and health information systems.
Andy: And each one of those has a separate persona. Separate set of personas. So what we have to do is really understand those users and I bounce between all of the different divisions, all the time. Each division has their own teams that build their own products. And each one is run like it’s own individual business. So we’re really supporting, you know, 10, 12 projects at a time across the different divisions. And our team right now is six, so we’re small and we’re growing. As far as journey mapping, we also do that a lot, because what we use it for is we do it in our stake-holder interviews. So that we kinda get an understanding from our stake holders of where they think the customer is. What they think the customer’s emotions are around each touch point. And then we go out and we do our observational research. We kinda fill in those gaps. And then we bring it back to the stake holders and show them where they thought they were versus where the customers actually are. And that really helps us moving forward and kind of prioritizing things.
Anita: Actually Andy, that’s a really great segue. Gary wanted to know a little bit about what are some strategies you folks use to demonstrate value to decision makers. Can you speak a little bit further on that Andy?
Andy: Sure. You know things like ROI, increasing revenue and sales, that’s so black and white. Analytics, they’re not always available to us. Or they’re not always accurate. Things might not have been tagged properly. So we gotta worry about that gray area and we use that gray area a lot. For us we understand that stake-holders, they understand dollars, but that gray area doesn’t always equate directly to dollars. So things like productivity we try to measure time to complete tasks. And time equals money. Everybody can figure out how we can equate dollars to time. What about reducing steps in the workforce? What about reduction of errors? Those are things we kinda use as benchmarks. But we also talk about measuring things by decreased costs. So we talk about training costs. If we can make something easier to use, more intuitive, then it’s going to take less time for our staff to be move on-sight and train those people. So that we can have time for them to go to other facilities. Also we talk about decreasing development and maintenance costs. Because those can be expensive. So if you think about Microsoft Excel; it’s one of the examples I like to use.
Andy: We really only use about 5% of Microsoft Excel. So if you think about our software, we go out and try to find that 5, maybe 15 or 20% of features that our customers are actually using an we focus on those. ‘Cause we don’t want to spend a ton of time on that other 80%. We’ll eventually get to it, but we can use those resources in other places. Especially our developers which are… We’ve got a lot of developers, but there’s never enough developers for the projects. Then the final way we really do measure things is, if we can kill a project. So sometimes we go and we’ve got this marketing voice of customer VOC work and it’s a lot of like over promising what we can deliver. And not really getting a full understanding. And then if we get a bunch of users in a room and we say, “What if we can do everything you wanted us to do?” Of course they’re gonna love it. But when we really start to figure out what that is, we realize that it might not be the greatest thing to focus on. So if we kill that project, we kinda take that as a win, also.
Anita: Interesting. Ryan, how do you work with your decision makers to demonstrate value?
Ryan: So, I think it really comes down to quick wins. Really at the end of the day is being able to show value to the organization and be ready to step up to take any challenge or any asks that you get. So luckily, the simple answer also is one step at a time. So, we make sure they’re constantly involved in the process. You know, they actually have a choice. They have a choice to work with us or not. But you know building that trust with our business partners has really sort of helped us blossom and bloom. Where we’re able to work with them. Identify really what their goals and objectives are, understanding what the metrics that they’re measuring against. And then being able to say, “Okay, does this makes sense that we should be moving forward with this, or do you guys wanna go back and really rethink about what your objectives are?” A lot of times we get a lot of ask, like, “This isn’t working, this is broken, we need to do all this research on it.” Well, that’s usually not the best approach. So really understanding… Or it’s like, “We need to build out X.” We need to have a mobile app that does everything for everybody, and really at the end of the day maybe it’s the consumers just wanna look up their insurance card on their phone. So really understanding the asks of the business stakeholders and then being able to validate those with the consumers, it’s really important. We recently had a problem with people being able to pay their bills online, and there were several solutions that were already put in place, and we weren’t certain if those solutions were actually going to meet the needs of the end user. So we worked with our various different business partners, we were able to conduct the research, be able to give an appropriate response and a recommendation, and at the end of the day it saved us tons of money, just based off of two days of research and work.
