The Executive Champion - Startup - Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)

Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)

Part I. Startup

The Startup phase is about bringing attention to the issue of user experience (UX) design and aligning the mandatory executive attention and consultative support to start an initiative toward a more mature practice. You may have internal staff with appropriate degrees, training, and certification. Still, a strong executive hand and the specialized experience of a consultant will be critical.

Among those experienced in the UX field, there seems to be total agreement about the criticality of an executive champion. This champion should not be a lone evangelist in the trenches; rather, the champion should be someone high enough in the executive suite to have a real impact on the corporate focus as well as the ability to bring a strategic level of resources to bear on the problem. Without this executive, there is little hope of meaningful long-term success in establishing an effective user experience practice.

While the executive champion provides direction, resources, focus and accountability, the consultancy provides executive advisory—advice and benchmarks from a trusted expert outside the organization’s politics and culture. The consultancy will guide you. Additionally, you should have an experienced and integrated team along with a full set of methods, tools, templates, and standards to help you build your infrastructure.

Chapter 1. The Executive Champion

Image We don’t need a train wreck—most executives are interested.

Image The value of classic usability.

Image The value of advanced user experience design.

Image The CEO wants a great customer experience now—don’t fall for usability fads or half-measures.

Image Who can be a champion?

Image The role of the executive champion.

Today, thankfully, few organizations need a disaster before they can get serious about usability. Most executives understand that customer experience is a key foundation for business success and a key differentiator. Many understand that the user experience of internal staff is also critical, and they will talk about ensuring that the organization is a “great place to work.” For most of us, then, there is little convincing about the value of usability needed at the senior level of organizations. We don’t need to wait for a “wake-up call” in the form of a decline in market share, rejected offerings, or rage in the social media space. For the most part, executives know that user experience design is important (even if they don’t really understand what it is or what it takes to make it happen).

However, initiating or even discussing a serious user experience design practice often entails describing its exact benefits. The setup of a serious practice will usually cost $800,000 to $1.4 million, with an ongoing operation amounting to about 10% of the overall design expenditures. Those are numbers that require more justification than just a gut-level desire and some encouraging press.

The fact that you are reading this book suggests that you know that there is an ironclad case for user experience engineering. Nevertheless, this chapter will review the arguments for the value and criticality of this work so that you have the information readily available when you need to convince others that usability is worthwhile. Keep in mind that it is very rare to find an organization that decides to do serious usability work based solely on numeric calculations (such as ROI). Most organizations seem to need more—they need to see the work pay off in their own environment.

The Value of Usability

The need for basic usability is very real. It is really a hygiene factor, a basic requirement in most industries. Both consumers and technology companies have accepted that if a product is easy to use, more units are sold and the product requires less maintenance. There was a time when you needed to argue that point—but no longer. Usability specialists ensure that software is practical and useful. Primarily, though, usability work focuses on user experience and performance. These elements can be measured and quantified in terms of characteristics of the user:

• Speed

• Accuracy

• Training requirements (or self-evidency)

• Satisfaction

• Safety

By applying usability engineering methods, you can build a site or an application that is practical, useful, usable, and satisfying.

Experiencing the Wake-up Call and Beginning a Usability Process

Pat Malecek, AVP, CUA, User Experience Manager, A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.

In 1999, we began a process to greatly and ambitiously reengineer our public and client-facing Web presence. An army of us just plunged right in and started marching right along. In the eleventh hour, we solicited an expert review from an external source. That expert review said that one of the critical applications, or critical pieces of our new Web presence, was unusable. And by the way, you need some usability people.

If I look back, I’m pretty sure that was the impetus for the creation of what has become my team and a recognition of usability issues. Almost immediately thereafter—within months—we had brought in training and crystallized the efforts.

I remember reading Eric’s white paper, “The Institutionalization of Usability” [Schaffer 2001], and thinking, “This really sets the course for what we’re up against.” That paper says that going through the institutionalization process takes about two years. From the hard lessons I mentioned before up to today, it has been about two years.

