7 things to do when stuck in a dead end digital team

Paul Boag

Many in-house digital teams are under resourced and under appreciated. But moaning isn’t going to bring about change. Fortunately, there are positive steps you can take.

Few of us get to work for a Silicon Valley startup or a digital giant like Facebook. Most of us work in more traditional organisations. Organisations whose management are struggling to come to terms with digital. Management who still don’t appreciate what it is we do.

But sitting around waiting for our management team to ‘get it’ is not going to achieve anything. We need to act. We must either fight for change or move on. Either way we have nothing to fear as we are much in demand.

If you do decide to fight for recognition, here are 7 practical steps you can take today. Steps I unpack and add to in my book the User Experience Revolution.

1. Discover the secret to motivating your management

Like users, every manager wants to achieve something. We need to find out what. That means doing the same research we would put into understanding our users. Heck, it might even be worth creating an empathy map for your own management team.

We need to understand what motivates management and use that.
We need to understand what motivates management and use that.

Find out what their pain points are. Discover their goals. Once you know this you can frame digital as a way to achieve those goals. For example many management teams care about maximising shareholder value. If that is true where you work, talk about how digital can increase sales and reduce costs.

Trying to convince management to care about your agenda is an impossible challenge. But positioning what you do as the answer to their problems will help them understand your value.

2. Shock colleagues with the reality of the user experience

Often we think that colleagues and management don’t value digital. This is rarely the case. It is just that they believe they are doing enough already.

It is our job to show them how inadequate their current investment is. That means showing them how shocking the experience can be.

One way of doing this is to record usability sessions and send around edited lowlight videos. Show people the worst moments of the experience. But encourage users to express why the experience is so terrible. Leave no room for others to misinterpret the results.

Create videos showing just how bad the user experience can be.
Create videos showing just how bad the user experience can be.

3. Remember the importance and power of data

If you want management to see you as successful, they need to understand what success looks like. That means you need agreed aims that the team are working towards, and a way of measuring those aims.

Measuring key performance indicators for your team will allow you to show progress. But the power of data doesn’t stop there. We can use data to prove our opinions and show problems that need solving.

We need to get better at communicating through relevant and timely data. We cannot rely solely on expressing personal opinion.

Data helps create persuasive arguements and shows success.
Data helps create persuasive arguements and shows success.

4. Introduce a well argued and professional process

Digital teams can come across as unprofessional because of adhoc working practices. We can often give the impression we are making it up as we go along and that undermines our credibility.

We can counteract this impression by demonstrating more mature working practices. We need to be better at communicating how we work with colleagues and explaining why we work in this way.

We can do this by establishing a strategy, building service manuals and creating policies. You may not feel you have the authority to do these things. You may have to compromise over the details. But by creating even a draft of these for discussion it will improve your credibility.

Improve your credibility by having clearly articulated working practices.
Improve your credibility by having clearly articulated working practices.

5. Be proactive and project a positive attitude

Most management teams want proactive, positive people. They spend most of their lives dealing with complainers. People who say they don’t have the budget, time or support. Don’t be that person.

Stand out from the crowd by going to management with positive ideas for improvement. Management won’t always say yes. But by being positive and proactive in this way you will shift their perception of your team.

Also when people ask you to do something that is a bad idea, don’t say no. Instead praise what you can from the idea. Then raise questions about its implementation. Questions that will guide colleagues to the realisation their suggestion will have consequences. Questions such as “how can we reduce the negative reaction this might have from users?

Also don’t be afraid to suggest alternatives. As long as you don’t push these too hard, most people are open to hearing other ideas. Again colleagues might not always accept them. But it will paint you as somebody who is positive and gets things done.

6. Build trust by starting small and proving your ability to deliver

When you do go to management with a suggestion, make it a small one. Until you have proved your ability to deliver, management is likely to reject big requests.

Instead start with a small pilot or proof of concept. Deliver on that and measure the success. Then go back and show that success to management before making a slightly bigger ask.

Over time you will build a reputation as somebody with good ideas and the ability to make them happen. Once you have done that management will give you a huge degree of latitude.

We need to become better at communicating our ability to deliver.
We need to become better at communicating our ability to deliver.

7. Show people proven success. Don't only tell them.

The important thing to remember here is that you need to show people things. You cannot only tell them.

  • You have to show them you can deliver, rather than tell them you can.
  • You need to show them the experience is bad, not tell them.
  • You need to show them the data to back up your point, not rely on opinion.

This applies in all kinds of areas, but especially with creating a better user experience. We are visual people. If I describe a better user experience you can picture it. But most people cannot.

If you want approval to make changes, you need to show them what better looks like. Create a prototype, mockup or anything to help visualise how much better things can be. It is amazing how opinions will shift once you do this.

Many people have trouble visualising what better looks like. We need to help them using prototypes and proof of concepts.
Many people have trouble visualising what better looks like. We need to help them using prototypes and proof of concepts.

How to be more persuasive and play the politics game

The above techniques only scratch the surface. But they do hint at what we must do if we want to see digital adoption. If we want to see a new focus on customer experience, we need to step up our game.

We need to learn how to be better at presenting these things to colleagues and management. We need to play politics and improve how we position our work.

There is so much we can do. Just see my complete guide to ensuring user experience gets the priority it deserves.

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