From A to UX

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Analyst Team Lead at Xero, Stephanie Wilson, shares her experience bringing UX practices into the workplace ahead of her UX New Zealand 2016 presentation.

Late last year I reached something of a tipping point. I had been immersed in what we describe as an agile environment and our teams were getting the message to ship experiences rather than features. I was excited about the opportunity to bring UX practices into my team and with the focus on experiences, my expectation was of a change that would be seamless and easy. In reality, the desire to change would result in different types of conflict, a lot of trial and error and the lesson of having courage to make small changes often at every opportunity.

Software doesn’t build itself

Behind all of those lines of code are people who are as individual and complex as the things they build. Agile has introduced us to cross functional teams, a place where people who have different motivations, skills and focus come together to achieve a common goal. What happens when a new element is introduced to a team of people and a change is required? Change can be a catalyst for conflict, and at times I’ve seen new ways of doing things being abandoned because it felt more familiar and comfortable to default back to learned behaviors/what we already knew instead.

One question was ruminating in my mind: “How can we succeed in making a change and feel good about it?” Could I apply what I’d learnt about incorporating principles of creating a great UX in software development to members of my team?

Conflict can be both constructive and deconstructive. At best it can push ourselves beyond what we would normally settle for and produce better, bolder outcomes. At its worst it can lead to a breakdown in communication and toxic behaviors such as stonewalling, defensiveness, blaming and contempt. In order to push conflict towards being constructive, I thought about how we reduce conflict between software and the people who use our software. We can do this by seeking to understand, coupled with an empathic approach.

Quite often in a business setting we seek to solve emotional problems with a solution based in process. Process and differing levels of bureaucracy have been used throughout history to create a feeling of order and control. This reduces the number of decisions we have to make and provides cognitive comfort, meaning we don’t have to think too hard about what we have to do when facing repetitive tasks. In order to challenge our thinking, and all of our different biases, we’re required to think deeply about problems and move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Whether we know it or not, all of us hold ideas, beliefs and values that help to guide our decision making and the actions we take. Most of the time, these things help to keep us safe, on the right side of the law and engaged in society. On the flip side they can also limit us and keep us stuck in a place that may not be beneficial to ourselves or those around us. When given the opportunity to introduce UX practices into my team, I started to hear beliefs from others that were fixed and restricting our opportunity to change.

“Testing with users takes too long, we don’t have time for it.”

“I know our customers and I know what they want.”

“I’m not going to stop listening to my gut, my intuition has always been right.”

“A/B testing will only upset our customers, they don’t like change.”

I began to understand that underpinning all of these statements was a conflict with the motivations of the individual. Resistance to a new idea wasn’t due to the idea being unworthy but rather it was being received as direct challenge to a fixed belief that person held. This realization allowed me to change my approach and try different words and actions to influence a change. I was reminded of something a mentor had once told me:

“To be a great leader, when something doesn’t go to plan, look at what part you played, learn from it and adapt. Next time, you’ll do better.”

Starting out I changed my approach to create a foundation on which to build trust, openness and experimentation. If time was an issue, I started to do research quietly and preempt requests. When asked for an output, I could produce it quickly. I was creating the idea — time was being used valuably. This created a foundation for being given more time to do more in depth research later on.

The idea of user interviews wasn’t to prove anyone wrong. When we found out information that matched with an idea we had before we started the research, it was celebrated. The goal was always to make my team members feel good about any change or new piece of information we found out. Just like our customers don’t want to feel overwhelmed using our software, our teams don’t want to feel overwhelmed building it.

Working with people is a continual journey and a life long lesson. Listening to what people are really saying, seeking to understand, and responding empathically can help teams make change while maintaining that all individuals have a positive experience while doing so.  

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you’d like to hear more about what Stephanie has to say about bringing UX practices into the workplace, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2016 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 12-14 October, 2016, including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here. Got a question you'd like to ask Stephanie before the conference? You can Tweet her here: @stefowilso

Published on Oct 10, 2016
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