Ryan: So, there are different ways that we build trust with our stakeholders, but really, at the end of the day there’s quick wins proving value at the end of the day is how you garner those relationships and basically get to a point where people are fighting for you and constantly upper level management saying, “We need UX, we need CI involved in these meetings,” and it’s worked very well for our team.
Anita: Nice, nice. Shannah, can you share quickly just a couple examples where we’ve helped clients do something like that?
Shannah: Yeah. So, the long-term tracking and support of the solutions that we put in place often lives and resides with our clients more than it does with us. But when we’re brought in, it’s usually to achieve a certain function and to deliver something we got to design or a body of research, what have you. So, our value is usually at the end of it, is there a thing? Did we achieve the outcome of what that project was supposed to do? And when we can do that and the client team can go forward and build or make changes, then that’s how we give value to our clients.
Anita: Okay. I have to put this question in, it’s not maybe right up our stream in terms of the topic today, but it’s from Bangkok, so we have to ask it. So, hello from Bangkok, I wonder about the differences between digital prototype and physical prototype and how those come together to define strategy? Ryan, do you wanna speak to that one a little bit?
Ryan: I think it really all depends on the project and how much time you have to do it. Sometimes if you’re trying to investigate if a specific feature and function set would work, maybe it’s better just to do a hand sketch and put in front of users. Then again there might be the times where to sell it up to the business units they wanna see the fully fleshed out prototype. So it really, A, depends on the type of project as well as who you’re presenting that to at the end of the day. I can’t say that there’s one or the other that I prefer, but I think with the sketches it’s really easy to convey features and functionalities just even with a visual prototype, something that’s paper-based. Recently one of the UX designers on my team basically came up with… It was a very complex system and was able to just hand sketch out what the experience is, what the workflow is going to be and basically level-sided everybody from understanding about, “Okay, how’s this going to work at the end of the day.” And all it was is it was a hand sketch with a low interaction that was built into Envision. It was a perfect solution and it was light weight, it took less than a day to do. Where prototypes, depending on the use case can take days, sometimes weeks to actually deliver. So you have to weigh the pros and cons, understanding your audience is really important to sell those strategies up.
Ryan: So, if I’m meeting with executives stakeholders, I know that they want something that looks pretty. They wanna see something, you can’t put words in front of it, it needs to look pretty and be able to visually convey the concept. However, some of my stakeholders I can sort of doodle something on a sketchpad and they get it. So, it really all depends who you’re trying to influence at the end of the day.
Shannah: And also, it depends on what the product is. So, if you’re designing a wearable or something that’s meant to be carried or strapped to another piece of equipment, sometimes a little fidelity prototype made out of whatever you have, cardboard, duct tape, foam core, that can be really great. We did a project for a remote control panel, and it actually really mattered how the person handled that. Like, are they sitting, are they standing, are they carrying it across a room? How big are their hands? Is it for kids, is it for adults? So, in those cases it’s sometimes more than just the screen. It can be how is that thing handled and used by the person. Sometimes you can’t get all of that across in just the sort of digital part of the interface.
Anita: Cool. Okay. And I have another question here. Who comes up with the new ideas at 3M. Is it the UXers or the stakeholders?
Andy: It can be anybody actually. The way that 3M really works, is they very much promote the entrepreneurial spirit. So really any project can be started from anyone within the company, and then depending on how you can lobby for that project you then can determine if we’re going to go forward with it. We’ve got Makers fair, science fairs, tech forums, marketing forums, ways to communicate your ideas. There are teams that do that, but most of the work that I get comes prioritized by each division to my health care design officer. He kind of helps prioritize where we can make the biggest impact on our projects. So really we’ve got hundreds of projects that kinda come in our direction, and then somebody has to prioritize that because our team is not large enough to do that. But really anybody can come up with an idea for a project and help promote that idea and it can turn into a full-fledged project. I’ve seen that happen three or four times in the year and a half I’ve been there.
Anita: Oh really?
