I came to realize the value of user-centered design maybe 5 or 6 years ago.
I was hacking away at my graduate student lab work, as I read more clinical papers about type 2 diabetes, the more I learned that the most impactful interventions for T2D and stabilizing HbA1C levels were not medications - it was the standard prescription of better diet, and active lifestyle.
Me five years ago: Why aren't sick people just doing what they're told to do? The data is clear!
I became fascinated with the idea of behavior change. I spent the following years reading books on design thinking, training in behavioral psychology and motivational interviewing, and performing experiments on my roommate to identify methods to get to their core needs and personal values.
Me now: What are their unmet needs? What are their priorities? What are the barriers to behaviors? Do their behaviors align with their goals? What can we learn from their efforts in the past? How can I adapt myself and my language to understand and reinforce their values and priorities?
Designers might call this "building empathy." Service folks call this "best customer service practice." Consultants call it "positive business" or "good client management." I call it being a good listener, or decent human with an acuity for emotional intelligence.
Now I take that kind of enlightened thinking and apply it to my professional relationships to help me understand how to better work with others on a team. Behind all these "business requirements" there are people with real human needs to be met and values to be reinforced, look for those and then things will fall into place. When these needs are not met, and better yet, when you don't know which needs have been met and which have not, you'll come across a number of problems.
Some examples of problems plaguing partnerships include:
- unbalanced or unfair effort, costs, labor, etc. across partners
- no prioritization
- consensus decision-making
- not understanding business incentives for business strategy, marketing, design, and engineering teams
- not understanding each member's personal/professional motivations for a particular engagement
- unclear definition of what the overall target outcome is, regardless of how it's reached
- work that goes into re-allocating resources, planning, scoping, scheduling meetings and phone calls
- constraints, like a clear understanding of what you DO NOT want
Leadership and management skills development is something we all have to learn as we go. I a mental recap and put together a short list of potential solutions to some of the barriers I've encountered when forming partnerships:
1) Spend more time upfront understanding priorities.
When working with others, regardless whether they are clients or its with your own cross-functional team, it's your job to make them LOOK AND FEEL GOOD in a professional sense . It's also your job to figure out what they feel "looking good" means to them.
Could it be that they prefer something done fast and below budget? Or could it be that they have more experience and want to do something more risky? Or something that will create a bigger splash to impress their boss? Or what if the key stakeholder is incredibly uncomfortable with risk due to requirements in a highly regulated space? What if the developers are really excited to try out their new server systems, or if the designers are eager to see ditch their old work and try something new? If you don't know know what their priorities are, then it might be difficult for them to understand your own priorities as well. A good manager spends the time to learn their team's dynamics and understands the individual's personal and professional values. Poke around, and if needed, gently challenge their beliefs to see where the wiggle room could be. Use your interviewing skills to get to the bottom of it!
2) Make sure to spend the time to discuss project efforts with stakeholders all in the same room.
How many times have you left a meeting after a team didn't meet a deadline, only to hear people whispering to each other "They had one job. All they had to do was X." Ensure everyone understands how heavy the lift will be for each side of the table, how many people, what kind of deliverables, how often, and if necessary, down to the hours of work required. All business is a game of give and take, it's all an exchange of value, or simple trade. Anytime the trade is not perceived to be equal, there will be friction.
3) Set clear SMART goals. Clear targets. Clear "success" metrics.
Scope creep is a common challenge amongst geographically distributed teams, or in teams working in exploratory or creative projects that don't always have a clear-cut answer or timeline. A sharp project manager can help this happen by helping people stay accountable to what deliverables/scope/timeline they've proposed. Here's where the Agile/Scrum/Lean methodology works really well - breaking down big complex problems into digestible chunks or tasks. Taking that a step further, a good product or project manager will take those tasks and prioritize them according to business needs. Your team proposed to get X amount of work done in Y amount of time? Was that task completed? You did? Success! If it didn't, it's time to ruthlessly re-prioritize.
Hope this helps someone better understand themselves!