Tuesday, February 12, 2008


One of the most powerful roles the small core UX team can play is that of trainer. The team will need to, over time, implement a comprehensive training program that's repeatable enough to be efficient and flexible enough to meet the needs of each team. Here are some early thoughts about the training program:

Run through everybody in the following rough sequence:

  1. Surrogate evangelists (initial development team, key sponsors, product owners, )
  2. People who need specific skills (scrummasters and business analysts)
  3. Everybody else, one team at a time

Early on, pick one or two development teams and do a deep UX initiation with the whole team. The best team for this would be one that is highly respected by other teams that that's already very open to UX values. This team becomes a key evangelist and thought-partner in creating future trainings and in evolving the model.

Next, bring key sponsors on board. These are people in our web organization who manage the overall business portfolios--they manage the overall demand coming in from customers, set the high level priorities, oversee product management, and they usually supervise the product owners and SMEs. Getting these folks on board with the overall UX movement will grease a lot of wheels, help me get a good budget, and prime the pump with everyone else. (After a year of informal evangelism targeted at these folks, along with a great directive from our director, these folks basically understand the importance of user experience.)

I want to do one formal session with key sponsors to give them three things:

  • Effective language and approaches to use with their stakeholders and their teams. We've learned a lot about how to evangelize UX, and I want these key managers to be as effective as possible.
  • Introduce them to the base tool set, so they have some background when their staff start talking to them about personas, card sorts, IA, etc.
  • Give them specific assignments. I haven't worked this out yet, but I want to help them channel their support for UX. Some possibilities are...
  • Each manager should incorporate some standard language into the formal objectives of themselves and their staff, to give everyone financial incentives to address UX issues. We can give them some boilerplate language as a starting point.
  • Each manager should ask some specific questions during weekly demos to help the team stay focused on UX, and to help the managers maintain a good sense of where each team is at in this regard. We can help them formulate these questions.
  • Each manager should let their staff know that they are encouraged, and in some cases required, to attend UX-related training. This gives staff permission to take an hour or two (or a day or two) away from their deadlines to do UX-related training.

Next, Product Owners:

  • Evangelize them on user experience
  • Introduce them to the core toolset and the support available
  • Think together about how to build UX into the product backlog and sprint exit criteria
  • Work with them on an ongoing shared product backlog for things like creating and implementing design patterns or templates across the site

Next (or at the same time), Scrummasters:

  • Start with an introduction to the kinds of help we have to offer and how to recognize when they need that help.
  • Then transition the "training session" to a collaborative working session to come up with some shared best practices and places to innovate, using as a starting point the "UX-in-the-product lifecycle" model (I'll blog on this soon).

After Product Owners & Scrummasters, hit the Business Analysts:

  • Evangelize--give them something to live for to replace the requirements documents that have dominated their work lives for the last 3 years
  • Introduce them to the core toolset and the support available
  • Give them the hands-on skills to do things like user-centered stories, effective use of personas, and card sorts.

By this time we'll have a pretty decent skeleton of a support system in place, and three people on each team who can tangibly make use of general excitement about the user experience, we then go from team to team showing them:

  • how valuable UX is
  • how easy we're making it for them to be successful
  • how to know when they need help

Sound like a lot of work just on training? Yes, but less work than it would be to embed a UX specialist in every team, and in the long run everything will be easier if the development teams are convinced they need user-centered design in order to produce optimal results.

I'm guessing that the core UX team could create the bulk of the training curriculae in one or two short (2-week) sprints. Using 3 or 4 people from the core UX team as trainers/evangelists, we could blow through this program pretty quickly, simultaneously creating demand for our services; enabling self-service; and establishing some shared agreements for how we'll all work together.

What do you think? Is this crazy? Way too much overhead for agile? Or is it a sensible way to leverage a small UX team across many development teams? We'll give it a try and find out. In the mean time, what's your advice?

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