Which steps have we taken? Well, we obviously hired people who had the skills or at least closely matched the skills we needed. Then we brought in multiple training opportunities to our campus. We’ve also sent people out for training. We have endeavored to incorporate my team and usability practices into the development methodology. We have representation on various committees that steer development, and we’re also represented on essentially all Web-based projects. Our usability team is located within the Internet Services Department (ISD). ISD basically owns the Internet channel—anything that’s delivered via the Internet or our intranet. We are involved as much as possible in everything that channel delivers.

In a Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams had Dilbert present his manager with a tough choice: either spend a million dollars to fix the incomprehensible interface, or close your eyes and wish real hard the users won’t care. The manager is left with eyes closed, wishing intensely, and thereby saving all that money.

Usability does require an investment. It costs money to provide staff, training, standards, tools, and a user-centered process. It takes time to establish the infrastructure. You may need to hire consultants and new staff.

Is it worth spending this money and time setting up a usability effort? Harley Manning, Vice President & Research Director of Customer Experience Practice at Forrester Research, posted on one of the studies that have shown a correlation between capability in user experience design and stock price [Manning, 2011]. While many factors affect share price, companies that are customer experience leaders clearly do better than customer experience laggards, even in a bear market. It really seems like investors have understood the criticality of customer experience. When HFI awarded ROLTA a certification for its usability practice, an article in Yahoo Finance (“ROLTA India Accelerates on Receiving an HFI Level V Certification”) cited a 5.33% increase in share price. It is actually not a very surprising result when you look at the more detailed numbers.

It is common for a usable website to sell 100% or more than an unusable one [Nielsen and Gilutz 2003], and for site traffic, productivity, and function usage to more than double. Unfortunately, it is also common to see developers build applications that users reject because of lack of usability. For example, clients who have come to HFI recently include a major service provider whose new sign-up process had a 97% drop-off rate and bank with a voice response system that achieved only a 3% usage level. There is no question that usability work can prevent these types of multimillion-dollar disasters.

If you follow a user-centered design process, you can expect to spend about 10% of the overall project budget on usability work [Nielsen and Gilutz 2003]. This includes everything—from evaluation of previous and competitive designs to data gathering with users, to the design of the structure, standards, and detailed screens. It also includes usability testing.

There is a lot of work to do, and 10% is a big fraction of the budget. The good news is that the overall money and time required to create an acceptable site or application are unlikely to increase. In fact, the cost is likely to go down for several reasons, some of which are discussed in the following subsections.

Reducing Design Cycles

Today, it is still common to have projects that require major rework because the application does not meet user needs or is unintelligible to users. Implementing good usability practices greatly reduces the chances of having to rework the design. The cost of retrofitting a user interface is always staggering. The cost can be substantial if the detailed design must be improved. Nevertheless, these changes in wording, layout, control selection, color, and graphics are minor compared with the creation of a new interface structure.

When people use a site, Web application, software, camera, or remote control, the part of the product that the human interacts with is the interface. The interface, therefore, is the part of the product that gets the most usability attention. The interface structure determines the interface design—it defines the paths and navigation that the user of the product will take to find information or perform a task. If usability engineering is not applied at the beginning of interface design, the interface structure is where serious usability problems emerge. Because 80% of the usability of an interface is a function of its structure, a retrofit often amounts to a redevelopment of the entire presentation layer. That is why the best solution is to design the interface right the first time.

Avoiding Building Unnecessary Functions

Often, users evaluate software against a checklist of features, and companies feel compelled to include these features to be competitive. In fact, users may not need or want certain functions. Discovering this earlier—before the product is fully designed or coded—makes the user interface better because there are fewer functions to manage and the interface can become cleaner. There is also a huge savings in development and maintenance costs. Unnecessary functions need not be designed, coded, tested, and maintained.

Expediting Decision Making

There is a great deal of research on how best to design interfaces. For example, it is well known that using all capital letters slows reading speed by 14–20% [Tinker 1965, 1963], that using three nouns in a row confuses people [Waite 1982], and that users expect to find the home button at the top left corner of webpages [Bernard 2002]. This means the development team need not spend hours second-guessing design decisions of this sort. Familiarity with these and other usability research principles saves development and testing time and contributes to development of a more usable product.

