What Business Ops can learn from UX Principles

by Jo Higgs on 26 April 2017

All organisations, regardless of size, have some sort of internal process that facilitates the running of the business. The design of these departments and systems depends entirely on the requirements of the business. A start-up may only need a few simple spreadsheets while a global company with 1000's of employees will have multi-disciplined departments covering everything from finance to HR. However, the aim of these functions is the same: to facilitate the effective running of the business and allow it to be as productive (and profitable) as possible.

Before I started working with Webcredible I had never had any exposure to UX (User Experience for those who still haven't) or the principles that are associated with the discipline. What Webcredible does for its clients is to essentially understand their business, their problems and their users and then work with them to improve the experience that user has when they interact with the business. It has become apparent to me that anyone who is part of or runs an internal team could gain insights from applying UX principles.

Understand your user

Any UXer worth anything will be at pains to explain to you that it is ALL about the user. Understanding that user is key to designing a product or service that will be successful, this is no different when designing or fulfilling business support services.

My users, typically, are the employees that work for the company I am helping. The requirements of people who work at a traditional financial services company with 100's of years of heritage will be very different to those in a comparatively young tech start-up. The tools and processes they need to ensure the business runs will be very different. It is important to recognise that, as in UX, there is no one size fits all approach.

Engage your stakeholders

Stakeholders will vary depending on the organisation you work in, it's important to understand who they are and what it is that they want. Stakeholders will generally include direct line managers, senior management or C-Suite (the people who are paying your wages mainly). Developing a good understanding of what they are trying to achieve will help you. Making your stakeholders look good and supporting them with addressing their own issues will help you get buy in and support for what you are trying to achieve, which will, at a high level be the same thing - cost effective and productive business functions. It will also make them love you!

Do your research

Speak to your user. Reach out to people across the business and make time to understand where their pain points are. Don't presume that your stakeholders and your users are necessarily aligned in what that is. Little will be achieved by diving into defining new business process for performance management when actually, no one has a computer that works and there is no internet connection! Ensuring that you understand your users' needs is key to success.

Feeding this back into your stakeholders will help to ensure that you all understand where the priorities are and are aligned in what to tackle first.

Accept that you won't always get it 100% right the first time and you will need to iterate. All the research and due diligence in the world cannot always guarantee that the decision you arrive at will be the right one long term.

Collaborate

Sitting alone and coming up with new ideas is all very well, but if you are going to successfully implement any sort of business change you need to engage with the end user - the person who this change, whether it is a new system or process, is going to have to live with. Get them involved! Bribe them with baked goods, invite them to sessions where they can see what your ideas are and give them opportunity to feedback. People who have been consulted are far more likely to be engaged in the end result and this will help you implement much more successfully.

Innovate

The term Innovation conjures up visions of crazy new technology, being innovative doesn't mean you need to have everyone walking around the office in a VR headset and ordering coffee from clever apps on their phone. The definition of innovation is simply a new method, idea or product. It doesn't have to be new to the world, just new to you or your organisation.

Don't be afraid to challenge the status quo and question why things are done the way they are. Often, you will find the answer is 'it's just the way we've always done it'. You can be innovative by simply addressing something that frustrates people and changing the way you do it.

An example:

You're an office manager and part of your role is to ensure that there are cold drinks and snacks ready for meetings.
You find yourself running about all the time, preparing trays and dragging them upstairs and downstairs.
Your users (the people in those meetings) simply require the refreshments to be there, they don't really mind how that happens.
How about putting in small fridges in each of the rooms so that you can stock them once a day and they can help themselves?
Innovation is just about new ways of approaching the same problem and coming up with a different solution.

Justify

Just as our UXers are always told, be prepared to validate and justify your design decisions. If you have done your research, understood your stakeholders and engaged with your users you should be in a strong position to justify any conclusion you have arrived at. It may not always be aligned what your stakeholder originally thought was the issue, but if you can validate your thought process and back it up with your research you'll be in a stronger position.

Iterate

Accept that you won't always get it 100% right the first time. All the research and due diligence in the world cannot always guarantee that the decision you arrive at will be the right one long term. Don't be afraid to tell people that this isn't a silver bullet that will fix everything, forever. Business processes will need to be tweaked and changed as external factors, often outside of your control, come into play. Be honest with people and ensure that they understand that your goal is to do the right thing for the business and for them as your users.

I believe anyone charged with delivering or designing effective business change or fulfilling an internal support function could learn from applying UX principles to their way of working.

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