User Experience:
“Our” Role in Massive
Organizational Failure
Peter Jones, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant, Redesign Research
Jumping to Conclusion:
 As UX/IA we play several roles:
1. User Advocate based on > Understanding
2. Design Lead > Competency
3. Project Advisor > Interconnectedness
 At various stages in project lifecycle, our roles,
properly played, can prevent tragedy
You could save the company, the product, or …
BTW: The answer is: Influential, recursive, dialogic
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What are Organizational Failures?
 Depends who’s defining “failure!”
 Organizations will rarely recognize as such.
“When significant initiatives critical to
organizational strategy fail to meet most or
all of their stated goals.”
Such as >>> Flagship product fails in market
Merger failures
Disastrous business mistakes
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Type of Organizational Failures
Products, Poor market understanding, features, or
just bad timing: New Coke, Newton, Boo.com
Projects: Failures of coordination & decision making
Processes: Adopting wrong practice for need,
or poor execution of known process
People: Someone has to take the blame, right?
Organizations need resilience, should not be dependent on
individuals to succeed
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A Case Study
There’s a large automotive company …
 Spent years developing best practices
 Planned a next generation system for
managing the dealerships
 Product evolved over tech changes, from NT
client-server, to Web-based rich client
 Development team sequestered from the rest
of the company to “innovate” undisturbed
 Kept the project secret from much of the
company until ready to release
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Organization / Management / Employees
Strategic / Exec
Management
Product
Management
Project
Process
People
Case Study – Automotive Systems
Software
Development
Project A: New Dealer Management
Project B: Auto Parts Pipeline
Product
Ongoing – people
change roles
Project C: Dealer Intranet
Product A
Released
UX / UI
IA
5-6 years
1-2 years
1 year
Product B
Released
Product C
Released
8-12 months
2-4 months
Marketing
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4-8 months
Timeline
Product or Organization?
Bottom line was – the product failed.
 2 years after release, did not acquire share
 Dealerships kept their old systems
 The implied “best practices” in the UI were not
adopted or desired by most dealers
 New executive shut the product down.
 Auto company wrote-off > $50M, stock soared
 New user-centered design was initiated
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What’s the UX Role?
Remember the diagram?
 UX located “under” Development
 Current best-processes were employed:
 Dedicated UI designer
 UI architecture reviews
 Usability testing was performed:
Project/product managers restricted scope of tests
Testing restricted to UI interaction only
Evaluated usability of each transaction:
- Isolated, no assessment to current work context
- “Not a problem” idea was to change work practices
Impossible to interpret a failure from UX POV
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UX is Influential
Organizations are complex, intertwined
 Failure in one process will affect others
 Organizations need resilience, should not be
dependent on individuals to succeed
 Not all decisions or dependencies are equal
(Some have real leverage …)
(Sometimes redundancy propagates the errors!)
Product design <or> Design right product?
 How does UX play early warning role?
 Which UX methods sensitive to detection?
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UX is a recursive process
You get more than one chance to fail.
 Practices are repeated & improved, structures.
 But: Orgs are competitive, avoid learning
 Learning: Single-loop (Fixing things) vs.
Double-loop (systematic reflection)
What’s our recourse?
 How should UX recurse?
 Where do we challenge points of failure?
 How does UX / user knowledge help learning?
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UX should be dialogic
In the sense of:
 Surrounding product, org, or methods issues
with perspectives
 Inspiring exchanges & inquiry into root causes
& prescriptive change
 Motivating progressive learning
What’s our dialogue?
 What are key points of dialogue in processes?
 Do WE listen? How does our listening impact?
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Summary questions
Product design <or> Design right product?
 How does UX play early warning role?
 Which UX methods sensitive to detection?
What’s our recourse?
 How should UX provide feedback in the org?
 Where do we challenge points of failure?
 How does UX / user knowledge help learning?
What’s our dialogue?
 What are key points of dialogue in processes?
 Do WE listen? How does our listening impact?
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