Increasing Sales

If you are developing a product for sale, a usable product will sell more units. If you are developing a website to sell a product or service, a usable site will sell more products and services. Usable products mean more sales. For example, an insurance company has a site that is currently feeding 10 leads per day to its insurance agents. The company could be feeding them 15 leads per day, but it is losing 5 leads per day because of usability problems. Visitors are dropping out because they can’t figure out how to contact an agent or finish using the “insurance quote application” on the site. If usability became routine in this organization and those usability problems were fixed or prevented, how much would the company be able to increase its sales? The answer can be determined with a few simple calculations.

1. The company estimates it is losing at least 5 leads per day from usability problems, which is 1825 leads per year.

2. The company assumes that for every 5 leads received, it can get 1 customer. This means the company is losing 365 customers per year.

3. Each customer provides an average of $600 in income from premiums per year. This means the company could increase sales in the first year by $219,000 if did not lose the 5 leads per day.

4. Using an average customer retention time of 12 years, fixing the current usability problems could increase the company’s sales during those 12 years by $2,628,000.

Avoiding “Reinventing the Wheel”

Good usability engineering, much like other engineering processes, means designing with reusable templates. There is no need to reinvent conventions for the design of menus, forms, wizards, and so on. This saves design time. Moreover, because it is easy to create reusable code around these templates, they save development and testing time as well.

Avoiding Disasters

Users are highly adaptable. Even when an interface is poorly designed, some users have enough motivation to keep trying to use the product, even if the application is remarkably complex and awkward. But sometimes a design is completely rejected. The people who are supposed to use the product may refuse to stick with it; they go back to their old ways of getting the task done, buy elsewhere, or just give up. These are usability and product disasters. It’s best to get it right the first time.

For all these reasons, the 10% of the budget you should be spending on usability work is easily saved on every project, in addition to the benefit provided by the improved value of the end design. Even if you take into account only the typical savings from working with reusable templates, usability work pays for itself—it is really free. However, the decision to begin institutionalizing usability requires more than a simple calculation of benefits. The organization—and particularly the executives in the organization—need to understand how implementing usability means changing the way their business is done. For this realization to occur, a strong wake-up call is often required.

Usability within the Medical Industry

Dr. Ed Israelski, Program Manager, Human Factors, Abbott Laboratories

Usability or “human factors” are important to Abbott in two ways. First, the competitive landscape is such that more and more of our main competitors are putting an emphasis on their safe products by noting that they are also easy to use and learn. The second way involves the FDA and the safety regulations that Abbott must follow. If it were just the regulations, people could find loopholes; combine the regulatory requirements with the business case supporting human factors, however, and it’s a good one–two punch.

Also, there are standards, such as the medical device standards, out there. An important organization called Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI, develops standards and training courses for the medical device industry. One of the standards it has developed is a human factors standard. This process standard, which came out last year, is called “ANSI/AAMI HE 74:2001 Human Factors Design Process for Medical Devices.” Now I can refer to the standard’s human factors step and build it into the budget and product development schedule because it’s a standard and the FDA will be looking for it. Then we can also show that it makes good business sense as well. We can show financial benefits because it saves money on training, produces fewer recalls, reduces liability exposure, and increases customers’ satisfaction so they come back to buy more—all of which are important things.

If you institutionalize usability, you give people tools and methods and resources, including internal and external personnel. Then it’s easy for people to do this—it’s the path of least resistance. They don’t feel they have to question it and make a business case each time they decide to put human factors process steps in the development project. So, if you institutionalize it, the decision-making process becomes more efficient.

Beyond Classic Usability

Around 2006, the usability field changed its name to the user experience field. The transition happened gradually, with groans from many of us. Our cards already read “Engineering Psychologist,” “Human Performance Engineer,” “Human Factors Specialist,” “Software Ergonomist,” “Human–Computer Interface Designer,” and “Usability Specialist,” to recount just a few titles. Printing another new set of cards sounded tedious. But the name change did, in fact, herald a new set of requirements and some new skills. We do not yet have much research on the value of these enhancements, but we are confident that they are of even greater value than the contribution made by the classic usability work.

