Influence, Control and Org. Structures
Much of a Usability Specialist’s control in a project is governed by the influence they exert. Without influence, the Usability Specialist will not be able to get the necessary improvements you need in your project. Influence is generated by the impressions they make, their successes and the confidence they inspire in the project management and project team. Unfortunately, each Usability Specialist has different aptitudes for creating influence. This is typical of all people but Usability Specialists are an especially varied lot in terms of appearance (geek/slick/artistic/etc.), confidence, training (business/design/CompSci/etc.), methods and communication skills. As such, what might create influence in one project won’t, as much, in another.
Quality, usable, effective sites typically costs more in the short term, but pay-off in the long-term. Influence grants Usability Specialists the control they need to make more effective sites.
How influence and control play out differs based upon the organizational structure the Usability Specialist finds themselves in. This effects how they work and what they do. I enjoyed an interesting article about different organizations, which can be found here. I’m considering the following categories:
- Agency – The Usability Specialist exists in an agency hired to work for your company.
- Independent – The Usability Specialist is hired to design/build/code your site; a jack of all trades.
- Employee – The Usability Specialists is an employee of your company as a…
- Lone Wolf – …wandering worker, going project to project, maybe not even officially, trying to improve things.
- Member – …member of your development team.
- Embedded – … member of a parallel department, on loan to your project.
Let’s consider how the UX person can interact in these different environments…
Development Goals vs Effectiveness
Usability Specialists have a different view, a different goal than a typical development-minded worker. While not always as simplistic as I will now state, development wants to complete on-time, on-budget, to the spec. Therefore, non-employee Usability Specialists (agencies and independents) fighting for a more effective site for you, are going to have a more difficult time because there is no direct monetary benefit to their own company. Employee Usability Specialists will have an easier time influencing management because of this. An external organization might even have a motivation to save good ideas for version 2.0.
Strangely, there is always time to do it in the next release, but no time to do it right, right now.
Non-Employees: Agency and Independent
Employees are not always the best way to go, so don’t think I’m trying to convince you to build an internal team. Usability Specialists are costly and if you can’t keep them busy, then you’re not getting your money’s worth. As well, good professionals in agencies and independents want to make good things. Your job if you contract out, is to make sure you listen to them well, have a good dialogue for when problems occur, because they will, and know what is a useful suggestion and what is not. Long-term business dealings and good rapport will get the most out of your interactions. As well, if your expertise is not in software development, you may consider hiring an independent (someone like myself) to review work and act as an agent for you.
A Usability Specialist employee can have more traction arguing for a feature with long-term benefits. They have more time to build influence and control, as well as being closer to the management structure. If they’re good, they can be more convincing. This takes several forms based upon their role.
The subject of organizational structures for Usability Specialists will be the target of my next post. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below… viscously attacking or heroically praising my views. Cheers!