Why I Love UX (or How to Piss Off an Entire Department!)

Last Friday, I tweeted something which was badly worded, and managed to piss off much of our UX team (not to mention a few UX people far and wide):

Pissing off UX

Now I ask you, how could that post possibly offend anyone (note sarcasm)?

So, I would like to clarify what I was thinking when I posted that (and again ran into the problem that most of my thoughts do not fit into 140 characters).

First, I had been reading a number of posts and other articles by so-called UX experts, thought leaders, and others (all off whom shall go nameless, as I do not need anymore flames – well, actually I enjoy flames, but am full at the moment). Like many fanatics, they have (in my humble opinion) some fairly radical beliefs that are not well grounded in the real world. These are the “UX people” to whom I was referring in my post. Yes, my choice of words was bad.

Secondly, I have a great deal of respect for the UX process. I even have a lot of respect for most of the UX people I know (even the ones with whom I disagree). Frequently it is the UX department with whom I have an issue. I have the same issue with Marketing (the department) versus Marketing (the process), and with Architecture (the department) versus Architecture (the process).

The comparison with architecture is particularly relevant, as I have had many arguments over the years in software organizations as to whether “architect” is a role or a job title – should there be an “architecture group” separate from the development team. My belief is a resounding NO! I tend to believe that “architect” is a role which and individual with the appropriate skills and training assumes on a specific project. On another project, that same person may be a senior developer. My concern with architects in a group by them selves is that I have frequently seen these groups (a) become extremely elitist; and (b) become too far removed from the reality of implementation, leading to architectures which are elegant, beautiful, and difficult to impossible to build on-time and on-budget. Often, the 99% philosophically correct, current-best-practice architecture is not necessary, when the 80% solution can actually be implemented on-time and on-budget.

I find that UX groups is some organizations, and UX thought-leaders in the world at large, are falling victim to much the same challenges I described for architecture. Too much separation between UX and implementation creates certain challenges.  And, there is often little willingness to deviate from the “philosophically correct vision” in favour of practical reality.

And as a final thought, I definitely do not have all the answers in these areas – I just have some very definite questions about how we (in the global sense) do things.

Brainstorming is a bad idea (yet again)?

I love these articles – I blogged about this in response to articles a couple of times (here  and here) and the issue is always the same. They refer to brainstorming as “throwing a bunch of people in a room and letting them come up with ideas”.

Of course this is ineffective. How could it be otherwise? Would you expect to throw a bunch of programmers in a room with no process and expect good results? How about throwing a bunch of kids on a field with no structure and expecting them to be a football team?

Without a process and without structure, any group collaboration will fail.

I maintain, however, that brainstorming can be effective, when done in a structured and facilitated manner. At some point I will have to throw together some references on this, because I have seen them, but I think to say that “brainstorming is a waste of time” just because unstructured brainstorming with no process is ineffective is completely unfounded.

SharePoint Governance a bad Idea?

Wow! Just wow! I was reading this post by Paul J. Swider, and I kept waiting for the punch line that never came.

I have a great deal of respect for Paul – I have seen him speak, and follow his posts and tweets regularly. While this presents an interesting counterpoint to conventional thinking around governance, I am afraid he lost me on this one.

First off, lets look at the comparison to Y2K. Is he saying that no one should have invested in fixing Y2K issues, and that no systems would have failed if nothing had been fix? That seems to be what he is saying, since he is comparing Governance to that, and obviously governance is only good if it does not cost anything.

Then there is this statement:

“Many companies haven’t had governance and compliance features in place for there information systems for years. This has been true since I started working with software in the early 90’s”

This is like saying “for many years, most companies did not have software development processes”, and using this as justification that no investment should be made in such processes. Ditto for QA, or project management. We survived without much investment in any of these silly processes.

Just because lots of organizations are using SharePoint and do not have governance, does not mean that they are doing so effectively or the best way they can. It is also still too early in SharePoint’s lifetime to truly assess the long term costs of doing it wrong.

Finally, lets look at

“Most CIO’s and managers I speak with are tired of hearing about soft dollar calculations and want hard dollar cost savings immediately, after all these are complex and challenging fiscal situations they are managing.”

It is true that most CIOs and managers are being pressured into short-sighted approaches to many things. That does not mean that they should abandon meaningful and appropriate processes just because times are tough.

(would you suggest abandoning corporate governance and controls because money was tight? oh wait, I think many on Wall Street did)

Paul’s example needing a new purchase process to respond to funding cutbacks is a good one, and provides a good segue to what I see as a more positive takeaway from this discussion, which is the appropriate use of process.

Through much of my career, I have been involved heavily in process – whether software development, QA, test engineering, innovation, or otherwise. For many years, I worked on military and aerospace projects, which are noted for extremely heavy processes. What I learned from all of that was that you can invest in all the process in the world, and still fail miserably. And even when you succeed, the overhead involved in such processes makes them untenable.

This has led me to what I have referred to previously as just enough process (I know I am not the first to use the term). The software development process must match the context – the type of organization, the type of solution, the potential impact of failures of the system, the potential lifetime of the system, etc. A software development process appropriate for a social networking web app is hardly acceptable for medical devices.

The same is true of SharePoint governance. Cookie cutter approaches will not do. Off-the-shelf consulting processes will not do. This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

Rather than encouraging the total abandonment of governance processes, or treating governance as a “nice to have” luxury that you do away with in favour of short-term perceived cost savings, it is far more appropriate to encourage clients to find the level and type of governance process which suits their situation.

After all, isn’t that what a good consultant does? Helps the client find the solution that is right for them, rather than applying the same solution to all clients?