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Resources: UPA 2005 Idea Markets

How Can Usability Departments Become More Influential and
Lead Organizational Change?


Activator: Charlie Kreitzberg, Anne Pauker, Cognetics Corporation


The Activator's Initial Questions

  1. Is it the usability department’s role to lead change and if so, how?
  2. What opportunities are there?
  3. What are some potential obstacles… and ways to overcome them?
  4. What kinds of skills enhance one’s influence in organizations, especially large ones?
  5. How can we measure success

How usability departments can shape organizational change

  • Demonstrate the value of UCD to senior executives both personally (e.g., personal productivity) and furthering business drivers or goals (e.g., their incentable objectives). Start with something simple that has direct, immediate, and visible impact.
  • UCD is included as a standard within all IT development projects.
  • UCD is formally incorporated into all product design and development processes, and broadly defined to include any interaction.
  • Usability is a “success” criteria – as important as schedule and budget -when evaluating development projects.
  • Align with business leaders at the beginning of the year, when new business objectives are set, to identify opportunities for improving how technology is used to achieve business objectives, and to “be at the table” for these discussions (especially when skilled facilitation is important.)

What opportunities are there?

  • In meetings, focus on solutions rather than problems… be seen as a “go-to-solutions-guy” and then make it happen.
  • Nothing breeds success like success – demonstrate value [to influential people, not only your manager] and the next time it will be easier to get in earlier when decisions are made.
  • Leverage customer demand for better processes and quality to begin to talk about UI as providing value in revenue growth and customer retention.
  • Use government regulations, NIST, or other requirements to drive the need to incorporate UCD into the development process.
  • Incorporate UCD earlier in the process – to make the business case for a product, and clarify expectations.
  • Leverage relationships to align with others who have the same goals; we are natural allies for Business Process Improvement, Quality or “Six Sigma” initiatives… beyond IT or developers.
  • Leverage use of service-oriented architecture to separate the front end from the back end.
  • Implement strong UCD standards to ensure consistency across business units, and to be able to better measure usability benefits or results.
  • Seek and win advocates, especially influential or highly-placed ones.

What are some potential obstacles… and ways to overcome them?

  • Don’t rely on facilitation skills alone – subject matter expertise and knowledge of the business are critical to gain credibility.
  • Using cost savings as the lead ROI for UCD can be a “double-edged sword” if this is used to justify budget or headcount reductions. Find out the main business driver, which often is not cost savings, when talking about ROI.
  • Usability departments can be perceived as being too focused on people; demonstrate that we can balance the needs of both people and the business, for example, by voicing both in meetings.
  • Usability folks can be timid or restrained by their role or position; be willing to “speak the loudest.”
  • It’s easy to become discouraged; “sometimes you need to decide if this is the right place for you.”

What kinds of skills enhance one’s influence in organizations, especially large ones?

  • Ability to confidently and knowledgeably speak “business” and “tech” talk – or get up to speed fast to fill knowledge or language facility gaps.
  • Collaboration skills that help cross-functional teams work better.
  • Facilitation skills that connect “users,” “the business” and “the developers

How can we measure success

  • UCD is linked to the company’s “core values” or business drivers.
  • UCD is tied to “customer-centricity” – broadly define UCD as relating to any part of the customer experience or interaction (not limited to electronic interaction. E.g., face-to-face or phone interactions.)
  • Incorporate usability language in marketing or sales training, and vice versa.
  • Expand usability departments beyond IT; for example, in an Internet or E-business group in Marketing, Public Affairs, or other business units,
  • Usability is an incentable objective both for IT and the business champion accountable for the success of a development projects; and trickles down as a performance objective for everyone on the team.
  • UCD becomes institutionalized as “business as usual” for every UI
  • Business requirements are tied to UI measures
  • Visibility

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