leadership posts

Join me on April 17 for “Championing Contextual Research” webinar April 10th, 2012

On April 17 I’ll be presenting a UIE webinar about Championing Contextual Research in Your Organization. Sign up here!

To the delight of UX designers everywhere, organizations today increasingly conduct user-centered research methods like surveys, focus groups, and usability testing.

But what can we learn beyond the office environment? Isn’t user observation among the most powerful UX design research techniques we can do?

Yes! So Steve Portigal will describe the techniques, processes, and discussion points you can use to make it happen in your organization. And once you find out how to quell cultural or budgetary resistance to fieldwork, then you can create more analytical designs that make users jump for joy.

You’ll gain user insight before you need it.

  • Identify opportunities to learn about users
  • Conduct specialized interviews beyond just “talking to people”

Advocate for the adoption of contextual research

You’ll become a change agent in your organization.

  • Understand how markets and processes relate to one another
  • Discuss benefits and drawbacks for both stakeholders and users

Maximize the organizational impact of any research you do

You’ll start to establish research agendas from the get-go.

  • Integrate synthesis and analysis in any approved project
  • Create research outputs that are relevant to your stakeholders

Engage the rest of the organization in contextual research

You’ll make your process and outputs more visible.

  • Tackle entrenched belief structures with hands-on techniques
  • Involve teams in identifying patterns and themes

Please sign up here. If you can’t make the scheduled time, you can also get a recording of the event.

Some relevant articles I’ve seen lately that might relate to this topic are
How to tell managers they’re wrong about UX research and Organizational Challenges for UX Professionals

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 10th, 2012

Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing? [HBR Blog Network] – Innovation is about the new. It begins with new thinking and typically involves learning new things and being exposed to new ideas. Through our self-funded study, the Omni project, we describe this challenge to keep up with the pace of possibilities in the Transformations theme. Here the author suggests three “habits of mind” (diverse sources of¬† inspiration, copy success from other industries, and collaboration) that promise to keep you learning as fast as the world is changing.

Today, the challenge for leaders at every level is no longer just to out-hustle, out-muscle, and out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and help your organization get there before anyone else does. Which is why a defining challenge of leadership is whether you can answer a question that is as simple as it is powerful: Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

The human factor in service design [McKinsey Quarterly] – The¬†customer service landscape is continually evolving and responding to the winds of technological change and floods of social media. Here, three company stories illustrate different ways to think about the human side of service interaction.¬†The article suggests that you ask yourself three questions to diagnose opportunities for improvement: How human is your service? How economic is your service? Can your people scale it up? The only question I’d add is: How do you know? since this line of inquiry into the design of services is fueled by research with humans both inside and outside the organization.

When putting together services that are economically attractive and grounded in a good understanding of what motivates customers, companies shouldn’t overlook their own employees-the other human beings involved in a transaction. Companies give themselves a big edge when they design service processes that a widely distributed workforce can easily adopt, understand, automate, and execute.

Let’s Debunk 4 Myths About How Great Companies Innovate [Co.Design] – This “mythbusting” article delivers a punchy dose that dispels any notion that innovative companies are fueled solely by visionary leaders, industry competition, market mimicking, and luck. It appears that we have no excuse not to innovate.

A growing base of consumers with new expectations and new demands only fuels the fire for more products and services. Firms that claim to be fast followers are often merely just followers. As a firm grows and matures, its bureaucracy, decisions, and approvals inhibit its ability to bring a new product to market quickly. The company can’t respond fast enough to innovators or consumer demands. In this period of rapid change and global competition, innovation isn’t a “nice to have” but an important core competence; those firms that can’t keep up will inevitably perish.