Ecosystem Viewpoint

The foundation of classic usability work was a model of a person, interacting with a device, in a specific environment. That model was often simply a person in an office using a computer to do various tasks. We built a whole industry around optimizing that human–computer interaction. As early as the 1990s, however, that model started to fall apart. With graphical interfaces, interactions became so complex that we could not analyze all the tasks. Instead, we had to analyze a sample of tasks (which the industry has termed a scenario or, if involving only online activities, a use case). Since then, this model has also unraveled.

Today we have ubiquitous computing. Numerous devices (mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and desktops) are being used by many different people acting out various roles. These devices operate in diverse environments and employ a blizzard of artifacts. The field has been forced to adopt a set of methods modeled on the work of various ethnographers to handle this complexity. The ecosystem could be “everything that happens with a mobile device,” “everything that happens in an x-ray room,” or “everything involved in making a buying decision.” We will see later in this chapter how this complex array of users, channels, and contexts plays out and pays off.

When we talk about user experience design, we are assuming an ecosystem viewpoint that allows us to consider movement through physical stores, mobile confirmations, and group decision making. With this perspective, the contribution of user experience design is far wider than it has ever been.


If we don’t have a good UX strategy, we are likely to build a usable wrong thing. Each siloed team builds a great offering. When all the features and points of entry are taken together, however, they are ineffective and confusing. Figure 1-1 is an example from a bank: imagine, as a customer, trying to work out whether you need to use telephone banking, speech-activated banking, mobile banking, or .mobi!


Figure 1-1: The result of multichannel silos.

A good UX strategy will dictate the plan for how users will be motivated in the online environment. For example, if you are “the Asian Bank,” what does that really mean in terms of your online designs? It is nice to say, “We are the Asian Bank”—but what do you do differently? In this situation, you will find that different parts of Asia need different designs. For example, Japanese people have a very low tolerance for ambiguity and risk, so the design needs to have lots of explanations, FAQs, help, and confirmations. Or suppose your organization wants to migrate mobile customers to digital self-service. It is a great idea, but just building a usable online facility probably won’t make that shift happen. You need a scheme to pull people into a digital relationship. You might start with a small step, such as sending an alert for a low balance via SMS. Then you can gradually increase the online interaction (a method called compliance laddering). You might also appeal to a specific motivational theme as you move people into a digital relationship. Perhaps that theme could be the status of an account geared to the digital lifestyle. Perhaps it might be saving paper and being eco-friendly. Perhaps it might be the physical safety of paying bills online from the customer’s home. In any case, we can never just hope that people will convert to the new system exactly the way we want them to; we have to plan a motivational strategy that compels them to migrate the new system.

Once you have a motivational plan, then you need to look at the way that the various channels fit together to meet your objectives in a coordinated way. This is the beginning of a journey toward cross-channel integration. The idea that “the user can do everything, everywhere, at any time” is very attractive, mostly because it is simple and has a certain rhythm. In reality, it is rarely the right answer. The ATM is not a great place to pay bills. Sure, you can do it. But people feel anxious at an ATM. Also, there is rarely enough room to lay out your bills, and the keyboard is not likely to be designed for bill payment tasks. Each channel has its own characteristics.

We need a simple story. If you can’t tell the user where to go for which activities in a single breath, then you have a problem.

Once the overall design of the set of channels is in place (possibly with multiple Web properties and various mobile facilities), then it becomes possible to design the right facilities with proper alignment. There is still a lot to do, of course. We need to use the same information architecture in all the channels (“pervasive information architecture”). That means we keep task sequences and content organization the same. We need standards to maintain interface design conventions. We might even try to avoid forcing customers to remember a half-dozen different passwords.


New product and business ideas are often developed by technology groups or business experts. There is no question that each of these groups adds a valuable perspective, but their ideas often fail because of a missing “human element.” Part of being a user experience designer is participating in a systematic, industrial-scale innovation process. There is an enormous difference between implementing a professional innovation process and asking people to be innovative. Certainly, you can ask people to be aware of opportunities that they see. You can mobilize staff and customers to contribute ideas. Nevertheless, even “crowdsourcing,” while popular, is unlikely to provide truly innovative origination.

