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Can you have your cake and eat it too?
A classic conundrum for any organization contemplating hiring an external UX design agency to supplement their in-house team. Over the past few years, enough buzz has been generated about the strategic value addition that UX design brings to organizations of every size and type. This has certainly generated a newfound need for design-focused companies that consider UX to be a core business competency.
While the number of companies developing and expanding in-house UX design teams is growing, their requirements are also increasing alongside. Such design-led businesses are looking to strike the right balance between the quick wins gained from an internal design team and the knowledge and expertise of an external agency. So, can these companies have their cake and eat it too?
In this blog, we’ll take a deep look at what begets the need to hire an external UX agency, its advantages, and tips to ensure smooth facilitation between the in-house and external team members.
Outsourcing a UX design agency: When should you do it?
Here’s the long and short of it – seeking an external design team makes sense only when you’re short on either resources or time, or both. However, limiting the scenario to just these two means that you’ll be missing out on the world of possibilities that come with outsourcing your UX needs to a specialist agency.
To truly understand your needs at an organizational level, it is important to figure out where your organization fits on the design maturity scale. There are several levels of UX maturity, and each level determines the approach you should be taking to ensure the implementation of UX-led changes.
Circling back to the world of possibilities that come alongside working with an external UX team brings with it numerous advantages, the foremost being domain knowledge. Experienced design teams have tested the waters across multiple industries that you can capitalize on. They are likely to have had a richer experience of working with wicked enterprise problems in complex sectors such as healthcare or telecommunication, for instance.
In addition to working on actual design creatives, professional UX agencies also offer specialized UX research and usability testing services that may not fall under the capabilities of your in-house team.
How in-house and external teams work in unison
Building on their capabilities
The need to hire an external UX agency arises either when the internal team is overburdened, or may lack the expertise to handle a few complexities. In these scenarios, outsourcing the workload helps the internal team let off some steam and also hone their skills while working collaboratively.
Transfer of knowledge
Internal design teams are in the best position to understand organizational goals from the product’s perspective. Therefore, their guidance to external teams is invaluable. In fact, the success of the collaboration hinges upon how well the internal team handles the knowledge transfer. As far as the external team is concerned, they bring their vast repository of UX problem solving for a range of clients, which can manifest in the form of newer approaches and fresh perspectives.
Getting an external team can help amplify the UX voice in an organization. This can be a great way to validate the ideas of the in-house design team and help UX gain a foothold within the company. The external UXers bring in clean objectivity that is completely devoid of internal company politics. Therefore, theirs is a perspective that can open doors for UX transformations in your company.
Facilitating collaboration between internal and external UX teams
Getting the internal UX team to work in harmony with the external members can seem a bit challenging at first. However, it does not have to be so provided the project kicks off based on some ground rules for everyone to follow. Here’s how you can ensure that both teams work in unison for the best possible UX outcome.
Define responsibilities at the get-go
To ensure that both teams do not step on each other’s toes, it is important to clearly define responsibilities before commencement. Any kind of overlap in duties can only result in a power struggle and add to the confusion, which can cause avoidable delays. Clearly defining the segments of ownership ensures that the work stays on track and flows smoothly.
Here’s what a delineated workflow may look like – the internal team chalks out the strategy and the external team takes on user research. Then, the internal team takes on the research data synthesis and defines the problems to be solved. Both teams can ideate based and test prototypes to see which works the best. Regular check-in meetings with both teams help in keeping each other updated about the progress and smooth over any hurdles.
Make time for onboarding
Integrating a new team with an existing one is not something to be accomplished in a hurry. Make sure to allow ample time in terms of days or weeks for the onboarding process so that both get acquainted with the other design team’s way of functioning.
Fostering a sense of camaraderie and familiarity takes time and cannot be forced. Therefore, it is crucial that both teams are given breathing space to get used to each other. How can this be facilitated? For instance, begin with letting the internal team share details of the company’s existing style guides and design system in an introductory workshop. If your workforce has returned to the office, the introductory meetings can be held in person so as to encourage familiarity with the others’ company culture. Letting the external team work from your own office can also help to foster camaraderie provided there is the space and means for it.
Have success metrics in place
Measuring the RoI of UX is important when it comes to delivering the right experiences to the users and ensuring that the product is achieving its intended goals. While this is true of all UX projects, it becomes even more crucial to devise metrics to ensure the external team’s objectives and goals are outlined from the beginning. Make sure that these are communicated to the external team with absolute clarity so both sides are aware of what constitutes a success or a failure.
Since project managers usually take charge of ensuring smooth functionality when 2 teams are involved in a single project, they can be tasked with devising the metrics for both teams. PMs hold the responsibility for ensuring that the work flows optimally amongst both teams, therefore, setting up deliverables for remote teams can be handed to them.
Keep communication lines open and functional
Good communication is at the heart of every successful collaboration. An ideal outcome can be achieved when the two UX teams work together and have ongoing communication open throughout the project. There are numerous project management and communication tools that are tailored to facilitate remote collaboration such as Slack, Google Drive, Basecamp, Jira, etc.
As a specialist enterprise UX agency, we have always followed the practice of inviting client teams to join in our daily stand-up meetings to keep them continuously updated. This ensures that the client team stays aware and updated on any hiccups that may lead to delays or revisions. Keeping clients in the loop with periodic touch-base meetings is also important to ensure that updates are shared and differences are ironed out in real-time, not allowing any frustrations to fester for long.
Encourage continuous feedback
Feedback is essential to ensuring design coherency throughout the project. Since design itself is iterative in nature – building on continuous feedback loops, collaborative projects such as these should not be any different. Inviting the concerned stakeholders periodically to share their feedback ensures that the project remains on track to fulfilling its intended goals.
Hiring an external UX design team is a decision driven by a certain kind of requirements, and can be a definitive value addition to any design project. The key to the success of such collaborative projects lies in how well the project manager manages to quell the “us” versus “them” mentality. It is important to nurture the collaborative spirit and remind teams that they have a common goal – that of designing a successful product for users. Have you worked with an external UX design team? Do share your experience with us in the comments section.