The hundreds of case studies I’ve seen presented throughout 12 years of our MEX conferences have taught me an important lesson: the fate of user experience projects is often sealed in the way they are commissioned.
There are four common mistakes, each of which can undermine the relationship between commissioning stakeholders and project practitioners, thereby limiting the effectiveness of even the highest quality user experience work. By addressing these issues upfront it is possible to improve results for stakeholders and practitioners alike:
1. Stakeholder immersion
People believe what they see and take action based on those beliefs. If the stakeholders who commission a user experience project never see the users’ world for themselves, the results of the project will always be constrained by their separation from user reality.
- Take time before the project starts to understand the nuances of your stakeholders’ expectations, whether they are the executive management of an in-house team or clients of an agency.
- Use your understanding of these nuances to suggest ways of immersing the stakeholders in the work of the project.
- Be conscious of time pressures, but when necessary, insist on a minimum level of stakeholder involvement as a condition of undertaking the project.
2. Metric evolution
User experience projects succeed when they deliver measurable success. However, sometimes the greatest impact can only be achieved when there is a mandate to evolve the metrics themselves based on the project’s findings. There are limits to how much of the user experience can be changed if project results are governed by old metrics linked to a history of poor experience design.
- Look beyond the existing metrics and seek the underlying business motivation behind the project and its stakeholders.
- During the commissioning phase, articulate the case for evolving specific metrics if the findings of the user experience project warrant it.
- Support the implementation of new metrics by linking to the pre-existing business motivations and specific user experience findings.
3. Team diversity
User experience encompasses all aspects of a user’s relationship with a product or service. To achieve significant change, user experience projects must draw on diverse practitioner skills (from user researchers to visual designers) and involve diverse stakeholders (from marketing to finance). The breadth of participation increases the scope for meaningful impact, but it also creates a challenge: user experience recommendations can become diluted as they are passed from team to team.
- Make the argument for collaborative working between multiple disciplines on the practitioner team. Not everyone needs to be present for every session, but user experience teams thrive when, for instance, visual designers participate in some of the user research and the original researchers remain involved during the production phases.
- Invest in establishing good communication with any stakeholder teams which might be affected by the outcome of the project. Without diverse stakeholder participation, it will be more difficult to implement significant changes spanning, for instance, product, finance, marketing and engineering.
4. Method review
The results delivered to stakeholders are one of the outputs of a good user experience project. The other is a set of objective reflections on the methods used. If you don’t make the time to review methods and translate findings into better principles for future work, best practice will never evolve.
- Establish a dedicated channel or space for publishing project reviews and an evolving set of best practices. The pre-existence of this channel creates an expectation and enforces a commitment among team members which can otherwise be too easily set aside in the rush to move on to the next project.
- Build time into the project plan for regular reviews during the work. Don’t leave everything until after the project has concluded – valuable insight will be lost along the way.
- Share the findings with stakeholders and use their input to evolve the results.
These are all lessons I’ve taken to heart in my own consulting work on user experience strategy (get in touch if you have a project you’d like to discuss).
Share a tip of your own?
I’d love to hear from those on either side of this equation – commissioning stakeholders or practitioner – about techniques they’ve used to make user experience projects as effective as possible. Add your comment to the post below or get in touch if you’d prefer to share privately…