When user experience design staff get involved with innovation work, they don’t just sit around trying to be creative or evaluating other people’s ideas. Instead, they do research to build an ecosystem model that then serves as the foundation of the creative work. For example, when we worked for Intel developing the Classmate PC, we first studied the educational ecosystems of several emerging markets. We understood the roles of students, parents, teachers, and tutors. We modeled their environments and their activities. I think the product was so successful because the innovation and design work continuously referenced research on those ecosystems.

Innovation projects are generally large-scale operations. They take months and require a strong and specialized team. There is a flow of foundational research, ideation, concept selection, concept elaboration, assessment, and economic/feasibility analysis. While the user experience design team is critical to success, it is always best to have participants who specialize in both business and technology.

Persuasion Engineering

In 2003, Dr. Don Norman published the brilliant book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. This book marked a real transition in the usability field. Certainly, many of us had been interested in the motivational aspect of software for years (c.f., E. Schaffer, “Predictors of Successful Arcade Machines,” Proceedings of the Human Factors Society, 1981). The focus of the usability field was on making it possible for people to use their computers, however (Figure 1-2). When you run usability tests and find that perhaps 6% of customers are able to check out, you are not concerned about making the checkout procedure fun—you just want it to work. But Don got the timing right. By the turn of the millennium, we were, fairly routinely, able to create software that people were able to use. It then became possible to turn to issues beyond basicusability. That is why I say that basic usability (“I can do”) is a hygiene factor. You pretty much have to get that right to even be in business.


Figure 1-2: Chart of findings from a car manufacturer’s website. Only one-third of the users could get a quote.1

1. Data taken from an HFI usability test of a major auto manufacturer’s website, completed in 2002.

In Emotional Design, Don talked about designing things that people love to use. This is a fascinating area that is certainly among the capabilities of a user experience designer. But it is generally not his or her main focus. The real question is, “Will people convert?” For most organizations, it is a plus if people love their designs, but it is making the sale that makes the company executives happy.

Conversion is partly about making things that people like, but it goes far beyond that. There is a whole world of persuasion engineering that determines whether people will buy the product, use the software, ask their doctor, vote for a candidate, tell their friends, migrate to a digital self-service channel, or otherwise do what the organization wants them to do. To reach this point, we have to go beyond “Can do” to “Will do.” “Can do” is a hygiene factor—you really have to make it usable. But persuasion engineering is the key differentiator. Only advanced user experience design practitioners are good at it. Persuasion engineering is not magic: PET (“persuasion, emotion, and trust”), as we call this field at HFI, is based just as much on a scientific approach as human–computer interface design work. Research-based models on how to motivate customers have been developed, and there are so many ways to influence customers that I’ve felt the need for HFI to restrict the kinds of companies we work for. The methods of influence are just that powerful.

CEO Wants a Great Customer Experience: Now Don’t Fall for UX Fads or Half-measures

The first edition of this book included a long section on how train wrecks were needed to alert executives to the need for good user experience design. I tossed it out. Today’s executives are very much aware of the need for good customer experiences. Indeed, they often get very excited about it. But then what do they do? They usually go through a somewhat predictable set of attempts to move their organization toward effective user experience design. Let’s go through some of the more common pitfalls.

Relying on Good Intentions

Many top executives start with this approach because it is attractive, not to mention cheap. It seems logical to think you can tell staff members to “Put the customer first” or “Be customer-centered,” and then expect them to just be able to do it. The problem is that they can’t “just do it.”

Creating usable designs takes far more than good intentions. Today, everyone in the development field wants good usability, but usability is hard to achieve. The proof for this statement is painfully apparent in the awful designs that are so commonplace. Even highly motivated professionals often create usability disasters.

Simply motivating people won’t result in good user experience design. In some cases, a manager taking this path needs to see a whole project built under his or her well-intentioned motivation, only to find that UX has not been greatly improved.

While the manager reviewing the designs may immediately see that the designs are unintelligible, it takes a serious application of usability engineering technology and methods to ensure that an organization’s program will be successful.

