Bonny Colville-Hyde's corner of the internet, all about UX

Fix the organisation not the interface

Organisation structures and processes are one of the key causes of poor user experiences.

Austin Govella recently posted an interesting blog over on Thinking and Making entitled ‘A manifesto for user experience’ in which he described what he felt was the real challenge of user experience: changing organisations.

“Shift your thinking from interfaces to organizations: it’s the only way to build better experiences.”
Austin Govella, 2011

I believe the sentiment he is expressing is true. Thinking back to projects that have felt like they didn’t achieve what they should have done, it became apparent to me the reason why: the organisation and stakeholders were not in a position to let the project succeed. How could this be the case though? Surely an organisation’s aim is to be successful right?

Not always.

Hierarchy and structure that constricts rather than supports

A few years ago I did some work for a large and very well known travel site. They wanted to improve conversions across their site. Of course they did, who doesn’t want that?

The project appeared to be straight forward until I visited their offices. I discovered that each channel on their site was run by a different department, and each department held a strong dislike for the others. The people selling flights didn’t like the people selling hotels. The people selling car hire didn’t like the people selling package holidays. Nobody really liked anyone else, or wanted to talk to them.

Each department viewed the other departments as direct competitors for business. Instead of seeing the opportunities to sell more, they saw only negatives. Each guarded their “secrets” about conversions and there was no culture of knowledge sharing between departments.

The staff perpetuating this behaviour felt they were doing the right thing: they were rewarded for their own department’s success rates, so of course, they wanted to be seen as the best and receive the greatest rewards. There were no rewards for working together. This company will never achieve its full potential if it continues to operate like this.

This example shows how damaging hierarchy and structure can cripple a site’s user experience, before you even interact with it’s interface. Users wanting to book multiple items here have a hard time because the company is not set up to support this way of selling products.

Poor team communication and collaboration

I recently worked with a company who’s call centre logged all the issues with their website described by callers. Great, I thought: a useful and up-to-date list of user problems that need addressing by the web team. But no.

The call centre did not share this document with any other team. Not even the web team (they didn’t know it existed). The document just sat in the call centre, getting updated all the time but not being used.

In this case the website’s user experience was not as good as it could have been because broken features reported by users were not getting fixed as soon as they were logged like they could have been if the teams communicated.

Why does this happen?

I believe both of my example problems are caused my organisation culture, or lack of it. Encouraging staff to share information, and rewarding them for being team members as opposed to isolated groups is going to produce a much more unified product. This in turn can lead to a better experience for end users.

Management teams need to be more aware of the effects their management styles have on the final product, not just an individual’s performance. This is a tricky subject to tackle in projects where stakeholders can easily think that as a UX, you shouldn’t interfere with this sort of thing. I’m increasingly feeling that if I don’t interfere, I’m just not doing my job properly.