Scaling an effective enterprise UX team?
Bart Jawien of AVOCA Ventures traces back his user experience fascination to robotics building complex lego structures at an early age. As the Founder, Projects Partner and UX Lead at AVOCA, Bart’s team has worked on a range of enterprise UX use cases. Most of them involve mobile solutions, but AVOCA doesn’t start with selling apps. We start with advisory and user research. Copying a desktop function to mobile apps is a recipe for failure; AVOCA takes a different approach. The first step? Research the actual user need where usually, that research challenges the client’s own assumptions about the App, business objectives and validates its scalability. Then a solution can be built or customised around these insights.
Given the current Enterprise UX landscape, it would be ideal to form a research group and panel to validate how to build effective enterprise UX teams are when it comes to skills or upskill? Whether you should outsource to a software UX lead company like AVOCA Ventures?
Bart’s diverse background is relevant to his UX thinking. In 2011, when the web and mobile gap was so great, Bart designed and built a mobile responsive Cabling App with a gamification user experience that increased conversion to purchase by 85%. Bart’s main background has been in building and scaling digital solutions – studying how people learn, how they pay attention. Understanding problems, the friction, all barriers to entry and then being able to apply cognitive psychology, and technology thinking to disrupt with a view to finding a nonconventional solution.
Just as the importance of UX is finally dawning on the enterprise, the rules of UX are changing where Enterprise scale products didn’t really get UX until it was almost too late. In this day and age of how user experiences evolve, we have to get at that root understanding of people’s behaviors, and that is just changing so rapidly. Companies are just now getting on board, saying things like “We should be consistent across all of our applications.” But consistency goes out the window when you’re talking about a watch and a desktop application. It’s more about apps and functionality, and what you need to be able to do on each device.
The next piece of unlearning? Letting go of a fixation on visual design – as the design industry comes to the enterprise, a lot of people think good design means good visuals only. They don’t realise that good design is a lot more than that. We have to go through the exercise of identifying the users and what their needs are. Especially in the enterprise, you run into situations where visual design would actually be bad for some of those users. In those cases, what we’re trying to do with UX is make somebody more efficient and faster and reduce the number of steps that it takes to get them to complete the task or give them information at the right time. Visual design may not be very important to that.
With those caveats in mind, what does AVOCA recommend to enterprises trying to build UX teams? How do they close the UX skills gap?
Design skills can be effectively outsourced. When it comes to pure design skills, companies struggling to recruit top design professionals can succeed with a third party design firm: Generally, companies down have their own UX teams or designers internally. They look to firms from the outside because they know they don’t have those people. An outside firm can fill that gap. However: an internal digital product manager is a must-have. While Davidson’s team will help out on the product management side as a stopgap, he strongly advises an internal person step into this role: Another gap that we see – and this is a very important one at a lot of companies – is they don’t really have a product practice. They don’t have people with product manager titles. They might have project managers, but that’s something different. In the digital world, software is never done. It’s always going to need updating. You need to have an internal practice that can manage that process as evolves. That’s the biggest gap that we see.
Can an internal manager could be upskilled into this role? Short answer? Yes, because the key capability is someone who can be the glue between different UX/app stakeholders. Basically, you need someone with super-powered “soft skills”: An internal person is ideal for this role, because it involves talking to everybody. That’s marketing, that’s gathering use requirements, that’s managing training and change management – dealing with all kinds of people.
Bart adds that this person needs to be resilient and skilled at dealing with “warring tribes”: The key thing to look for is a product manager with broader skill sets around communications. And they’re going to need a good, positive perspective, because a lot of companies have warring tribes between the marketing, IT and business units.
This person is at the center of all those conversations. They also need to have the knack for gathering detailed requirements. I’ve seen marketing people successfully make the jump, and I’ve seen business analysts make the jump. Some designers have been able to do it as well.
So which UX skills are tougher to cultivate in-house?
- user researchers
- experience design
- digital design
These three skills pose a problem: User researchers – companies think they know their own customers/users, but it takes deeper research to discover the motivations central to a good design. This skill is hard to cultivate internally because it requires unfettered access to customers: User researchers are looking to come into a place and know they’re going to have space and breathing room and access to customers to be able to come up with insights that are going to affect change. Companies might already have a stringent process for how a change order or happens. An external user researcher might be able to work around that. Experience designers – companies may find it challenging to recruit experience designers, who expect flexible, modern platforms: An experience designer might come up with wireframes. They don’t want to be too tied to stringent platforms. Platforms that you can’t customise much is an immediate turn-off to a wireframer, for example, because you literally cannot make the experience as good as it needs to be. Visual designers – visual design isn’t an easy skill to cultivate internally either. Transitioning to digital platforms is part of the challenge: a lot of companies have very stale brands that are not being applied to digital well. They might know how to use their logo, but they have nothing to say around motion, how to use animation, or using the whole brand color palette – not just the primary colors. Not having a clear digital definition, or even understanding the importance of it, is a big thing that turns off UI designers toward those companies.
For ambitious companies, there is a payoff to including UX in a broader digital platform initiative. Bart at AVOCA team has had success helping companies build a digital skills practice, through what AVOCA calls “consulting.” The biggest obstacle, however, is not skills development. It’s culture: Digital consulting is really about helping companies build the capabilities that we have internally. The biggest challenge we’ve had is a lot of our clients – especially big enterprises – have a stigma attached to their culture. The people they need to hire to do this work don’t tend to go out and seek jobs at places like that.
There’s a certain amount of education with the workforce as well. That means extending the conversation to HR on how you talk about roles and positions and how reporting structures work. It usually requires some coaching on how to attract and retain UX talent.