Relying on Testing

Sometimes companies get the idea that all they need to create a good user experience is usability testing. It is good to be able to test, but testing alone is not enough. Testing pinpoints problems in the design and its usability that can be fixed. But to be successful and to institutionalize user experience design, companies need a complete methodology including concept development, data gathering, structural design, design standards, and so on. While testing is important, by itself it’s not a long-term solution.

Relying on Training

It makes sense. You have smart people who know the domain and technology, so you think you can just give them some training in usability, and things will be fine. If you pick a good program, training will help, and the staff will learn a good set of basic skills.

Being an Advocate for the Process

Dana Griffith, CUA, Web Consultant—Interactive Media, American Electric Power

One of the principles I have gained from usability training is that you should never become the advocate for the user. I thought that was really interesting because at the time I was sitting there during the session and thinking, “Of course I’m supposed to be the advocate for the user.” But the idea presented was that, once you become the advocate for the user, people try to go around you. They just really don’t want to stop what they are doing and change things. But if you simply become an advocate for the technology or the process and let people decide what they’re going to do with that, you will have better success.

Becoming an advocate for the process can have very practical applications. Perhaps we’re looking at a very simple application on a website (a form, for example), and someone wants to know whether one area should be populated already or whether it should drop down with selections. In this type of scenario, I can say to the people involved in that project, “I can test that for you tomorrow and find out.”

The key word here is basic. You will probably give people 3 to 10 days of training. In this time frame, they are not about to become doctors of user interface design. Instead, they will be paramedics. The trained staff members will see the problems clearly. As a result, they will create better designs, but they will still feel frustrated. The corporate culture won’t have changed enough to value UX, and there will be no plan for user experience design in the corporate system development life cycle. There will be no design standards. Organizational channels won’t be provided for testing with users. There will be no one to call with questions and no repository of examples and templates. The staff members will know when something isn’t quite right, but they probably won’t know how to fix it.

Relying on Repair Jobs

Repair jobs try to fix user experience design problems at the last minute. This is inefficient and creates only limited potential for improvement. Ideally, UX work should start when requirements are defined. If you bring UX engineering into the process late, you can improve small pieces of the design, such as the wording, layout, color, graphics, and control selection, but there will be no time for more profound changes such as standardizing user interface elements, the flow of logic, or other major elements.

Relying on Projects by Ad Agencies

Another common response to addressing UX concerns is to bring in the advertising agency with which the organization already works. Unfortunately, ad agencies currently have few real UX specialists on their staffs. While the agency will be able to help with branding and perception issues, advertising is a different skill set than user experience design work. There is some overlap, in that both advertising and UX staff members are focused on the customer, but the goals of the ad agency and the goals of the UX team are not always the same. The methods and processes each group uses to complete its work are also very different. Moreover, bringing in an ad agency will not spread user experience design throughout the organization, and it may not delve deeply enough into navigation structures to improve task usability on even a single project. Usability focuses on whether users can perform certain tasks with the technology product. Advertising concentrates on capturing and focusing attention, communicating brand information, and influencing behavior. Advertising and usability efforts should work hand in hand, but they are not the same.

Hiring UX Consultants

A common response to a wake-up call is to hire a consultant to review a site or application. This might be a good starting point and will probably help with a particular project, but it won’t address the problems of the next application or website. That is, bringing in a consultant on one project will not disseminate usability engineering throughout the organization.

These consultants can be expected to do a good job and can be cost-effective. However, hiring consultants still leaves the client company without internal capabilities. The company may see the value of the good design work, but it will have to call the UX team back for each new project.

Some user experience design consultants try to transfer knowledge to the client organization. Following this practice does help company staff see that good UX practice makes a difference. Realistically, though, without training, standards, and tools, this approach leaves little behind that is useful over the long term.

Hiring New UX Staff

With a clear understanding of the competitive value of user experience design work, managers sometimes make the substantial commitment of hiring UX staff. This is laudable but, unfortunately, it often fails. The manager may not be able to find or screen for experienced UX specialists. Some people looking for work in usability believe that experience on one project that involved UX qualifies them to be a user experience design specialist. In reality, becoming an effective UX practitioner takes an educational foundation (e.g., cognitive psychology), specific training in usability work (e.g., expert review, structural design), and a period of mentoring by a seasoned expert. After attaining a master’s degree in the field, it generally takes three to five years of mentored experience before totally independent work is advisable.