Anita: Okay, I want you to talk a little bit about, we’ve got a strategy. So one, the first part of the question is, what are some of the main inputs to a good UX strategy from your perspective? And two, the second part of the question, how do you move that through? How do you start to actually enable that. It’s great to come up with strategy, put the deck together, have some sort of key pillars that are going to be part of that focus, but then actually activating it and creating accountability through all those milestones. Ryan, if you can sort of chat us through some of that.
Ryan: Yeah. So I think that really sort of pushing through the specific UX strategy comes down to making sure that you have these relationships, I think we’ve talked about this before, making sure that you have those relationships with the stakeholders, garner that trust with them. I think that’s really important. And there are some times where UX is not, or UX, or the CX or CI team is not necessarily involved up front. And really what that comes down to, yeah it can be frustrating at times, however it usually indicates for me, that we’re not either evangelizing, educating, or communicating effectively to those groups. So we make it a point is that if we’re not being understood, if we’re not communicating either a specific strategy or solution design that we’ll go back to the books and really sort of say, okay what are different ways that we can sort of communicate this so that we get complete buy in. Sometimes it’s one or two iterations and we’re able to better communicate, maybe it’s coming up with a different graphic that displays the information in more of a light that is more aligned to the business needs and goals that they have. Sometimes it can be a full boat where we’ve gone several different ways and we’ve tried different methodologies, so we’ll start with a group exercise and then well we decide we can’t get buy in from that so we’ll go back and then we’ve separated out the groups from participation design exercises.
Ryan: Having them go through the same exercise and really sort of seeing, fleshing out specific trends and then being able to possibly then come back together and say, “Okay here are the trends that we’re seeing. You guys are all saying similar things, however these are what we’ve heard.” And then using those and say, “Okay we need to prioritize these next three things. How can we build this? Is everybody in agreeance?” And then that’s how we sorta build that strategy, basically it’s an incremental approach. But you have to be flexible, I think that’s the one thing, it’s not a one and done type of situation, it never is. Earlier in my career I thought well, “Here’s the research, here’s my recommendations, and everybody’s gonna listen to me.” Well that’s not true, you actually have to be a lot more flexible. And you have to also understand that most people don’t do what we do.
So, sometimes it really comes down to talking down to a fifth grade level and saying, either making relationships, in previous lives I had a hard time selling information architecture work that we did. We actually as a team came back and said, okay what did all these executives understand. They understand wine. So we basically, the categorization of different types of wine. Different labels, where they sell in, to understand what a simple card sort was. We basically turned the tables to say okay there’s a different way that we can communicate this that they’ll all get it. After that, once we did that sorta presentation everybody was on board, everybody understood it moving forward. But it’s really understanding the language that your stakeholders as well as your users are utilizing from a day in, day out. So using that kinda language is really important.
Anita: Right, Shannah, if you can walk us through, ’cause we’ve done a lot of work to help clients craft a strategy and enable a strategy. So if you could maybe share some of that with the group, that would be great.
Shannah: Sure, for us, people come to us because either they don’t have the expertise in house, or because they are full of projects and have a lot of things to do. We very clearly from the outset layout what our project plan is, and I will say that sometimes we do a whole strategy, design, research, the whole sort of gambit. But equally there are opportunities for us to do just parts of that process. So sometimes a project is ongoing and there’s just a need for research. Or sometimes it’s in a very infancy, and there’s just a need for strategy, or the strategy is in place and that’s the design work that has to be done. What we do is, sit down with the people, the team that we’re working with at the start of the project and make sure that everybody understands what it is that we’re hoping to deliver, and that there’s buy in from all the parties involved. It’s also really important for us to figure out, not just who the direct team is, but who’s in a review capacity, or who’s going to sort of get us down the road. We talked earlier about personas and I love the notion of, like, “the anti-persona.” Who’s gonna stand in our way? Who’s gonna be the one that doesn’t help us? I think understanding all those parts of the puzzle, and then understanding the larger ecosystem that the project exists in, is really essential to working that, whatever it is you’re trying to achieve from user experience perspective, through the organizations that you get a successful project at the end of it.