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 23rd, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and Ikea [Co.Design] – [This old saw again! As if user insights and strong vision are incompatible? Shame on FastCo for this hyperbolic crap.] We asked friends on the Apple design team about user-centric design. “It’s all bullshit and hot air created to sell consulting projects and give insecure managers a false sense of security. We don't waste our time asking users, we build our brand through creating great products we believe people will love." IKEA designers don’t use user studies or user insights to create their products. “We tried and it didn’t work..”Of course, neither will say this publicly since both are extremely closed companies and would risk offending users (and the design community) by speaking out against user-centeredness. Since no one will speak up, the false value of the user-as-leader has spread. The best brands are guided by a clear vision for the world, a unique set of values, and a culture that makes them truly unique and that no user insights could ever change.
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 25th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] Japan’s Smokestacks Draw Industrial-Strength Sightseers [WSJ.com] – [This sub-culture is exerting economic influence. I'm looking for the American equivalent.] What started as a fringe subculture known as kojo moe, or "factory infatuation," is beginning to gain wider appeal in Japan, turning industrial zones into unlikely tourist attractions. It's the Japanese equivalent of going sightseeing at industrial stretches along the New Jersey Turnpike. Unlike the tourists who visit the factories of Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese manufacturers, the kojo moe crowd has little interest in the inner workings of the plants. They get excited by the maze of intricate piping around the exterior of a steel plant or the cylindrical smokestacks sending up steam. [A book on the topic] lists 19 questions to test one's kojo moe credentials, including "Do you like Blade Runner?" and "Can you stare at a factory you like all day long?" Now, industrial regions across Japan are working to create factory sightseeing tours.
  • [from steve_portigal] Stop Blaming Your Culture [Strategy + Business] – [A must-read. This could become the article on the topic, a companion to Porter's classic What is Strategy? REad it and pass it along.] Fortunately, there is an effective, accessible way to deal with cultural challenges. Don’t blame your culture; use it purposefully. View it as an asset: a source of energy, pride, and motivation. Learn to work with it and within it. Discern the elements of the culture that are congruent with your strategy. Figure out which of the old constructive behaviors embedded in your culture can be applied to accelerate the changes that you want. Find ways to counterbalance and diminish other elements of the culture that hinder you. In this way, you can initiate, accelerate, and sustain truly beneficial change — with far less effort, time, and expense, and with better results, than many executives expect.
  • [from steve_portigal] Steve Portigal to write book on interviewing users [Rosenfeld Media] – Interviewing users is fundamental to user experience work but, as Steve Portigal cautions, we tend to take it for granted. Because it's based on talking and listening, skills we think we have, we often wing it. Sadly, we miss out on many of the wonderful opportunities our interviews should reveal. So we're thrilled that Steve, who's contributed regular columns to interactins and Core77, has signed on to write a new Rosenfeld Media book, The Art and Craft of User Research Interviewing, to help UX practitioners really succeed with interviewing. Steve's book will focus on helping practitioners to better understand users' perspectives, and to rely upon rapport as the main ingredient in successful user interviews.
  • [from steve_portigal] Intel Teams with will.i.am, Black Eyed Peas Front Man [Intel] – [Is there a nomenclature convention emerging? If your corporate title is surrounded by quote marks, you may not receive the same HR benefits as others. Although it looks like he's got a badge? See you at Friday's Beer Bust!] He’s best known for being a multi-platinum music artist, producer and front man for The Black Eyed Peas, but will.i.am is also an innovator, technology fan, entrepreneur and philanthropist. With today’s announcement at the Anaheim Convention Center, the seven-time Grammy winner has added another title to his multi-faceted resume: “director of creative innovation.” As an extension of his insatiable fascination with technology, which plays a significant role in his professional and personal lives, will.i.am will engage in a multi-year, hands-on creative and technology collaboration with Intel Corporation. He already sports an Intel ID badge, which he proudly showed off at a news conference in Anaheim, where Intel is holding an internal sales and marketing conference.
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The most important meal of the day June 25th, 2010

Culture eating strategy for breakfast at a recent custom car show…

Every company wants consumer loyalty, but not every organization knows what to do with it. The kind of fandom that expresses itself as a brand militia, while a tremendous asset, is not a force easily controlled from the top.

In a New York Times article on Chevrolet’s recent attempt to wrangle their identity back from the people by mandating GM staff to say “Chevrolet” rather than “Chevy,” Corvette racer Dick Guldstrand explains:

Once it became an American icon, America took it away from G.M. They made it a Chevy. You’re doing a disservice to all the people by telling them not to call it a Chevy.

Whether you’re talking about consumers or the members of an organization itself, a strategy based on top-down control leaves little room for passionate engagement. Cisco CEO John Chambers is remaking that organization’s entire structure around the perspective that

Leadership is not really about delegating tasks and monitoring results; it is about imbuing the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business.

Ongoing engagement – through shared responsibility and shared identity – builds loyalty. And this process can only happen if an organization or brand leaves room for people’s agency, so they can create a sense of ownership and meaning for themselves.