It is all too easy to hire people who need a lot more experience, training, and mentoring before they will be effective. Hiring one such staff member is time-consuming enough—you don’t want to end up with an entire usability group whose members are immature or inexperienced.

Typically, a manager hires one or two people to start. Even if the new hires are experienced, having only one or two people often means that the “group” is quickly besieged and rendered ineffective. The team members may soon be so busy that they can’t get design standards in place and may not have enough resources to provide training.

In these types of situations, it is best to have many of the initial activities completed by outside consultants who have an established team that has specialized skills in training and standards development and can work quickly and successfully. The consultants will be seen as outsiders, and employees may be more willing to have an outsider dissect the flaws in their designs. Outsiders can say things that an insider has left unsaid. The consultants will be there to get the internal UX staff headed in the right direction and can hand over their knowledge and expertise to help the internal staff become established and ready to take on projects on their own.

If you install a user experience design team, your efforts should include more than simply hiring the people to staff it. Making the team members effective means putting them in a position to be an integral and harmonious part of the organization, establishing clear roles and authority, and addressing the integration of the usability team with the other parts of the workforce.

Seeing the Real Numbers Creates a Call to Action, Too

Harley Manning, Research Director, Forrester Research

Let’s say you do care about usability—the organizations we surveyed don’t have a formal process for evaluating the usability of the packaged applications when they come in. They’re rarely looking at the cost of ownership with regard to usability—and even if they do care about it, they don’t know how to evaluate it.

Knowing that in theory it costs me money to have poor usability and being able to actually evaluate how poor the usability is and put a number on it—that’s the huge gap. Once you do that and start looking at what the real numbers are, then you say, “I must do something about this!” But that’s what the organizations we surveyed haven’t done yet.

Who Can Be a Champion?

In discussions of executive championship, there is often an eager volunteer. This person will meet the criterion of being passionate about user experience design. This person will want the job. But this person is likely to be a great candidate for the position of UX Director. The executive champion must truly be a senior executive in the organization.

One criterion that seems to work is that the champion must influence the entire budget across the target design areas. Looking at the need for user experience design across an organization can be a bit overwhelming. There are needs on the public website(s). The call center has issues. Software products have issues. The intranet and back-office operations have issues. User experience design seems to be needed everywhere. If the champion is going to be really effective, he or she needs to have an overarching role across everything. This might seem to be a clear call for championship by the CEO. In fact, while CEO support is very useful, CEOs usually don’t make great champions. The CEO will not have sufficient time and attention to spend on the job of executive champion. Instead, this role should usually be filled by someone just a bit lower in the organization. It is a real challenge to find a champion who will have time to really do the job well and at the same time covers a large enough area of the organization.

In the evolution of institutionalization, it is often the case that we start in one area of the business and then expand to the full organization. Certainly, there will eventually be a need for a single, central organization that supports the user experience design effort—otherwise, things will become fragmented and ineffective. But it is better to have a serious executive champion in a key area and focus on that area than to be spread thin and have spotty support.

The Role of the Executive Champion

The executive champion might be the most challenging role in the entire institutionalization effort. There will probably be no formal position and authority, and the organization may not have even begun the process of sensitization and assimilation. Yet the executive champion must gather resources, create a strategy, and keep the process moving. He or she must manage points of contention and chart the course to full acceptance.

Without a champion, the usability staff often has a hard time being included as part of a cohesive strategic effort. The presence of an effective executive champion is the best predictor of success for a UX institutionalization effort. Without a usability champion, the usability group does not have access to key players in the organization, and it is nearly impossible for them to effect change within the organization. With an executive champion, however, the group has a chance to create change and attain the visibility needed to succeed.

The executive champion doesn’t need a background in usability engineering or software development, but he or she does need to understand the value of user experience design, its proper applications, and the importance of an implementation strategy. It is possible to get a sufficient foundation in usability engineering from a short course and some reading. First and foremost, though, the champion must have a clear understanding of the business imperatives of the organization and must see how UX work supports these objectives. He or she must understand the core value of user experience design in the organization and repeatedly reinforce this focus, with examples showing how UX design will reduce call time or increase sales.