Anita: I’ve seen examples where our strategy, outputs and documents had the clients really rethink their approach in a whole new sort of filter, a whole new light, and a lot of “Aha!” moments coming out of them. Which, I mean, we still talk to some of those clients, and they continue to come back to us and say, “You know that, that great strategy deck you created for us? Do you know that it sits on my desk, and we reference that on an ongoing basis?” So…
Shannah: I think that happens internally, too. I think that now that user experience is getting a little bit more ingrained, the internal teams also serve that function sometimes. And the organization really can leverage them, and draw upon the things that the work that they have ongoing.
Anita: Andy, what are your main inputs for strategy, and what do you sort of see as your main triggers to activate that strategy?
Andy: So, before design was integrated as a strategic partner with 3M, we’re talking 100 years ago, and all the way through. Hundreds of thousands of products were kind of created and strategized, and put forth by R&D, by manufacturing, by engineering. So, there is a process that they have and that process is over 100 years old. It’s a NPI process, New Production Innovation process. And what we have to do is find a way to fit our strategic part into their process.
So we’ve established these gate reviews along the way. As they release a project, there are these gates. And what we have are design kind of checks at each gate. And one of the initial gates is a define stage. And that’s kind of where we can take that strategy and evaluate it through a designer’s lens. And we look at things the way a user would, kind of, expects that to behave. Or just taking the user’s perspective and being that advocate for the user.
Andy: But also, we also see things slightly different than a lot of our engineers, and our other partners. So, it’s really a good place for us to inject our kind of design strategy, and help them see through prototypes, through anything that we can kind of throw together quickly to show how we can add value to that project. And it’s been great.
Shannah: It’s interesting that you say that, because I think, sometimes, people might think of a gating process that’s 100 years old as a barrier. But the way you’ve described it actually seems to be beneficial. Which I think…
Andy: Right. The process itself is probably not 100 years old. But the tradition of having engineering, and R&D, and manufacturing drive those projects, is definitely from the initial days of 3M.
Anita: Nice. Very cool. Okay, here’s a few more questions are coming in, and we are slowly running out of time. One question, I’m not sure it’d be good to end… I’d love everybody’s point of view on this: Having a UX team embedded into an organization, versus having an external team. And I think the question was, can somebody, can a few of you share the pros and cons of either approach? So, Ryan, what are your thoughts on that? I feel like you’ve sort of seen either side of that?
Ryan: So, just to reframe the question: So, is it easier to have a dedicated UX team, or that basically, sort of, goes out and does the work, and comes back? Or is it more, better to have, sort of, the ingrained, sort of, kind of, a leaner approach? Is that what I’m hearing?
Anita: Yeah, a little bit. It’s like, what are the pros and cons of having a team embedded? Yeah, there’s like, four angles to the question, but… [chuckle] So, yeah, sure. Go for it.
Ryan: Okay, we’ll go with that. So, at the end of the day, here in Consumer Innovation, we’re actually in a unique place, where we not only have the experience strategy, and then we have the product design and surface design, on my team. But we also have a product management arm that really sort of helps kind of, the herding cats, from a facilitation perspective. And all of us serve so many different roles. So, even if you are a dedicated UX team, you’re never gonna get away from doing a bunch of other work.
So most of us come from various different fields. So, I know that I have some of my UX designers are doing IA work. Some of them are doing UI work. Some of them are doing content strategy. Some are doing, actually creating content. Some are fulfilling the roles as product managers and product managers, business analysts. The list goes on and on and on.
I think that we sort of have this great hybrid approach where we’re all inclusive, at least within our team. Sometimes, when you’re an independent team, just that people are just getting services off of, you have a tendency not to be, sort of, brought into the process. So, one of the advantages that we have is that we have the product management arm that is very linked with our IT departments, with our PMO. So, they’ll make sure that even if they’re sort of facilitating on a project, they’ll bring us in early enough in the game so we’re not playing catchup the whole entire time.
That being said, we’re also, as we meet with our stakeholders, like I said, we’re trying to get into this… We’re baby stepping into an agile methodology. So it’s a great approach because everybody has a voice. Everybody’s in the meetings. You understand exactly where everybody’s perspective is and you work as a team. So the squads and pods being able to be together in this pod of working on the different durations of the project.
