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Increasing Design Influence by adapting your voice to your organization's decisionmaking style


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As designers, we like to think of ourselves as makers. When we’re working on large, wicked problems, the challenge is that “making” is no longer a solo endeavor; it’s something that requires a lot of people and functionality to make happen. This can leave designers feeling like we’ve had to compromise our standards to appease business or development stakeholders. It also inadvertently creates an us-versus-them mentality that actually makes it less likely that we’ll be successful in moving forward our vision of what’s possible.

So what does this mean for us? Simply understanding what your product’s users are dealing with isn’t enough. To make truly great products, you need to understand how people, organizations, systems and content play together. In this presentation, we’ll focus on some ways to help understand the organizational context you’re working within, and to adjust your approach to increase your success within those organizations.

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Increasing Design Influence by adapting your voice to your organization's decisionmaking style

  1. 1. Increase your design influence by adapting your voice to your org’s decision-making style Dani Nordin Director UX, athenahealth
  2. 2. Who is this bish? Dani Nordin Director of UX, Services & Tasks at athenahealth Part-time Lecturer, Northeastern University CPS Author, Drupal for Designers (2012, O’Reilly), Designing with Empathy (2015, O’Reilly) Mama, knitter, troublemaker. I drink coffee and I know things. danigrrl
  3. 3. How did all these people end up here? Credit:
  4. 4. Why aren’t you using the brand guidelines? Source: NBC
  5. 5. How many participants were in this study?
  6. 6. We don’t have time for research. Source: Netflix
  7. 7. They just don’t get it. We need to educate them. Here’s a presentation on the value of design.
  8. 8. They just don’t get it. We need to educate them. Here’s a presentation on the value of design.
  9. 9. Empathy isn’t just for the people who use our products. For design to succeed in organizations, we need to have empathy for those organizations, and for our colleagues within them.
  10. 10. you and I Let’s talk about
  11. 11. Signature Voice The goal of an Explain story is to help the audience understand the current state of things and why it is so. This provides a frame of reference for future conversations and aids decisionmaking. Driving Voice “I’m right about this; they just haven’t figured it out yet.” Voice for Self Voice for Others Signature Voice “I can see the future, and I’m going to enlist others to help us get there.” Passive Voice “I can’t change anything here; might as well check out.” Supportive Voice “My boss and the team are depending on me to figure this out.”
  12. 12. The challenge all individuals face is to adaptively use both voices: to speak for yourself, your team, and your function and to know when to do the same for others, their teams, and their functions. Amy Jen Su & Muriel Maignan Wilkins
  13. 13. • What is the reality of the situation? • Where is the other person/group coming from? Assumptions Communication Strategies Energy • How should we communicate progress? • How do we handle conflict effectively? • What deliverables will be most impactful? • How am I showing up? Tired, upset, judgmental, hyper? • What’s my body language? Check your Adapt your Modulate your
  14. 14. the organization Let’s talk about
  15. 15. Competing Values Organizational culture develops across two axes: flexibility vs. stability and internal vs. external focus. Understanding this tension can help you adapt your approach. Clan Adhocracy Hierarchy Market Collaborate Create CompeteControl Internal External Stability Flexibility
  16. 16. Clan Flexible, Internally focused PainsGains Collegial, respectful energy Really want the best for everyone involved People may avoid conflict and want to be involved in everything Decisions feel like they take forever Org type Characteristics What you’ll HEAR: “Why didn’t you tell me we were meeting about this?” “Has Marketing looked at this?” What you’ll SEE: Meetings that grow from 5 to 15 people and never seem to end Design_final_final_noforrealthistime.pdf collaboration & consensus Goals
  17. 17. Adhocracy flexible, externally focused PainsGains Can be fun to work in People are passionate about the work May lose sight of the big picture in pursuit of short-term gain Qualitative research can be devalued unless it’s super, super fast Org type Characteristics What you’ll HEAR: “Let’s not let ‘process’ get in the way of progress.” “We don’t have time for user research. Let’s just ask Sales.” What you’ll SEE: Lots of chaos and churn Whiplash around deliverables move fast & innovate Goals
  18. 18. Hierarchy stable, internally focused PainsGains When seen as an expert, you get a lot of leeway Healthy budgets Lack of executive buy-in can kill projects Layers of bureaucracy and silos to break down Org type Characteristics What you’ll HEAR: “The [CEO/CPO/VP] has already bought into this, so it’s going to happen.” “Are you using the brand colors?” What you’ll SEE: Silos and internal politics Expectation for highly polished, “complete” deliverables sustain success & obtain growth Goals
  19. 19. Market stable, externally focused PainsGains Focus on shipping customer-facing work High potential to move up if you can speak the lingo Everything needs data and more data Qualitative data is often overruled by metrics Org type Characteristics What you’ll HEAR: “Have we A/B tested this?” “How many people did you talk to?” “How will this impact time to market?” What you’ll SEE: Numbers. Lots of numbers. Concerned with moving fast & beating competition to market get ahead of the competition Goals
  20. 20. So startups are adhocracies and enterprises are hierarchies, right? Not. So. Fast.
  21. 21. Values can shift In many places, the values of an organization can shift depending on which group you’re talking to in the business. Adapting your approach for each group is key to success. Training Engineering Marketing Clan Adhocracy Hierarchy + Market
  22. 22. Say and DO? So what do we
  23. 23. 1 Bring Clans along for the ride
  24. 24. Bring just enough process to Adhocracies 2
  25. 25. Cultivate executive sponsors in Hierarchies 3
  26. 26. Help Markets see the “why” behind the “what” 4
  27. 27. Key Takeaways v Empathy isn’t just for users, it’s for our organizations and stakeholders as well v Our assumptions, communication strategies, and physical presence all help us show up in Signature Voice v Understanding how decisions are made in the organization is key to helping us craft our approach to the work
  28. 28. Before you “tell it like it is,” make sure you’ve confirmed that’s actually how it is. Dani Nordin
  29. 29. Thank you! Dani Nordin Director UX, athenahealth
  30. 30. Resources Own the Room Amy Jen Su Muriel Maignan Wilkins • Influencing Stakeholders using a ”Show, Don’t Tell” approach: Jared Spool (requires membership) • Designing How We Design: Kim Goodwin • Increase your design influence by understanding your organization’s decision-making style: Dani Nordin Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture based on the Competing Values Framework Kim S. Cameron Robert E. Quinn