The champion keeps the whole effort focused on the business goal. This guidance is the differentiator between an effective executive champion and an ineffective one. Ineffective champions say, “We need user experience design.” That is nice, but the reality is that no business ever needs UX for the sake of UX. Effective executive champions say, “We need to sell more, get fewer returns, and reduce support costs.” They know the specific things their business needs. They say this over and over, thousands of times. The business focus of the usability effort is their mantra—and it works.

The executive champion needs to be able to effectively influence the key people in the organization’s power structure. This means arranging for project funding as well as convincing key people in an organization whose approval and support are necessary for the institutionalization program to succeed. The executive champion needs to employ the approach that works best with each person—understanding individuals’ hot buttons and learning styles.

The executive champion must guide the UX staff through the project approval and selling process. The champion needs to check for acceptance and detect areas of resistance at all levels of the organization. The executive champion is the key agent of change and, therefore, must be able to network with key people in the company, detect areas of resistance before resistance emerges, remove organizational obstacles as they arise, and work continuously to promote acceptance. These skills are essential.

The executive champion must be responsible for the institutionalization strategy, no matter whether the practice is new or seasoned. There must always be a written strategy that directs how that operation will be maintained and enhanced. This means ensuring that the capability-building activities are aligned and that they progress. It also means identifying how the required usability work is to be staged and ensuring the proper allocation of responsibilities and resources. A good strategy is critically important (see Chapter 5), but beyond the content of the strategy, the champion must monitor progress and demand results. Progress takes place when an executive regularly asks for updates and checks milestones, keeping staff members on task. The executive champion cannot create a strategy and forget it. He or she must firmly ensure that the team carries out the strategy.

Keep Moving on the Strategy, Keep Expanding and Innovating

To be successful, executive champions cannot just avert problems and maintain the user experience design operation. Instead, they must find new methods, create new ways of working, and make new markets and business models. If they do not engage in innovation, they are caretakers, rather than executives.

Why Support from Senior Management Is Crucial

Harley Manning, Research Director, Forrester Research

The person at the top of the organization must believe that user experience is important and must require people to follow good practices. Unless that person is committed to this idea, good usability is not going to happen.

The companies that really get it tend to have C-level people who care deeply, like Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab himself, the guy who runs the company, uses the site every day. The woman who headed up the site design came to a workshop I ran a few years ago. She said that Schwab called down on a pretty much daily basis. Certainly, she didn’t go a week without hearing directly from him about some problem that he or his mother or his friend had with the site or about something he thought could be better. So this guy is very engaged, very demanding. And the site works as well as it does because, from the top down, it’s critically important that the site deliver a great user experience.

We come back to this time and again—the executives must understand the importance of the user experience to the business. Because no executives will put up their hands and say, “Let’s do something that’s bad for business” or “Let’s do something that hurts our customers”—they won’t do that on purpose. When they do those things, they do them out of ignorance.

You don’t get widespread attention to user experience unless its importance is understood at the top. That’s where the leverage is.

The executive helps to expand user experience design throughout the organization. Creating usable software can be essential to many different groups in the organization, or it may be the only way to keep up with the competition. Usability can save millions of dollars when there are large numbers of internal users. For example, the usability team at Sun Microsystems estimated that poor design of the company intranet cost the average employee 6 minutes per day, for a total of $10 million in lost time per year [Ward 2001]. A single second removed from the average call-handling time can be worth $50,000 per year or more in large call centers. With an application that has a large number of users, even benefits from small improvements can add up fast (Figures 1-3 and 1-4). It is no accident that the term “usability” is commonly discussed in executive suites now. Once the executive champion determines the specific value of usability to the organization, he or she must spread the word and keep people focused on the goal.


Figure 1-3: Chart showing increased lead generation from a mutual fund and an insurance site reworked by an HFI user experience design team.


Figure 1-4: Chart showing customers shifting from expensive human-intermediated channels to online self-service from an insurance site reworked by an HFI user experience design team.