UX is useless if the work never gets done, or WORSE, it gets done but not used or implemented. A few have talked about this, but there is clearly some discussion about this in the UX community (Those links represent most of the ones I know about). Last year I wrote a book chapter (forthcoming) and a position paper for a workshop asking the question: Since UX is so good at studying one group of people (users), why don’t we turn those same skills to studying the people we need to communicate and work with? We’re so good at empathy, let’s turn that to our colleagues. But how do we do this?
In my PhD dissertation, currently just over 1/2 written, I talk about how to communicate across organizational boundaries, what I call boundary communication. This short post is about the three basic things one needs to build up in order to communicate well: Common Language, Common Meaning, and Common Interest Common Language means you are using the same words, i.e. not too technical or if from the other side, not too business-oriented. Of course mutual education of what your specialized terms mean can also work wonders. When this is lacking those who don’t know the language are aware of it, often painfully, but this doesn’t mean that people always speak up about it. It takes straight forward honesty and humility to overcome this. Common Meaning is when you’re using the same words and you actually mean the same thing. I think we’ve all been in a situation where it’s become obvious after a while that while we’re both using the same word, but we mean different things. When this happens you may not know you have a problem until something blows up in your face. Common Interest is, in my opinion, the trickiest of the three. Certainly the most complex. Common interest is the personal and organizational interest, politics, and will to do something. This takes negotiations and frank conversations, and very importantly establishing the reason (the why), the goal (the deliverables), and the how (the timeline & methods) of the project. Below is one of my first attempts to visualize some of these principles I believe that many people are approaching some or many of the pieces of this, and of course are adding more ingredients, principles, and processes to this.
Yesterday I had a nice long talk with Galen Murdoch and Brian Ware of Veracity Solutions (after my fabulous cousin, Allia DeAngelis, connected me to them).
Their work with what they’re calling Blendsourcing (See the Forbes article on it), which mixes people, principles, and processes, focuses on establishing common interests among the team early in the project in order to really make things go. The extremely interesting thing about their approach is that it’s a blended approach, meaning the team is partly inside people from the company, and partly outside people from Veracity and their community of contractors (and I assume possibly still others too). So they make a high-performing team out of a diverse set of people from different organizations. Many organizations have a hard enough time doing that internally that the fact that Veracity is doing it across external organizational boundaries is amazing.
One thing that Galen emphasized several times in our conversation is that “there’s nothing new here.” I’ve gotten that about my own work, and in one way it’s true: there are no really new ideas here, BUT as my friend Christian Briggs has said to me on many occasions ideas are cheap, execution is hard. Really being able to operationalize or make ideas on how to make great teams actionable is more important and difficult than ideas about it. The one thing though, that makes what Galen is doing though is the idea of apprenticeship. I.e. you learn how to do the same kinds things by doing, and not just alone, but doing it together with a master (or at least someone who has more experience than you). This means leaving time for reflection and double-loop learning, which I hope we all now know is one of the things that drives organizational change.
I could say much more about “the science of blending” and blendsourcing, and I will in future posts, so stay tuned.
I’m going to be continuing to collect more examples of other people and orgs that are using similar principles to the ones in my own research, this is one of the first.