Episode 005: In-house User Experience Part 1: Making the Right Hire

Hosted by:
With guest: John Golden
April 7, 2017

Mahtab   Welcome to episode 005 of the Crux of it. I'm Mahtab Rezai. I'm the principal and CEO of Crux Collaborative. We're a user experience consulting firm specializing in regulated industries. For this episode, I'm joined by my business partner John Golden. Since John and I both act as project leads, it's rare for us to get to work on a client project together. It's a nice treat to be able to sit down together and discuss some of the insights and lessons we've both learned from our respective projects. Hi John.
John   Hello.
Mahtab   One of the things we've seen a lot, and we've been talking about over the last four or five years is that organizations are building their own in-house user experience capacity and teams. We used to get hired to do that work. There was no one internally that was doing it. Now, a lot of the time either we're being hired by those teams, or we're being asked to collaborate with those teams.
John   Yeah, or supplement them while they're (in the process of) building a team.
Mahtab   Yes. That's a really good point. As with all evolution and businesses and with different initiatives, some of the times we see when organizations are building out these teams it's successful and it works well. Some of the time it's a failure. It doesn't work so well for them. Organizations are frustrated because they don't understand what's going wrong. There's actually so much to talk about here that we're going to split this out into two parts. Today in part one we're going to spend 10 minutes talking about what works well and what doesn't work well when building and hiring internal UX teams that we've observed. Then in the second part we're actually going to talk about how we or any other external consultants really can best support and supplement in house UX teams. So, let's get going. First things first: let's talk about the different types of UX teams we've encountered.
John   Well I think that you know if you kind of break it down into categories like we as UX or information architects like to do, what I think we've encountered the most is either a single practitioner within an organization, or a group. A group of people that are supporting a large business. We see I think more in a small to medium sized business where they're having one person that they bring in to try to do all the things that a UX team would do, versus a larger company that may have multiple applications or a website or different things that they're doing, or supporting a wide range of business units within that organization to bring in a team of people to work inside.
Mahtab   Yeah. One of the things we've observed too is the way we think about user experience, we include a whole lot of roles that sometimes in organizations are actually split into different departments. We've also encountered organizations where research is not included in the user experience team. That's a separate thing too, where they'll have multiple departments in some cases.
John   Right. Right. There's a research arm that is doing purely research work and sometimes approaching it very much from a market research standpoint - versus a usability or UX standpoint - which I think can be dangerous in terms of not having a process that fits the actual need or desire of the user. You're talking more about a broad way of ... a focus group is a remarkably different tool than a usability test. To treat them the same way is a big mistake.
Mahtab   Yeah. I think sometimes when it's done "as pure research" the other thing that we've observed is that a lot of times the objective of the research is different. We're doing research- for example when we do design step research as part of the process- we're doing it to validate our thinking to a certain point. The methodology we use, like the speed at which we do it, the way we incorporate the findings, even whether or not we develop a report -is very different than if you're doing a study just for the sake of gathering data. Let's talk about some of the challenges that we've observed with organizations and their in-house teams.
John   Well I think the biggest challenges surface when a company decides that they're going to hire a UX person. So, this signature UX person that is going to solve all of their usability and UX problems. What we've encountered in the past is that that's pretty kind of a unicorn-like person. I'm certain that they exist out there. But what we also find is that UX in general is a very collaborative process. Oftentimes that UX person inside a company will go off into their silo, just like a development team sometimes goes off into a silo, and they do their UX work and then they come and surface the UX work.

Then there's a disconnect between what they're thinking the solution should be and what the rest of the team thinks it should be. That immediately creates failure within the organization. Puts that person in a difficult position because they don't understand necessarily the business goals that the company has. They are operating in their own silo. That I think is one of the key problems that surfaces.

Finding a person less with the skills to operate the machinery, the software and to be able to produce the deliverables that are the key UX deliverables, or what we think of as UX deliverables: wireframes and different types of prototypes and that sort of thing.

Really, I think at the core what you need to find is somebody that can collaborate well, extract information from the various people that have opinions about how a complicated website or application needs to come together, and then also be able to interface with the end-user to understand what their needs and wants are.
Mahtab   Yeah. That's such an important point because I think that when we see that especially when organizations are making their first UX hire, they're really looking for some of these things like do they know how to operate this certain kind of software? Do they have experience building prototypes?

And they might get a really good practitioner of the software, but what they might really need, and I think especially for a first hire within an organization is the ability, as you said, to actually do the work of collaborating. Of input gathering. Of being able to ask the right questions to understand the various dynamics within departments and not get into a turf war. You were saying this idea of going and making your wireframe. It might follow some best practices as you understand them, but missing the context of why two other business divisions might want to be doing something different, or might give you pushback.
John   Exactly, yeah. We've seen this fairly recently with a client where they've brought in a internal person. That person went and did some really interesting work. I use the term interesting because I'm from Minnesota. They did some work that wasn't necessarily as fitting to the project parameters. What they were doing was creating wireframes. They were creating deliverables. They weren't actually solving a user experience problem.
Mahtab   Yeah. That's such a key distinction there. Let's talk about some of the characteristics of good UX people just as a means of -you already mentioned ability to collaborate- so… what are some of the other things that organizations should be looking for?
John   Well I think that it's important to have somebody that has had experience doing one on one research. Not just observing a test, observing an evaluation, but actually being able to participate in facilitating that. Having a conversation with people. Because a usability interview isn't just about asking the questions in the test plan, it's also about trying to uncover things that the user surfaces that you didn't know that you didn't know. Trying to dig in a little bit more to those things, especially if they resonate with a specific business objective or organizational objective.
Mahtab   Yeah. I think the curiosity factor that comes, the ability to identify topics or threads to pull on that are going to lead to more information that comes from having done research, is one that transfers really well if you're representing a discipline like user experience within an organization. Because then in an internal meeting as you're observing something someone is saying, or something somebody brings up, then you can transfer the skill of identifying: Oh, there's something more here that I should dig into and helping those individuals to also partner well within the organization to get more complete picture.
John   Right, and you also I think need to look for somebody that's not afraid to iterate their ideas. I think that lots of times what we see is ownership of ideas. That can be a little bit dangerous in a collaborative environment because taking and accepting feedback, evolving and continuing to change, that desire to constantly evolve the process, the interface, or the idea that's happening based on feedback from others.
Mahtab   Yeah. I think that's such a key point of being comfortable, being in a place of unknown, or even being comfortable to follow a hypothesis, and determine that the hypothesis doesn't hold. That's such a key part of user experience is: the willingness to try something and accept that the idea may have been wrong. And to separate the idea being wrong, from you being wrong, or your skills being wrong.

All right! That I think is a good starting point for some of the characteristics when you're looking to make a UX hire for an internal team. We talked about willingness to collaborate, the ability to collaborate. We talked about curiosity. We talked about actual experience with the skills of conducting research, as well as the understanding of the importance of iterating.

Those are all great places to start when looking to fill an internal UX role within a team. And then next time we'll talk about once that person is in place, how you can help to make sure that they are effectively supported, and how you can try to help them succeed in their role.

Let us know if you have any feedback about what we shared. If you have questions or topics you'd like us to answer or discuss our contact information is on our website. Thank you for listening. You can find us on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on our website, Bye!
John   Bye!


Hosted by: Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.


With guest: John Golden

John believes there is a simple and streamlined approach for every complex problem. He approaches each project with the user’s goals in mind first in order to create a solution that is effective and meets the needs of his client’s business.
View John’s Bio


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