Paul Boag on ‘How to Work Collaboratively on the User Experience’

The benefits of integrating the user experience into everything.

We’re proud to present Paul Boag, User Experience Strategist and author of User Experience Revolution, and his talk ‘How to Work Collaboratively on the User Experience’.

In the following video and transcript of his talk at BetterUX London 2019, Paul discusses the huge benefits of integrating the user experience into the working methodologies of everything that’s going on across any organization.

Paul: Hello everybody. I hope you’ve had a good day, I can’t get over this conference really. You should be paying a lot of money for this. How come you’re getting it for free? That doesn’t seem right to me but there you go.

So what we’re gonna look at today is this subject of encouraging collaboration, encouraging interaction, encouraging the user experience to extend beyond user experience professionals. But there is a problem with this particular scenario. And the problem is, you can’t teach people what they don’t wanna learn.

We’ve talked today about, you know, we can teach people how to do basic user research techniques and those causes of. But what if they’re not interested? What if they don’t care? What if, as we said with MoneySupermarket, what if you’re just trying to offload your job on to me? And a lot of people just don’t see the value of this stuff in the first place in order to even want to do it. So how do we address that?

Well, I kinda touched on this last year when I gave my closing remarks last year where I talked about the need to become a user experience evangelist. And I got very very excited about it, and I shared with you a card deck that I’ve created of 52 different ways that you can engage with people, and get them to care about this kind of stuff.

But really this time I wanna focus in particular on this idea of working collaboratively, integrating the user experience into the working methodologies of everything that’s going on across your organization and kinda baking it in. And to bake it in, in particular, and how the organization interacts with one another, how the different silos collaborate with one another. ‘Cuz I wanna just be clear about why you guys need to be breaking out of your silos and really beginning to do everything that you do alongside other non-UX professionals. What are the benefits of collaboration? Why it’s so critical.

But the first thing to say is when people are collaborating with you, non-UX professionals people, or legal people, or whoever else, as they’re interacting with you, they’re getting to understand the user’s perspective, understand the user’s chances, understand what it is you do. We heard earlier, didn’t we about this nirvana in one company where the legal team is integrated in with the UX people. I mean what madness is this? Legal teams are our entrenched enemies that say that we have to have cookie notifications, and checkboxes, and all that kinda crap we don’t like. But look what happens when you do embed them in. Suddenly they get to understand the problem and the challenges, and suddenly everything becomes a little bit easier.

Then, of course, the great thing about this is about collaborating with these people by bringing them into the fold and getting them involved, they’re actually discovering things for themselves rather than you lecturing them, and wagging your finger at them and saying, “You need to take the user more seriously and this is annoying and that’s no good and we can’t do that.” They’re discovering these things for themselves. And when you discover something for yourself, you retain it a lot more. We all know that. Then, of course, is the fact that they’re less likely to reject a solution that they were fundamentally involved in creating.

You know, if you present a piece of UX research into a senior management team that weren’t involved in the process, they’re completely removed from it. so they can go, “No, I don’t like green. And can you make the logo bigger,” and all the other stereotypical things that managers are supposed to say. But if they were actively involved in some of the wireframing sessions or, you know, interpreting some of the user feedback or whatever it be, they’re not gonna then say, “Well, this is a shit solution.” Because it’s their solution. They were actively involved in creating it. And not only they can be more likely to accept it, they’re also gonna be more likely to defend it to other people who might be critical of it. So all in all, collaboration is good. And as you will see, I get a bit overexcited about this subject. And I make no apologies for that.

So how do we begin to embed this kinda collaborative user experience approach into everything we do? Well, we can actually even embed user-centric thinking into the projects your company or organization does. How many times you end up like working on a project where you basically trying to put lipstick on a pig? You’re taking a fundamentally flawed idea and trying to make it work when actually the project should never have happened in the first place because no users care about it. Happens all the time. So what if we could embed user-centric thinking into the very projects that we undertake? Well, I believe you can.

Think about how projects are currently prioritized within your organization. Chances are there are two factors at play. First of all, there’s the hippo, the highest paid person in the room. The person that turns round and says, “We need an app because my nephew says we need an app.” So because they’ve decided it’s a priority, it has to happen. Well, that’s not very user-centric, is it? Almost the other way, right? Firefighting. “Oh, we’ve got this coming up and we haven’t thought about it or done anything. Can you make something?” That’s not very user-centric either.

We need a better way of approaching our projects that embed the user-thinking in the process. How? One option is customer journey mapping. But maybe not the kind of customer journey mapping that you’re used to.

And if you’re a user researcher, you’re really not gonna like the next bit because I’m gonna make you cringe. Because when I talk about customer journey mapping, I wanna do completely uninformed customer journey mapping based on zero research. Yay! I’m talking to the wrong crowd aren’t I on that?

