We meet surprisingly many UX people who are dissatisfied with the way UX works in their companies. And vice versa, surprisingly many companies are not satisfied with how UX works for them. One of the first questions we usually get is how an organizational structure and processes should look like to integrate UX successfully in enterprises.
All companies require organization and process to a specific level – this is also true for managing the cooperation between UX and other departments. Organization and process define who is responsible for what, who reports to whom and who has the final word when it comes to decisions. However, theses structures alone are never the key to ensure that UX works within a company.
“Not individuals must be coordinated, but what they do. It does not matter that people have impact on other people, but that behaviors are compatible. These two techniques are miles apart (…).” [Dirk Baecker, Postheroisches Management, 1994, S.26]
So, the question of optimal org structures and process is not the right one when it comes to problems with UX. Those primarily seeking for solutions in org setups will definitely have much bigger problems with UX (and most probably in other areas as well) than they are aware of.
One main reason for missing “compatible behaviors” between UX and other departments of a company is that UX is normally carried into an organization that has no clue about what to expect from UX in the first place. UX often clashes with an internally focused and purely quantitatively driven (product) management that has absolutely no use and open mind for customer-centric, probably more qualitative driven, methods – with negative consequences for all involved.
However, there is a much more inconvenient (and surprisingly surprising) truth for many UX people: They also play a main role when UX does not work in companies. Until today there are still way too many in the UX profession who see themselves as keepers of the holy persona grail and have simply no interest to dive deeper into strategy or the company as a whole, as a system. Based on a given set of standard insights, upcoming tasks will be more or less automatically translated into wireframes and locally optimized in lab tests with little or no connection to the underlying business model and corresponding critical hypotheses (see also überproduct’s post „How many interviews until validation“).
Truly great UX people are masters of a broad set of methods to drive the right triggers and solutions along the whole product life cycle and they are sensitive in using this know-how to push the whole organization onto a next level. They think and act like a product manager, but with the special gift of knowing how to design even complex business models conceptually and graphically, to catalyze and finally make it tangible in a great experience so that users intuitively get the real value of a product, no matter on what level of detail.
The worst-case scenario kicks in when incapable UX people meet an internally focused management. UX will become the fifth wheel in no time and will complain about being mistaken all the time, sometimes even hiding in corner like a wounded prima donna. On a more extreme (but quite natural) level UX will start to perceive itself as the customers’ only advocate in the company that needs to defend users’ interest against “evil business”. Now, at the latest, UX will degenerate to an end in itself: based on intuition more than anything else, everything will be made nicer and more shiny than before, with no impact whatsoever. Once this level has been reached, the rifts will be way too deep to get them filled again.
In order to have a seamless UX integration that works, there must be a shared philosophy, a joint understanding about the way from idea to product, so that all specialists and disciplines can bring in their know-how at the right place and time. Only this will enable that one function sees the contribution from another as valuable input and building block of the whole venture. Especially UX has all the methods and options at hand to act as glue between departments and to tear down silos – unfortunately, in practice, most times the very opposite happens.