The CTO’s Guide To UX Management: 4 Tips No One Will Tell You
“We go together like gin and tonic,” said no developer–designer duo ever.
For some reason, these roles feel at odds with one another. You must have often heard that the relationship between a PM and a UX designer is fraught and full of friction. For CTOs, both these roles are two sides of the same coin. They’re both trying to elevate user experiences and create something that eases the user’s life.
Collaboration is only one part of the problem. Many CTOs dread disintegrated teams and processes that lead to a flawed product. Sometimes the product lacks user-centricity, whereas sometimes, the product is not functional enough to solve user problems. It could be daunting, especially when you’re in a market full of innovative competitors.
Considerable efforts toward UX management thus become necessary.
In this article, we’ll cover four things every CTO should know about managing UX and how they can improve internal collaboration by setting UX as an institutional goal. We’ll be talking about behavioral changes and changes in the organizational mindset that CTOs can help incorporate.
Let’s start from a place of inquiry, curiosity, and humility.
The Need for UX Management
Think about Apple, for instance. The secret of their success lies in their organization-wide UX maturity. Building and growing their UX culture is the most strategic thing they have done. In an interview, an ex-Apple designer, Mark Kawano, states:
“It’s the engineering culture and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody thinks about UX and design, not just the designers. And that makes everything about the product so much better — much more than any individual designer or design team.”
Designs have always been a differentiation factor for Apple. Its product development process is so harmonious and productive that the company is more likely to become the world’s first $1 trillion business organization.
Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief design officer, said: “The best ideas start as conversations.”
So what do we take from this?
That communicative, collaborative cooperation between developers, UX designers, and product managers can help them speak the same language. It allows them to practice divergent thinking and bounce ideas off each other. It leads to delivering more value to the end-user. Let’s look at other such tips for better UX management that every CTO must know.
Four Things Every CTO Must Know About UX Management
Develop an Outside-in Approach
The outside-in approach means you are making design and business decisions from the user’s POV. It manifests from a strong-user advocacy approach derived from practicing user-centered designs.
It starts from the beginning, through needs analysis, empathy mapping, persona advocacy, and stays throughout the end user testing, etc.
Dangers of the Inside-out Approach
Organizations that take the inside-out approach rely on the confidence of their sales and support teams. It makes businesses typically low on empathy and high on assumptions.
They believe that superior UX design comes from the designer’s creative and pragmatic prowess. It is only partially true. The inside-out approach is outdated. It is the antithesis of using design as a business strategy.
Outside-in Approach at Rescue
The outside-in approach puts user empathy at the heart of everything. It transforms empathy from a touchy-feely abstraction to a pragmatic design tool. It encourages teams to make contact with their end-users and conduct user research on a more personal level.
Around 2005, IBM changed its UCD group name to the “Outside-In Design” group. It was not just a mere rebranding move; they were trying to impact a shift in how they do business.
The last set of stakeholders, i.e., the users, hold the highest value.
Because the outside-in approach makes a great agile methodology.
Obsessing over the end-users and their needs is not a random creative burst of inspiration. Instead, it is a calculated, funded, supported, and strategic business decision. It’s about empowering a culture of UX so that the goal (to be outside-in) can manifest.
Win the Trust of Your Design Teams
The role of the CTO with UX designers can be a bit tricky. There is a fine line between being the “chief executive of the product” and getting into the nitty-gritty of designs. The trust between design teams and CTOs can wither when CTOs or PMs diminish the authority designers have on the designs. You must treat them as design partners rather than just feature designers.
The PM-Designer Relationship Conundrum
Why is this challenging with the CTO/PM-Designer relationship?
The temptation to become critical. Designs are more accessible to critique than codes or coding processes. While you cannot create the wonders that product designers can, on the surface, it feels easier to think that we should judge the designs just because we can. It can lead to a trust problem between CTO/ PMs and designers.
So what to do?
Here’s a quick list of things you can do when you sit down with your design teams to talk about work:
- Seek first to understand rather than react directly.