But let me explain. I’m really interested in taking our stakeholders across the organizations. People in senior management, people in finance, people in legal, developers, all of these different people and bringing them together, and getting them to map the customer journey.  Not you going out and doing a load of research and then carefully mapping it. I want them to map it.

And why do I want that to happen? Well and first of all, it starts them empathizing with the customer. It starts getting them out of their own head and thinking about the customer. Now, I fully accept they’re not gonna get it right, but at least they’re trying. At least for the first time, they’re thinking from a different perspective other than their own. Their own targets, their own aims, et-cetera. So getting our stakeholders involved in customer journey mapping encourages empathy. But more than that it also can be very useful for identifying future projects which circles back to this prioritization thing I was talking about a minute ago. And prioritizing projects based on user needs rather than whatever the senior or highest paid person comes up with.

And let me give you an example of this in action. Right? Here’s a customer journey map that came out of our workshop I run with the Samaritans.

Not the most common customer journey that you’ll ever wanna do. You know, when it starts off with having an event like as, you know, somebody dying or being diagnosed with cancer, or losing your job, or some other cheerful thing. And then you kinda work your way through realization that you need help, you then seek some help, you make contact with the Samaritans, you receive the help, and then there’s the post-help.

Now as we were doing that exercise, as a group, a room that was not a user insight at this point, it was just a group of internal stakeholders brainstorming and thinking about this kinda stuff, and working through the customer journey map. I added in where do we think maybe we’re letting the user down as part of the customer journey map which is these bomb-bit weaknesses.

And actually what we discovered is, that the Samaritans had been pouring huge amounts of money to advertising and promotion and that kinda stuff. Well, when we actually thought about it, we realized actually most people have heard of the Samaritans. But what we discovered is that when people make contact, the Samaritans are really great on the phone, but they’re rubbish in doing things like instant message…Sorry, texting or email. And they don’t actually touch any other platforms at all like WhatsApp or whatever else. So we came away from that going, “Ah, we’re solving the wrong problem.” And actually we did a future version of it as well where we realized actually, all of the money we are investing in advertising and marketing, we should be investing in creating a single system that the volunteers can use whether people are contacting you by the latest, you know, TikTok or whatever the kids are down with these days, or, you know, email like old fuddie-duddies like me use.

So can you see how taking them on that journey of doing customer journey mapping, and creating even a fictional customer journey map based on no data whatsoever is getting people to empathize and think about how they prioritize projects from the customer’s point of view rather than their own?

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But my stakeholders suck.” Because they all do, don’t they? But that’s fine. Well, why don’t we include a few users in the room? That’s a sneaky way to get your stakeholders to meet real users, isn’t it? Because if you invite them to open usability testing, they never turn up. But you do this and you sneak in an end-user. When they’re not looking. It’s like my mom used to put the broccoli under the Yorkshire puddings and the roast. Sneak it in while I weren’t looking. So we can include users. But also, of course, we can validate afterwards, we can take it out and find out whether what they did was right. So it’s not that we don’t include the user research, but I’m saying that customer journey mapping has got more use than just a way of expressing user research. It’s also got the ability to start getting people to empathize and think about the user.

And if you’re interested, I’ve written a post on that. I’m gonna put a lot of additionally reading links in here, there’s no point of taking a photograph of it because it doesn’t say the URL. But I’m gonna give you a URL right at the end to these slides where you can then click through and read about all of these things. Because I’m gonna cover too much ground too quick.

The next thing is something called project triage or digital triage, which is something that I made up. But if you give it a name, it sounds cool. So digital triage or project triage is based on the idea that we should be prioritizing projects on more than just business needs. And that we can actually bake in user needs into how we prioritize projects. So most projects these days are done because there’s an urgent need for it, or because the highest paid person says we should do it. But what if we actually had criteria to make these kinds of decisions instead? We can have our business criteria. Maybe we could rank projects based on business objectives. That sounds sensible in business, doesn’t it? Yes. We could also look at return on investment, that’s another good figure that people like to through around. So with, yeah, return on investment. Yes, we’ll give it a point on that as well. So maybe get five points for business objectives, five points for return on investment.

But then we might also give it points based on what primary user group it serves. Is it serving a user group that’s extremely important? Then it gets more points. If it’s serving a user group that’s less important, it gets less points. So now we’re bringing user characteristics. Maybe we can also say if it’s serving a really important user need, then it gets more points. If it’s serving a less important need, it gets less points. So we’re balancing business objectives with user needs, and baking that into our decision making about what projects we do when. And then what you can do is, you can start, you know, prioritizing your projects based on these different points.

And then when a new project comes along, it gets given a point value and it slots in the appropriate place.

Now we’re prioritizing projects based on user needs rather than just on whoever shouts the loudest. And best of all, that sounds eminently sensible, doesn’t it? What a sensible thing to do. Nobody is gonna argue with that kind of approach, and they don’t.