At the end of the day I think that’s probably the best approach. Is making sure that everybody feels it’s a collaborative approach, that there’s co-creation, that everybody’s involved in the process. I think sending work out as an agency and then bringing it back and “Here you go.” Just is riddled with the amount of problems. I’ve been on both types of teams and I must say that this type of the environment that I’m currently in seems to work the best. That seems like we’re involved in the process from the inception, to the completion of the project.
We’re constantly being involved. We’re constantly being tapped to either connect additional research. We also have the leads in so if maybe one of our UI people are not necessarily involved from the get-go, that we can bring ’em up to speed. And because we work in such a collaborative environment, most of the time, they’ve either heard something in passing. Maybe they’re not involved with the project. So it’s really good from a collaboration perspective, from the team that we’re in. I think it’s crucial for a team to succeed.
Anita: Andy, what’s your perspective on team versus internal help?
Andy: So our team, our healthcare design team, has two separate areas. We’ve got our product team which is mainly based of industrial designers. And we’ve got our digital team which is our UX team. And our UX team is made up of six competencies. We’ve got our strategy. We’ve got our information architecture, content strategy. Strategy, the first one being strategy and research. Then we’ve got our visual design, interaction design, and front of development.
And because our team is small we wear multiple hats. And because we have so many projects and such a small team, we do have to use some outside resources to help us, whether that be for development or even some of the design work. So what we do is, we like to call it design managing design. So even if we’re not hands on creating deliverables we’re still a part of that process. So we make sure that we keep to the brand and we keep to our interaction guidelines and our style guide and our digital language. Because if we don’t, it’s gonna be like the Wild, Wild West. We’re just gonna have a bunch of different products that all look different. They all act differently. You’re not gonna realize that they all come from 3M.
So that’s one of the main things that we’re doing is having our team interjected wherever we can be and wherever we can make the most impact. But at the same time, we’re still managing those smaller projects that we might need help with.
Anita: Right. Right. Shannah, we’ve seen a little bit of both, right? What are your thoughts on that?
Shannah: Uh, yeah, well, we are the external help.
Anita: That’s right.
Shannah: Obviously, I think it’s a great route to go. No, no, but in all seriousness, it’s rare that we’re working… Well, it’s not unheard of, but yes, often, we’re working with internal, user experience teams. And that’s actually great. It’s great to have clients who understand the process, who understand the outcomes of this type of work. It makes for a much more fruitful collaboration. And we are firm believers in collaboration. It’s essential.
As I mentioned before, we’re not the subject matter experts. And we really do draw upon the client’s resources and the team to provide that. And I think what the external provider can bring is a sense of freshness and also, some of the learnings that we get from being cross vertical and cross industry practitioners. It is often, or not often, but sometimes, it can be easy to get lost or to be blinded by what you already know. And sometimes an objective third party view, sheds that bit of light on the project that may not have come otherwise.
Anita: Yeah and I would argue, a lot of the clients actually come to us also when they really need to get something: That third party perspective to help senior leadership or senior management, with validation to senior management or they just need to move the needle and get product out the door. And to Shannah’s point, that whole second perspective on design is really helpful. And what I love about folks like yourself, Ryan and Andy, is your perspective on collaboration. I think that that goes a super long way. So I’d argue… Everyone that’s listening in, it’s all about collaborating, for sure.
Anita: Okay, we have more questions here. Oh, my goodness, there’s tons and we’re running out of time. This one’s for 3M actually. Okay, 3M, are you working on internal events or workshops to manifest yourself as UXers internally? Since you guys are the new kids on the block?
Andy: We do hold workshops as often we can to educate our stakeholders plus our other business partners. So our marketers or technical teams. It’s important for them to understand what we do an be able to speak the same language as us. And also to integrate in how they do things because even though we’re new, we don’t wanna disrupt the process as much as we can. We wanna seamlessly integrate into that process. And what we do is it’s important to have those quick wins and big wins but we hold workshops also to communicate that, to build those relations with people.
