When everyone is your user

I just finished the first day of the Enterprise UX conference, and I’m just bursting to share all the ideas and insights and inspiration from my time here!

#EUX16 is being held in the lovely city of San Antonio, and the conference hotel is right on the River Walk, shown here by day and by night:


For the first two days, the conference is at Rackspace headquarters.  It is a suburban mall converted into a super cool workspace!  Here are some of the 500 attendees at breakfast this morning:


It has been quite a start already, with a reception last night, and registration beginning at 7:30 am this morning …

That said, today was – as these events often are! – energizing and exhausting all at once.  I have summarized the morning presentation sessions below, but I have yet to do the afternoon session.  And I have some work to do to provide a real synthesis of the keynote by GE CXO, Greg Petroff.  I have had a chance to see MJ Broadbent‘s sketchnote of his talk, and it’s terrific.  I am confident that I cannot do justice here to the phenomenal storytelling sessions at the end of the day.  I may have to just link to them both once they are publicly available!

I feel like I’ve been living under a rock after having two kids and building a couple of new teams from the ground up.  So it is great to be here and get perspective on how the Enterprise UX space is changing.  On one hand, I feel really good that the teams I’m building are focused on the right things.  But also made me realize how far we have yet to go both in the organization where I work, and as a discipline.  It also made me realize that I am ready to get more involved, but it’s not obvious to me where I want to begin!  Perhaps I’ll have more clarity on that as the conference progresses.  In the meantime, here is a summary.

The theme of the morning session was How to Succeed When Everyone is Your User, facilitated by Ted Booth

Data Exhaust and Personal Data: Learning from Consumer Products to Enhance Enterprise UX 

Presented by Sam Ladner, who is the author of Practical Ethnography.  She just recently left her position at Microsoft to join Amazon.

She reflected on some learnings from the field of sociology.  For example Shoshana Zuboff studied companies as they were digitizing everything, and saw how different those experiences could be.  On one hand, the automation of insurance work eliminated the need for social interaction, thereby making the work alienating and lonely – social bonds and informal knowledge exchange was lost.  The automation was saving the company money, but without an understanding of people.  In contrast, in another study, Zuboff noted that technology could ‘informate’, or enable workers to make more complex, more informed decisions more effectively.  In those cases, both employees and stakeholders are pleased with the outcome.

Workplace sociologists describe Theory X and Theory Y.  Theory X you believe that work is something that people hate and they will shirk their duties.  Therefor they need firm control or order to be effective and help the business achieve it’s goals.  Theory Y is that work is inherently fulfilling, and your role is to enhance, facilitate, and inspire.  You can see which one is winning; theory X is implicit in most managers’ minds.  So technology has a lot to do with distrust and unhappiness, and ultimately with a  disengaged workforce.

The reality is that workplaces are in trouble – most work places are not happy places:

employee engagement

If we’re not mindful, as UX professionals we’ll contribute to that.  “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” says Peter Drucker.  What role do we have to play in exacerbating or ameliorating technostress?

The challenge is that many of us are technical (we find ourselves at the top right in the productivity graph below), so we don’t fall off the adoption curve at the same rate as many of the people we study and design for:

user productivity

Part of the challenge we face as UX professionals is to remain aware of that gap.

Sam also talked about the concept of data exhaust.  It’s not a new term – it relates to waste products.  But natural gas used to be a waste product until it’s usefulness was discovered! Today, all the interactions you engage in leave a data trail, but they are not optimized to help you.  We didn’t realize in the past – but we are recognizing now – that such information could be used to inform users.  Unfortunately, what we’re often doing is designing from a customer perspective, not the user perspective.  Call centers are a great example of how data benefits the customer.  Analytics can show how long the reps were on a the call, average call length, how many calls, etc.  It does provide insight to the customer / buyer / stakeholder.  But what value is it to the user, the employee who is being tracked?  Big Data is being used for surveillance; this is Theory X in action.

Interestingly, research has shows that individual users can get huge value out of their own data.  Personal data can inform them, make them more productive, happier.  At Facebook, they were building for users, at first.  You had a chance to (re)connect with friends from all parts of your like.  But imagine if the Facebook starting page had said ‘give us information about how you interact with your favorite brands’.  We never would have joined!  We can do this in the enterprise space, too, if we start with users first.  Sam encouraged us to consider how data exhaust at the personal level can inform our work.

A First Time, Every Time: Making Enterprise Life Better Through Continuous Onboarding

Fredrik Matheson shared a number of interesting examples from his project work at Bexx Consulting in the Netherlands.  

In parallel to this post, I am working on a summary of the key themes I’ve heard.  Perhaps more than any other, Fredrik’s talk reminded me of the patience that this work requires.  We have to be willing to revisit problems – even though we framed them correctly at the outset.  We need to meet our customers where they are on their change journey, and help them make the best decisions possible.  And all of this requires a tremendous amount of client engagement, empathy, mutual respect, and loads of patience.

