I could tell the question I’d asked was a completely foreign idea, just from the look on the UX team manager’s face. She was sharing her frustration about her product teams asking for the UX team’s help, but not letting them do their job.
Some product teams were great, she told me. Those teams would bring her UX team in early, ask them for direction, exploring the problems, listen to research results, and make shifts in the product direction accordingly.
But other product teams were bringing her team in too late, dictating exactly what the design should be, and get upset when the user research showed those designs wouldn’t solve any customer problems. She’d tried to get these product teams to bring her folks in earlier, but they kept waiting until they’d locked the design down.
That’s when I popped the perplexing question: “Are you allowed to say ‘No’ when a product team asks for user experience help?”
“Why would we want to do that?”
I explained how Saying ‘no’ was an advanced approach for dealing with product teams that waited too long. The basic idea is to tell them you’ll only work with them if they bring your team in early enough. Otherwise, they’re on their own.
The approach works because it puts pressure on the product teams that aren’t cooperating. It shows those team leaders they need to change their habits to get the help of the UX team.
Saying ‘No’ is a UX Strategy Play
Shifting an organization to become more design driven is a long game. And like any long game, it’s made up of a series of plays, each one advancing the UX team towards the goal.
Saying ‘No’ to UX work is one of those plays. There are lots of plays. We’ve identified more than 90 so far, and we’re adding new ones every month.
UX strategy plays range from providing regular usability testing, to introducing design studio workshops, to shifting the roadmap from a feature focus to a customer-problem focus. Each play helps the UX team, the product and service teams working with the UX team, and the rest of the organization move towards delivering better designed user experiences in products and services.
Plays Have Tricky Timing
This UX Team had been executing a different play for a while: Always say ‘Yes’ when asked for UX help.
When an organization is starting down the road of learning about design, taking on any UX work is the right thing to do. It’s basically the opposite of the Saying ‘No’ play.
When nobody in the organization understands why they should think about their product or service’s user experience, volunteering to show them is the right play to make. Jump in and demonstrate value.
Later, when teams understand the value, this play loses its power. That’s when the shift to the Saying ‘No’ play comes in.
Saying ‘No’ tells the organization as a whole that the UX team won’t invest their time in product teams who refuse to reap the benefits of good design practice. They’ll only make the investment in those product teams who come to the project prepared to do it right.
It takes executive support to shift from the Always ‘Yes’ play to the Saying ‘No’ play. That’s why I asked the team manager. Did they have the air cover from above? When a rejected product team complains that the UX team isn’t cooperating, will an executive put pressure on that product team to change their ways?
A UX team can’t start with the Saying ‘No’ play. Nor can they make the switch before they’ve executed plays to ensure they’ve got the executive air cover. The timing is tricky and needs good planning to work.
Building a Dynamic UX Strategy Playbook
This is where a solid UX strategy playbook comes in. The playbook contains the plays the UX leadership is executing now and the plays they’d like to execute next.
The UX leadership adapts their playbook as the situations change. If the company goes through a merger, or a new competitor enters the market, the new circumstances may cause the team to modify the playbook to match. Similarly, the playbook needs to change as the organization becomes more design savvy, shifting the UX team’s role as a service provider to the role of training product teams how to solve their own design challenges.
Each product or service team matures their design efforts at a different rate. Many UX teams find their playbook needs a range of plays, choosing specific plays for the product or service team they’re currently collaborating with.
Almost all UX leaders have some type of playbook they’re working from. Many, however, rarely talk about how their playbook has to be dynamic and change as situations demand. Leaders often get stuck continuing to execute plays that are no longer working, failing to adopt new plays that would help them move forward.
The best UX leaders are more explicit about their current playbook, sharing it with their team and others in the organization. They adapt to new situations and are constantly evaluating what’s working and what isn’t.
A dynamic UX Strategy Playbook can be an amazingly effective tool. It gives the organization a clear path to becoming design infused, as the UX leadership drives product and service strategies. As UX teams mature, the playbook becomes an essential guiding force to fulfilling their mission.