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Loyalty Cuts Both Ways August 12th, 2009

In a full-page ad in today’s SF Chronicle jobs section, Columbus Foods asks for help in hiring their employees who have lost their jobs after a recent fire. It’s a pretty dramatic and heartfelt demonstration of an employer’s loyalty to its employees, a vector of loyalty we don’t consider as often as its inverse.

We Need A Hand After The Disaster

On Thursday, July 23, 2009, a significant fire hit Columbus' Cabot Packaging and Slicing facility in South San Francisco. The building was completely destroyed.

Being in business for over 90 years, we have faced many challenges, but it is our employees'strength, dedication and resilience that has brought us our continued success. At Columbus, we have always had pride in the quality of our people.

We are still in business and, long-term, fully expect to come out stronger from this challenge. We have been able to relocate about 40% of the work force of this facility to our other locations and to associated companies. However, because of the fire, the remainder of the workers from the affected facility will be displaced. While we have provided generous severances, we want to do more to help these employees find new jobs.

So we are reaching out to the greater business community for help placing these skilled and loyal employees. ...

It is important to us that we do everything we can to help them, as without them we would have never gotten to the place we are today. If you have any openings, please send correspondence to helpcabot@Columco.com. We will work with you and the employees affected by this disaster to ensure minimal disruption to their lives. And thank you in advance for lending any support.

cabot

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ChittahChattah Quickies August 6th, 2009
  • The Cultures of Design – a new column in DMI Connect – In our engagements with different organizations we see a large range of cultures-of-design. I use that term to capture the aspect of an organization’s culture that drives how they determine what to make for their customers. I’ll outline a few prominent archetypes (of course there are more!), and while they may teeter dangerously close to caricature, in their extremity they can be illustrative of the complex nature of culture.
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ChittahChattah Quickies August 1st, 2009
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 9th, 2009
  • Core77 launches a product: a limited edition "curated" bike with a $1500 price tag – Core77 has been insanely brilliant at facilitating design discourse and ultimately design itself for a very long time. They've experimented before in launching their own product, I think, (I seem to recall a shoe) but this is a big leap, with this fancy-shmancy bike. To those that know what makes for a great bike, it may be a truly wonderful object, but it seems to manifest the worst part of design: elite hipsters making artificially cool stuff for other designers who revel in the semiotics of exclusivity, rather than what I believe Core77 can better champion: the design field of talented passionate people solving tough problems in unique, beautiful and successful ways. I challenge Core77 to take this (hopefully successful) experience in Launching Products (no doubt an insanely difficult thing) and apply it next to Launching Products That Make A Difference To Everyone (or at least Helping Others To…). The MoMA design world doesn't need Core77, but the real design world so badly does.
  • R.I.P., Oscar Mayer – The 95-year old retired company chairman dies. He was actually the third Oscar Mayer to run the company, co-founded in the 1890s by his grandfather, Oscar Mayer. "They began using the Oscar Mayer brand name in the 1920s, stamping it on the country's first packaged, sliced bacon, which the Mayer brothers introduced in 1924 — an innovation that earned them a U.S. government patent."
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Chipotle: Different and Better? April 24th, 2008

chipotle1.jpg
Ode To A Burrito is a Fast Company profile of Chipotle Mexican Grill and iconoclastic founder and CEO Steve Ells.

Chipotle has achieved these impressive stats by spurning fast-food orthodoxy….Chipotle also avoids the frills that pad other chains’ bottom lines. “Desserts and other sides are all profit for these chains,” says industry analyst Clark Wolf. “The whole infrastructure’s already there, so they can make a 90% margin on extras.” But founder and CEO Steve Ells staunchly refuses to expand his menu beyond four options (burrito, burrito bowl, taco, salad). “We want to do just a few things better than everyone else,” Ells says. “We just do things we think are right.”

Could you open a movie theater without popcorn, focusing instead on the core few things that enable the desired experience (this is a bad metaphor since of course popcorn is readily seen as intrinsic to a movie experience, in-home or in the theater)? Is Ells throwing away money for an idea that is meaningless or does he have a holistic Jobs-like vision that drives decisions like this (his name is Steve…)?

Elsewhere the article refers to fans of the chain and describes the growth and financial success the company is showing. But what do you think? Is this company run by a brilliant visionary?

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