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How to Get Your UX Team a Seat at the Table: Building UX into Business Competency

Posted in Business Strategy, Experience Design, and Leadership

I have grown several UX departments from little or nothing to global highly efficient and effective teams. In every case, it was the same – we had to prove ourselves to the decision makers that we were worth investing in. We needed to get a “seat at the table” with the executives team that determined the strategy – and budget – for the organization.

I once had the opportunity to sit next to our CFO at a company dinner. He asked me what our department needed and I told him that we needed market intel to inform our design direction and I asked him why it appeared that they were not investing in Marketing strategy.

The CFO explained to me that executive management has a set amount of monies to invest every year. They look at it as placing bets – investing in the parts of the organizations that they think will give them the biggest return on their investment. They were seeing a return on investment in our growing UX department – customers liked the changes – thus creating loyalty, advocacy and attracting more customers. But they weren’t seeing it in Marketing and they were not investing in it.

This has stuck with me. If you want to grow your UX team – or any team in an organization – you must be able to clearly articulate your business value to the financial decision makers.

How Do You Do Communicate Your Value?

I was at a company where my immediate supervisor was an old-school IBM architect. When I said “Information Architecture” – he thought database architecture… We had a communication problem – we were speaking different languages. So I learned his language.

I used the first step in the UX design process – understand your target audience. I found out that my supervisor was big on IEEE. So, I familiarized myself with IEEE. The next time we met, I was talking in IEEE HFE guidelines. My supervisor didn’t know anything about HFE but since IEEE had guidelines around it, he felt that we should follow them – which meant investing in UX to grow the team. My supervisor got UX a seat at the table and is still a champion of UX to this day.

Once You Get a Seat, Now What?

Once we had a seat at the table, we had to give our quarterly report to the executive team like the other department leaders. I had never done anything like this before and wanted to do a good job. Once again, I turned to a UX technique of getting to know our target audience – except this time I used prototyping review method.

I had a presentation template that all the department leaders use to present their information. I went around to the other leaders and asked them what the meeting was like – the format, the audience, what kind of questions they ask, etc. The team and I put together a draft deck then I shared it with our head of HR, who was on the executive review board, and he gave me crucial feedback and insight that I took to adjust our presentation.

I probably over prepared for that first meeting with the executives but it set a good first impression and I continued to listen to the feedback that the executives gave. I would always end our presentation with “Is there any other information that you would like to see or see in a different way” and adjusted and adapted our presentations accordingly.

Working with the Executive Team

Now that I have gray hair, I am usually part of the executive team or they are my clients. At this level, there is only the language of business acumen – everything is framed in how it affects the financial growth of the organization. At this level in the organization they are not interested in details about how you grow a rockstar team or define, design and deliver experiences. They measure success by dollars spent and dollars earned – quarter by quarter – year over year.

You need to show your numbers. Your projected operation cost and contributing revenue. How do you contribute to topline growth – gross sales and revenue – and bottom-line growth – net income after all the expenses have been deducted from revenue. A scorecard is a handy tool to communicate this.

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