Tesler’s Law on the Conservation of Complexity “Every application has an inherent amount of irreducible complexity.  Who will have to deal with it? The users, the application developer, or the platform developer?”  The reality is that in Enterprise software, users bear most of the burden:

teslers law

Tesler’s Law, simplified – “Once cannot reduce the complexity of a task.  One can only shift the burden.”  As Enterprise UX professionals, part of our responsibility is to shift the burden.  Ideally you address the system as a whole.  The rest of Fredrik’s talk was a variety of case studies – all complex and interesting in different ways – that showed different ways of making that happen, always with the goal of shifting the burden away from the users.  But in order to do that, you need to understand them better.  Do you want it to be easy or powerful?  It will never be powerful without user involvement.

Two of my favorites from Fredrik’s talk:

  • In Norway your taxes are done automatically; the government has taken what they already know and used it to fill the forms out for you.  You may go in and adjust it if you wish or if there are anomalies that require you do do so.  This is a wonderful example of addressing the system as a whole.  It just solves massive problems in data collection and quality, user adoption, and more.
  • For one telecom project he worked on, they pulled the plug on their own project, and recommended instead to integrate with an emerging mobile solution, so people could find everything in one place.  But it took years to do it.  It was super tedious – the whole value chain was broken – but it was important work.  During the Q&A, one person said that the work sounded like “lots of plumbing and ditch-digging over time”.  There were lots of of non-design questions along the way (like what platform to use), which they stayed engaged in so UX could play a role in making the system and the user experience better.  The designs he shared with us were first sketched four years ago. This work takes patience!

His team is currently focused on digesting the literature that is emerging about UX and Product Management.  What > How > Who > Why (Measurable Goal).  We need to stay focused on that, and pace ourselves correctly.  For the Who, thinking about Business Model Canvas.  For the Why, think about Jira but be specific in what gets documented – for example ‘reduce learning time from 180 to 30 minutes’.  It doesn’t say how, but it provides a good way to measure impact / success in the long run.

Getting out from Under Everyone: How to Escape the Paralysis of Getting Started

Russ Unger currently works for the US government in a team called 18F.  The group started as Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs), where talented people from industry worked for 6-12 months to work on projects that would save lives, taxpayer dollars, etc.  That program lives on now through 18F.  They work for the government and with the government, by partnering with government agencies.  It has grown really, really fast – 200 people today, and Russ was designer #7.  They have done over 150 projects with more than 60 different stakeholders.

One of the ways that they have secured really good talent is by working in distributed teams.  Only 45% of the team is in SD, and the rest are elsewhere.  Russ works out of his basement in Chicago, so I hope I’ll have an opportunity to meet him at a local meet up at some point!

The main charter of the organization is to eliminate first mover risk by taking a user-centered design (UCD) approach.  The government is increasingly committed to a UCD, agile approach.  In order to get started, they needed to focus in on how they wanted to work.  They started by creating a playbook, which is now available for download on GitHub.  Here are the core principles:

 – Build in the open
 – With an empowered product owner
 – Focus on understanding the problem first
 – We work in an agile way
 – We are committed to research and a user centered approach
 – Major change of project goals may require revisiting
 – Transfer back to the agency
 – Best practices methods and technology

As part of their approach, they assess projects to determine whether design is needed, and what it would take to accomplish it.  Having a shared language of design enables them to work better with their customers.  They designed for themselves, first.  They worked on the side to agree on design methods, they also sent the methods cards to their customers, and then tested how they felt about design methods.  There were some modest improvements through developing this shared language.  The materials are available at http://methods.18F.gov. Anyone can pull them down, modify, and /or print them.

When beginning work on their own standards, they looked at other who were doing this well, including GE.  There have been 120K visitors to their design standards page, which is a great beginning.  And they can see that government websites have begun to improve, but here are literally hundreds of government agencies and commissions.  And an infinite number of button styles:

federal buttons.JPG

That sounds familiar!  😃   I’ll talk more about that when I finish my blog post on the work we’re doing on design standards.  He says that the standards are still optional, and he realizes that they have a way to go to build that coalition of designers working in government.

Finally Russ shared a great case study about their work with the Department of the Interior.  At inception, the project was called ‘Federal Interagency Fourth Grade Park Pass’, which is so funny and tragic all at once.  In short, the project goal was to get more 4th graders into parks.  In the US there are 50M kids age from K-12, but only 307K people visited National Parks last year.  They decided to focus on 4th graders (4M of them!), because they are young enough to be excited about being outside, but still young enough to think their parents make cool suggestions.  And schools are easy to reach.  But the project started because they reached out to the writing lab and asked for help.   It was not work that could be done well in 4-6 hours.  Emileigh (presenting this week as well) is a content designer that was integral to the success of the project.  The project is now called Every Kid in a Park.  All the content is at their reading level, and 500K tickets have been downloaded so far.  For him this has reconfirmed the important of dedicated designers who can make the key content accessible.

Russ had four key learnings to share:

 – Set limits
 – Create shared language (both within the team and with customers)
 – Establish re-usable patterns
 – Equalize design and development roles

In closing

The morning presentation sessions today also caused me to reflect on an event I attended eight years ago now, a Summit on Enterprise UI / UX with Jive.  Many of the themes that were discussed then are still true today.  But I do feel like being engaged in dialogue with one another is allowing us to learn and advance our work much more quickly than we could a few years ago.  I’m excited to see how we continue to accelerate our maturation as a field through conferences such as this one!

1 Comments on “When everyone is your user”

  1. Pingback: Reflecting on the Enterprise UX conference - Putting people first

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: