Getting Managerial Support

Paul Boag

Getting management support to improve the user experience can be hard. That is why I dedicate an entire chapter of my upcoming book to the subject. Here is a small extract.

The following is an extract from my upcoming book User Experience Revolution.

Andrew was one of the nicest people I've ever had the privilege of working with. He had been working as a full stack web developer within an internal digital team of a charity for the last 11 years. Before that he had been a Church of England minister. He still had that soft-spoken demeanour one expects from an English vicar.

A caring and gentle person, you never heard him say a harsh word about his colleagues. Most of the time he was positive and yet right now his round face was screwed up in a look of resignation.

"You are right. We need to start with user needs" he began. "But getting the executive to think like that just isn't going to happen."

It turns out Andrew had tried many times to get management to think about user experience without success. He had concluded it just wasn't going to be possible and to be honest I didn't blame him.

As I listened to Andrew talk about his attempts, Jared Spool's article flitted through my mind. The one about not being able to convince the executive of anything.

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But things were different this time. We had been working hard to raise the profile of user experience among colleagues. Our newsletter and blog posts had attracted a lot of interest and there was a general buzz around the idea of customer experience.

There was more that we wanted to do. But we knew that to do those things we needed managements support. The time will come when you will have done all you can behind the scenes. You will need permission to take the next big step.

Where that line is and what that next big step will be will vary from company to company. It might be to run an internal conference. Or it could be to carry out a pilot project.

What I would say is do as much as you can before going to management. The longer you leave it, the more momentum will be behind your cause and the more compelling your case will be. You will have more support, more statistics, more stories. In short, you will be better prepared. That will be important if you want management to take you seriously.

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Get the attention of management

Whether the executive of a large multi-national or your line manager, getting their attention can be tough. It is going to take patience and perseverance.

You will find yourself going through the same process with each layer of management in what can feel like an endless cycle. But remember, your job is as much an educator as an implementor. Nobody said building a user experience culture was going to be easy.

It would be tempting to go to management wanting permission for whatever it is that you want to do next. For example, you might want to run an internal event. But that is not going to get their attention. At least, not in a positive way.

Management get requests like this all the time. People who want permission, time, and funding for some project or initiative. They spend their lives knocking back half baked ideas and rejecting good ideas that they don't have the budget for.

If we want to get their attention, we need to be different. That is why we are going to start by going to them with nothing but good news. After all, that almost never happens! A member of staff, proactively going out of their way to make a positive difference to the business. Who has ever heard of that?

But before we can do that, we need to find out what they care about.

Apply UX design principles to management needs

If you want to get managements attention you need to know what they care about. This will allow you to frame your pitch around that interest. As Jared Spool said in his post.

You can find out what your executives are already convinced of. If they are any good at what they do, they likely have something they want to improve. It's likely to be related to improving revenues, reducing costs, increasing the number of new customers, increasing the sales from existing customers, or increasing shareholder value. Good UX can help with each of those things.

Take a moment to think about your immediate line manager. What does that person care about? Maybe it is meeting an annual target. Maybe it is achieving the budgetary cuts imposed upon her. If you want to be cynical, maybe it is getting her end of year bonus.

As I suggest in my upcoming UX culture cards, it is important to frame user experience in the context of management concerns.
As I suggest in my upcoming UX culture cards, it is important to frame user experience in the context of management concerns.

Once you know that, you can frame the work you have been doing with user experience within that context. It may take a little imagination, but it is possible.

For example, lets imagine your manager is the head of marketing. She has had her budget cut for the third year in a row and is looking for cost savings. Going to her and asking her to spend money on a big pilot project is a waste of time. Instead you need to start by helping with her immediate problem.

Make some small incremental improvements to the website. Improvements that encourage more social shares and maybe boost your net promoter score. Talk to some users and get testimonial saying that they were more likely to recommend the brand because of the good experience.

Once you have made some positive changes, now is the time to go to your manager. Don't go to her with problems and requests. Go to her with positive feedback. Tell her about the tweaks you have made. Tell her about the fact users seem more willing to promote the brand after improvements to user experience. Say that if you can continue to make these kinds of improvements it might increase word of mouth recommendation. This should, in time, decrease expenditure on advertising.

This is the kind of conversation that makes management's day. You have shown an understanding of the problems the department faces and taken steps to address it. If you can go back to her with good news like that two or three times you will find her much more receptive when you go to her for something.

Frame your request around managements agenda

Once you have established some credibility with your manager it is much easier to go to her with requests. But even so, it is still important you frame those requests in the right way. You still have to prove that the request is going to benefit your manager or at least the department.

If you want to run an internal UX event your manager will want to know what benefits it will provide. Not benefits to the user and to be honest not even benefits to the company as a whole. She will want to know the benefits to her and her department. In other words, you are applying user-centric thinking to your own management. You are identifying their needs and addressing them.

Talk about how an event like that would raise the profile of the marketing function. Or that if we could get cross-departmental support it might help raise funding for a user experience project. A project that would increase brand perception.

Whatever it is you are asking for, frame it in context of management’s agenda. Maybe your manager wants to increase revenue. Make sure you can show your request will help address that. If you cannot, you might have to change your request.

Most of all you will have to put the work in to prove that your idea is worth spending time on. That means spending as much time as possible up front working out how best to present it.

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