But as well as we’re working on individual projects, we need to start introducing user needs into the individual projects we run. So how can we do that? Well, we can do it with things like story cards and empathy maps. The empathy maps, I tend to produce are maybe slightly different to other empathy maps.

I’ve renamed some of the sections and that kind of thing. And I focus my empathy maps much more on the tasks that users want to complete, and the questions that they have, and the pain points. You know, I’m bigger fan of doing that the maybe personas that just focus on things like, you know, he drives the Audi and reads The Guardian. Because I wanna be solving, you know, real-world problems so I lead people by doing empathy mapping workshops with them where they just create these kinds of things.

And, you know, I think FlixBus where you talked about empathy maps is one of the tools that they use and I completely agree with that. But it’s really important that we don’t let those tools then just sit in a drawer somewhere. But actually we take them out and we produce them. Somebody, I think right at the beginning of the day talked about MailChimp that they put their personas on the wall. What’s on the wall of your office? Is it products that you’ve produced? Is it awards that you’ve won? Is it, you know, executive shaking hands? Right? Is it opening new buildings? Or is it actually your customers?

You know, I encouraged you last year to spam your offices with pictures of your customers. I said, “Go in and replace all the photographs.” I said, “You know, replace everybody’s mouse mat with a picture of a smiling customer on it. Replace their screensavers.” Any opportunity you can get the customer in front of people, take that opportunity. When you have a meeting and everybody is sitting round the desk talking about a project, with one chair, leave one chair empty and stick the face of a customer on it. Because that kinda thing means that you don’t ever forget the customer. People will remember that, they’re not gonna forget that.

My granddad was a Pentecostal minister and very, very religious. And when we went round to his house for dinner, there was always an empty chair for Jesus. Because that’s how they made sure that, that thinking was embedded in their daily lives. So we could do the same. Not with Jesus, unless he is one of your users in which case, fine. But also causes user story cards. Don’t let people come to you with briefs for projects. Get rid of briefs, replace them with user story cards. Replace specifications with prototypes. All of these different techniques enable us to start embedding the user in our thinking from the very beginning of our projects.

But we also need to help our colleagues discover for themselves. Stop lecturing them and start letting them learn. So how can we do that? Well, one idea is to let them experience it. Whose come across this? Put your hands up. Okay, it’s worth running. I’m gonna run this then. This is a video that I often show stakeholders to teach them something. I won’t tell you what I’m gonna teach you until after I’ve done it. It’s a really famous video. What I want you to do is you see those two teams? There’s the white and the black team. Forget the black team, just concentrate on the white team. You wanna count how many times the white team passes the ball between them. There will be a test at the end so make sure you pay attention. Are you ready people? No noise during this. You might be tempted to scream out in the silence like I do at funerals, don’t do it. Just remain silent and count, concentrate. Are we ready?

Okay. Now there were some sniggers. Put your hands up if you saw the gorilla before the sniggers. Right. About 50% of you. That’s about right. How many of you saw that the background color changed from red to orange? Fewer of you. How many of you saw that someone wearing a black top walked off entirely? Right. What you’ve just experienced is cognitive load. Okay? We know about cognitive load, don’t we? We know that you can overwhelm users with too many options too much stuff. And we can lecture people and tell them you have…What was it? Twenty-three options in the navigation and that’s gonna be too many for people. Right? You can say that or you can show them that, and they’ll discover it for themselves. That’s more powerful.

So one of my favorite exercises is something called a user attention point exercise, another random exercise I made up and gave a name to. Right. In this exercise, you know how people, like, you get all these different stakeholders, the FinTech guys when they were talking all about the different stakeholders, they’re groups from all across your organization is like, “Oh my word, kill me.” Because you got all these conflicting different requirements and ideas, and especially with something like a homepage or something like that everybody wants that bit of real estate, don’t they?

And they just wanna to add one more thing to the homepage. Can I just add this to the…Just this. Right? What a thin new UI element. So how do we deal with that? Because we know we overwhelm the users. So let people discover it, don’t lecture them, let them discover it. Let them discover it through something called a user attention point exercise. First of all, we split it down into groups, so we stakeholders in the room together and we say, “Right, we all knew to brainstorm as many elements that you think can go on this page as possible. Whoever comes out, whichever group comes up with the most wins and gets a price. Talk tip don’t just write header, write logo, search box, you know, navigation. Split it down, write as many things as you can. So off they go and they brainstorm a load of ideas and they come up with a big old list of everything that they wanna do. Now, the reason you’ve let them do that is you’ve let them express all that stuff. You haven’t locked them down, you haven’t said no to them, you’ve let them get it out of their system.

