During my career working within the field of User Experience, I have focussed a lot of my energies on understanding how and when to employ various tools and techniques. I’ve worked on projects that have followed a range of different methodologies, and over the years I believe I have made significant improvements on what I deliver. However, during the course of my work, it has become clear to me there is something else beyond tools and techniques that has a big impact on how positive an outcome a project has; this something else is organisational culture.
When the internal culture of an organisation does not support an evidence based iterative approach to design, the value of research and design activities can be greatly diminished.
“Absence of buy-in about a problem’s definition, scope and goals can kill a project just as surely as faulty implementation” Jeff Conklin — CogNexus
What is organisational culture?
Organisational culture is the shared values and behaviours relating to how people respond and interact within an organisation. It influences communication and relationships, along with the structure and activities that are undertaken.
Why is organisational culture a digital product problem?
There are certain features of digital product/service design that highlight the importance of organisational culture, these include;
Lack of definition
Digital problems are not always easily defined. They are often opaque, or solve a problem that is not clearly evident or tangible.
Lack of stability
The digital landscape is constantly changing, new products and services can pop up almost over night. Digital isn’t constrained by geography, so you can potentially be competing against an organisation on the other side of the globe that you were not even aware of.
Since the 1970’s we have been moving towards a knowledge based economy (as opposed to a routine one). To work effectively in a knowledge based role there needs to be a shared understanding of the problem that is being solved. Digital product design is a sector where it is impossible for one person to know everything about a problem and how to deliver the right solution. Different people with different knowledge and skills need to come together to deliver the right solution, thus increasing the social complexity of the organisational culture.
When organisational culture can negatively impact the value of UX
“Where there is more truth in hallways than in meetings, you have a problem” Ed Catmull — Creative Inc
There are potential red-flags to be found in various areas of an organisation. To prevent difficulties arising from organisational culture, it’s a good idea to be mindful of the following, and how your own organisation operates:
It will be hard to have positive impact on outcomes if there is no leadership buy-in with regards to the value of research and design. Leadership needs to be aligned to these concepts and what it means for the organisation.
Where the right processes aren’t in place there is the potential for valuable activities to be undermined or undelivered. Working processes need to support research and design by allowing time for the relevant activities and the opportunity for these to feed into the design process.
If contributors to a task (team members and managers etc.) don’t enable everyone within a team to be able to do their job to their fullest ability, it will be impossible to deliver on the full potential of the team. This requires that team members are trusted and empowered.
Structural problems typically relate to roles and responsibilities — whether that is the responsibilities of different teams on a project, or the responsibilities of individuals within a team itself. Both can greatly impact the outcome of a project. A shared understanding of the users, the product and the problems it solves is essential.
It feels as though we are still developing ways of working on digital problems. New approaches and ways of working are challenging traditional business doctrines. There is a movement away from hierarchy, control and linear process and towards a problem focussed, collaborative approach. We can support this transition by being aware of the organisational culture that we work within, we can take steps to influence it, enabling research and design to deliver its true value.
“The digital work environment and employee experience are the blind spots of the ongoing digitalisation process” Oscar berg and Henrik Gustafsson — Digital workplace, strategy & design