Andy: Because really, when we talk about how to grow, it’s to let our wins work their way up the ladder and have other people communicate those for us. So the more people we can educate on what we do and the impact that we make the more advocates we have internally so that when other projects pop up, the first thing they say is, “We’ve got to reach out to the UX team to see if there’s anyone to help us with this.” So, holding workshops is key for us, lunch and learns, anything we can do to educate.
Anita: Yeah, good point. Okay. We’ve run out of time. I’m gonna just ask each of you one quick question. Then, we’re gonna sign off. We are over but everyone’s still listening in so I’m gonna just ask this one quick question. What are the three things that you say is… The three things that UX-er’s day looks like? What are the three things that you do every day and just like what needs to bubble up, what the… The attendees wanted to know? So, Ryan, what are the three things that you said a UX-er does within an organization?
Ryan: On a daily basis? [chuckle]
Anita: Yeah. It’s a lot of stuff. I know.
Ryan: I mean, meetings, essentially. Well, at least, within my role. I’m in meetings probably a good 80%, 90% of the time. But I think it’s really important to meet with our team and really have just the ability for us to come together and really discuss. Similar to Andy, we’re actually, really a small team as well. There’s four of us in total. For them to get their work done essentially, they’re allocated about 80% to a centralized project and helping fill in where they can and then, everything else backs up to me. The reason I’ve taken that approach is because we need to be able to show that we’re able to execute, especially, on these big projects and be able to provide value. And for them not being constantly in that spin on a daily basis with meetings and being pulled into things that, maybe, will come to light and maybe not, it’s probably not in their best interest. So, meetings are important.
Ryan: The second thing is making sure that you serve a line with your team, making sure that everyone’s talking to each other. My team’s very good about working with each other and pinging the ideas and giving different concepts. But from a management perspective, it’s really important for me to get the team together and then, overall, I think, from our whole entire group. So, it starts with the meetings, then the UX-group proper and then, our overall consumer innovation because we’re all wearing so many different hats and running in so many different directions.
There’s days that you might not see me, or weeks that you might not see me, or Lindsey or Ryan who are the other two managers on my team because we’re tied up with meetings. So, it’s really good we make it a point to meet as a team on a Monday and then, we also have similar to what Andy was saying is that we have these workshops. We have coffee club on Fridays to discuss, “Okay. These are some of the new things, new technologies. Here’s what’s happening in healthcare. Is there any play for CI here? Is there something that we have to keep on our radar?” So, I think, really, being understanding about what’s coming up, also, in the market place is very important and being able to share that with the entire team.
Anita: Nice. Okay. Andy? Three things.
Andy: Three things. So, first is engagement. So, it’s having those meetings, it’s educating, it’s evangelizing, it’s getting the word out there for who we are, what we do. The second one is advocating. We’re always an advocate for the user all day long. That’s all we do is go back to the users’ perspective and understand and empathize that user. The third one is execute. We have to create deliverables, we have to communicate. At some point, we need to stop talking and start letting the work talk for us. So, executing is key for us right now.
Anita: Right. That makes sense. Shannah?
Shannah: Okay. So, I’m last. I’ll just cut it to one thing. I think it’s really important for us, as practitioners, to move outside our realm of practice and talk to other people, have experiences that aren’t necessarily just about user experience, but get out and live in the world and be with the humans that we’re working for. And that’s something that I try to do every day.
Anita: Yeah. That’s a really good point. Okay. There are so many questions that we did not get to. We will try and answer as many of those in a blog post after this chat. All right. So, let’s start signing off. Thank you, Ryan, Andy and Shannah and Louise McCullough who’s in the background here. Nobody can see her but she’s been waving her magic wand making sure this all comes together. So, big thanks to Louise. Again, Ryan, Andy and Shannah for your help, and to our fantastic audience. We love all your questions and continued curiosity in all things UX.
Anita: I just wanna give everybody a heads-up. We are having another webinar, May 30th. It’s with axschat.com. It’s spelt A-X-S chat.com, and we’re gonna be talking about accessibility which is a really, really important topic. Again, it’s important to be designing for everybody. So hopefully, you all join us for that one. In the meantime, stay tuned. Our Twitter handle, rather, has as much information as possible about what’s going on here at Usability Matters. See you next time. Bye-bye. Thanks.