Then once they’ve done that, then you introduce this idea, “Well, we’ve got bit of a problem here, users who got limited attention.” For according to Time Magazine, the average person has an attention span of eight seconds which is less than a goldfish when looking at a website. And everybody kind of agrees with that you never have a problem with that. So we’ve got all these items but people have got limited attention.

Then next up what you do, is you say, “Well, let’s turn that limited attention into points.” How many things can someone look at in a second do we think? Two things? Two things. I’ve no idea how many things people can look at in two seconds, but we’ll say two. Hey, do you know what? It’s a Tuesday. Let’s say they can do a bit more let’s round it up. We’ll give you 20 points of user attention. Okay? You’ve got 20 points of user attention, now you’ve got a list of 46 items on there. See the problem? Oh, yeah, okay. Right. Well, what I want you to do is go through, and I want you to assign your user attention points to each of the elements you’ve got. Now, of course the problem you’ve got here, is you don’t want a user to be paying the same attention to the privacy policy as to the company’s primary call to action, do you? Oh, no. Well, in that case, you gotta give the primary call to action more points than you give the privacy policy. Oh, okay. Right, so off they go. And they go, “One point, one point, one point, oh we can get rid of them. Get rid, get rid of that, get rid of that. Oh, this is an important one, two points.”

And they go through this process and they make some hard decisions. Then they get to the end of the process, right? And they’ve done pretty well, but they’ve still spread their points really thinly. And they haven’t actually learned the final lesson. So what I then do, is I then show them this. Which of those two sites is better?

No one is… No, sorry one person said Yahoo! because they worked out what I was going to say next. Right? But generally, everybody says Google. Well, unfortunately, you’ve created Yahoo!, because you’ve spread all your points all over the place.

Google has spent all of their points on their search box. Ding! People certainly get it. And the good thing is, they discovered it themselves. They’ve been through the exercise, they’ve been through the thought process, they understand now. And you walk out of that you can get them to do the exercise again, and they make the hard decisions. And now you haven’t had to bully them, you haven’t had totell them no, they’ve come to it themselves. That’s what we need to be looking for and I’ve written an article on that as well. So what I’m basically saying, what I’m encouraging you to do is to think big.

There’s been a lot of talk about empowering, you know, our PO people to do a bit of user research. Or, to get our UX designers doing some user research. Right? Great, that’s good. But think bigger, embed users at the center of everything within your organization. How projects are run, how projects are prioritized. There are so many opportunities and you can do it subtly. Right? The broccoli under the Yorkshire pudding. Right? You can introduce these little exercises that refrain, people, that user attention point exercise, what it basically did is said, “You’re gonna prioritize everything on this page. And oh, by the way, I’ve just tricked you into prioritizing it around user needs.” Right? That’s what’s essentially happened. Right? Or, “We need a good policy for prioritizing all the projects in our organization and two of them will be user needs.” You see?

So there are amazing opportunities and I would encourage you to look for ways of creating policies, procedures, workshops, exercises to do all that. And to get you started, I’ve written a complete guide for how to ensure user experience is a priority at your company which covers all of this. Just like this stupid conference, I’m giving it away for free. So there’s the link to the slides for today. That’s the one you wanna photograph. And now get a PDF of this slide, and then you can click on any of those links and read the stories. Thank you very much.

Have we got time? Talk to you. Five minutes, five minutes. Any questions?

What was the link? Put the link back up guys, if that’s all right. There you go. Any questions or do you just wanna leave like all these people who are slacking off and doing it at the back. don’t blame them. Bye! Any questions? You just wanna go now, don’t you? Fair enough. Yes.

Attendee: In your opinion, who’s really smashing it in US at the moment?

Paul: Nobody. Because I’m a grumpy old man. Well trouble is different, people are good at different things. Right? So, for example, you could take the government digital services, is always the example that everyone throw around. “Oh, they are doing so well.” And they are, they’ve done great, they’ve done incredible things. But I was recently out with them and talking with them but they’ve put a few bucks up in the process. Right? And not particularly liked within government because they push so hard and so fast. Right? So yeah, they’ve done amazing but then they’re gonna be weaker other sides, and that’s just the kind of way it goes, unfortunately.

You know, some people will do great in some areas but then they’ll be weaker in others. I’m often surprised who is good at this stuff. Right? So if I take my current client list, you know, one of my client list is an international or multinational huge pharmaceutical company, I also work for a huge multinational e-Commerce fashion retailer, both of them really, from a user experience point of view, are very immature. Right? And them working for a little charity, and they’re blowing it out the water. So is not…You know, you often look at the big companies and go, “Oh, they must be doing it better.” And, you know, you go to conferences like this and it’s Facebook and it’s, you know, big names on the stage. They’re not always necessarily the best people. But, yeah, I am asked the question at all, have I? That means I don’t know. Any more?

Okay, fair enough, grab me afterwards and we’ll talk then. Thank you.

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