Can user-centred design be useful in product development?

If you look closely at the principles of user experience and UCD, they're useful far beyond the web. Even if you manage or develop non-digital products and services, business plans or traditional marketing communications then don't think that UX isn't for you, it is! At Webcredible, we're doing just that. As part of our continuous improvement programme we're using our UCD methodologies and expertise to improve our own Training Academy. This is the first of a series of blogs that will take you along the challenging (but fun!) journey that we're going through in applying UCD principles to product development, with the aim of improving our training offerings. This blog is going to share our process and learnings from step 1 - stakeholder research.

Why do stakeholder research?

Stakeholder research is a great way to bring all the key internal stakeholders on to the same page and collect their ideas to ensure you have their buy-in. Just like any other UCD project we run for our clients, we started off by conducting research with as diverse group of stakeholders as possible including trainers, marketing, sales and senior management. Each of these departments and individuals have their own set of goals and needs, so it's important to get a cross-section of your business together. One of the most difficult parts of organising workshops like these is to make sure people are available. The offering of food at meetings quite often works but sometimes it's just not possible to have everyone attending every workshop. To get around this there are 2 things you can do:
  1. Split workshops into smaller, mini workshops that require less time in a row. People are more flexible if it's 45 minutes rather than 3 hours.
  2. Don't fret if not every last person can come. The importance really is about representatives for each need. This does come with a caveat however, part of the purpose of stakeholder workshops is buy-in, which you won't get if someone isn't able to contribute their ideas and thoughts early. Go and collect them and add them in if someone key can't make it.
We ran a series of 3 stakeholder workshops last November to build a shared understanding of the goals, barriers and visions for the Training Academy.

How do you run a stakeholder workshop?

Step 1: Pose simple questions, one at a time During our Training Academy stakeholder research we held 3 separate mini workshops, 1 for each theme - goals, challenges and vision. Concentrating on each of these separately allows ideas, concerns and needs to come forward before being analysed - "great idea but we can't do that because..." doesn't happen here - it's green hat thinking. In the goals workshop, we posed three questions to the participants to get them thinking about different purposes of the training academy:
  • What does the business want out of the Training Academy?
  • What do the customers want out of the Training Academy?
  • What do the trainers want out of the Training Academy?
Step 2: Idea generation Each participant wrote their answers on individual post-its first before sharing them with the group. Letting participants write their answers individually first has several benefits:
  • Writing is an individual activity that requires thinking. So it gives thinking time to participants to surface more ideas.
  • Some people are not comfortable with the idea of speaking up in a group. A lot of great ideas never see the light of day because their owners are too afraid to speak in a meeting.
  • It reduces group think (when everyone in the meeting thinks the same).
  • It ensures a level playing field and that everyone's ideas are heard and considered, not just those of the HIPPOs (highest paid person's opinion).
After writing down their answers on post-its, the participants posted them on the wall under the relevant question. Step 3: Consolidation We then conducted affinity diagramming to arrange the post-its into groups based on themes that naturally occur. We then labelled each group of post-its based on its theme. We ended up with LOTS of colourful post-its on the wall! As you can see from the number of post-its, even a short session can generate a lot of ideas. The key is to prioritise those ideas and start with the high priority ones.

What did we discover about the Webcredible Training Academy?

Business goals: For Webcredible, training is an integral component of our delivery. Yes, it helps us make more money (what business doesn't exist to make money?) but besides that, it helps us share our love of UX and educate our clients. Educated clients are more aware of the ROI and the value of customer-centric thinking, which makes our job a lot easier. It helps us become a one-stop UX shop. So we don't just build great customer experiences for our clients, we also help them do it themselves. Another goal the business was looking forward to was having a lively office every day. We recently moved into a much bigger space and having training participants in the office keeps the office buzzing and keeps the knowledge (and beers) flowing! Trainer goals: One of the many reasons I joined Webcredible was because at Webcredible I could continue my love of teaching as part of my day job. It was great to see this sentiment shared by other Webcredibles. I learned early from one of the UX gurus that I look up to, Kim Goodwin. She (and I) believe that we can change the world through better design but we can do it even faster if we teach others to do it. One of the major goals for trainers was to share their knowledge and help clients beyond delivering successful projects. Training also helped them reinforce their own learning and expand their network of contacts. They also wanted to ensure that we set the right expectations with participants attending the courses. We have had instances where participants book themselves onto a UX course, expecting to spend the entire day learning about user interface design. There are still a lot of misconceptions about what UX is and we need to clarify those expectations better. Training participant goals: The trainee goals we compiled were mostly based on the feedback from training participants and the experience the stakeholders have had engaging with participants at various levels: pre-sales, on-the-day and post-training support. These findings will be further validated through user research with training customers. It may seem very 'non-UX' to make assumptions about your users goals. But it's useful to have a benchmark of internal perception and either back it up or challenge it with user research. It's also a great way of starting to get your stakeholders to think from a customers perspective. One of the key goals for the training participants was to learn high quality content from expert trainers. More importantly, they need to be able to put their new knowledge into practice straightaway. Hence, on top of learning industry standard best practices, they want to learn how to take the first tiny steps within their roles to gather small wins and build credibility of UX within the organisation. Tied in with one of the trainer goals above, participants also need help in picking the right course. The vast field of experience design and the myriad of topics within it can be daunting for people to navigate around to find the best match for their needs. Hence, they need clearer pathways through the 'labyrinth' of courses.

What's next?

So those were the goals, the things that we would like the Training Academy to achieve. But what's stopping us or can potentially stop us from achieving those goals? We tackled those questions by repeating the above workshop but posing the question of barriers and challenges.

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