- Let the designers walk you through the creative process.
- Ask them about where they drew their inspiration from.
- Ask them about other patterns or designs they explored.
- Understand the reasons why they picked the final design.
- Ask questions about how the design fulfills a particular product goal and user need.
- Ask more open-ended questions with affirming prompts such as, “tell me more about…” or “I heard you say XYZ, can you say more about,” etc.
Taking these steps will help you build immediate trust with your design teams. Building trust and loyalty with your design teams will elevate your testing and discovery process.
Practice a Better Hand-off Between Design and Development Teams
It is often difficult for most teams to work together without having clashes. The same goes for the collaboration of development and designing teams — they’re both preoccupied with complex roles with fundamental differences. However, their collaboration is of utmost importance and provides lucrative opportunities for organizations to grow.
One of the most common challenges stems from the knowledge gap between both disciplines. Not all UX designers have the same level of technical expertise, just as all developers do not have the same knowledge of UX and UI. These knowledge gaps can often lead to misunderstanding and create communication barriers.
CTOs can help both teams in collaborating and managing UX workflows better. Here are some suggestions for the same:
Key Principles for Developers
Make sure that your developers are aware of the personas and are informed about design thinking. Involve the lead developers early on in discussions about new products and features. Make them a part of the conversation so that you can identify things incompatible with the framework (or technology) from the beginning.
Strategies of UX Designers
Involve designers and developers in collaborative brainstorming of potential solutions. It will help add new ideas and set a ground for better collaboration during the build phase.
Create a Living Style Guide
A component library or a mental framework can help collaborate better. It lets the team work on some features without the designer having to create high-fidelity artifacts. It ensures consistency from the beginning at a high level without spending much time on the prototypes.
Pair Developers and UX Designers
You can pair concerned developers and designers while building a feature, especially when a developer is working on it without a prototype. It could be a thirty-minute pairing session or longer. It would help you tighten up the design without unduly impacting the development effort. You can also use design sprints to deep-dive into challenging problems and explore solutions together.
Launch with More Confidence
Superior UX is crucial as it influences how users feel about your offerings. A good design is like a jackpot. Imagine walking into a store and finding everything in the order you need. That’s exactly what good designs feel to the users.
If your internal collaboration game is strong, it directly reflects upon your offerings. These three points will help you with exactly that and launch your offerings confidently.
IBM is the most prominent example of a corporate giant that has deeply invested in design thinking throughout the organization. They started investing in design thinking back in 2006 and still continue to do so. Design thinking helped them improve customer relations, and internally bridge gaps across product and design teams. This has dramatically improved their profits to a total ROI of 301%.
IBM did it, You can do it too
It is not always about the lack of infrastructure or resources that leads to an organization suffering through painful transitions. Many times it is a problem with governance. It boils down to how mature your organization is in terms of UX and how you have incorporated the value of user experience in your organization. UX is a critical differentiator in 2022. Leaving out good governance around UX strategies will limp your organization. And today, you can’t afford that.
CTOs operate as the conduit between the designer and developer teams. They focus on driving technology to deliver user excellence in UX. The role includes: being responsible for team relations, understanding the target market, and influencing the delivery of IT projects accordingly.
- Share your brand’s vision and direction with your team.
- Set a rigid and flexible process.
- Win the trust of your team and let them bring forward concerns easily.
- Listen and pay attention to details.
- Don’t let disagreements get personal.
- Credit the entire team for success.
- Develop an outside-in approach.
- Enable regular time for research.
- Set up peer designing.
In order to structure a UX team, define your goals and organizational context. Define the UX work that is required, define company size, and the complexity of the product. You can choose from the three main UX team structures: centralized, decentralized, and matrix structures.
Follow these steps thoroughly to come up with a coherent UX research team.
- Get the tools you need
- Hire a team with the right expertise
- Take help from your team to document or create processes
- Make sure everyone is on-board with the brand’s vision and mission