UX in Big Ships: How To Stay The Course

Ship ahoy!

When most people think of UX, it’s shiny surfaces and snazzy interactions that come to mind.  You think, start ups and the Airbnbs of the world, but it isn’t always so.

Some of us have the opportunity of doing things much different but with the same principle, yet no one seems to talk about this. Sometimes you work on internal software that will never be shown to the internet, yet you have made your customer service agents or your developers work a lot better. Sometimes your work consists mainly of making incremental changes to existing software. The little things that matter.

There was a bit of culture shock when I had to move from a big start-up company (300+ people) to a real big one (13,00o+). From one were I could clearly see the chain of command and I was  number 5 from the CEO to one where I’m number 30, 50? A place where a color change to a single button can take days to get signed off, yet we have to work, and we work under such circumstances without pulling our hairs out. How? I think these are some of the important things to know when working in such places.

These principles are from the Shipping industry.

1. Big ships cannot stop on a dime. 

Ships may require as much as 5 miles to stop (with gears in full reverse). The solution is simple: stay out of their way.

In big companies, User Experience would ideally cover Platform, Content Tools, Fraud + Risk Mgmt, CRM/Loyalty Tools, Payment Processing, Marketing Content, Back Office operations where if one of these goes down, UX is compromised. There is a lot at stake, and big ships which have been operating on legacy systems cannot simply stop one day and migrate all systems. You need to have patience, understand the background of the system and focus on creating something worthwhile in the area you find yourself or just stay out of the way, you could be crushed by the politics.

2. Big ships do not turn very well. 

A 500 foot, 8000-ton ship needs over a third of a mile to turn around.

Most organizations will claim that they work in an Agile way but the reality is the best you get is a hybrid of systems. Even when a particular team has migrated to a certain technology, relics from the past show up every now and then.  Don’t be discouraged, the ship is still on the move and on the sea.

Sometimes, people will fall off the ship during the turn, it pays to keep an eye out on them, throw a lifeboat or just make sure they are safe but there’s still a ship and many other people to attend to. UX managers need to stay positive but realistic with their team, protecting them from the ongoings of the wider company. There’s no way anyone can do their best work in a negative atmosphere.

3. Often, crew do not speak your language.

Do not assume anything.

Too often we go into organizations filled up with terminology, designer jargon that makes no sense past the Jared Spools of the world. Legacy mindsets are often more of a hindrance than tools or processes. Try to get into how people understand things and what their needs are e.g speak figures and numbers to business people so you can communicate better. When people are on the same page there’s hardly any limitation to the things they can get done.

One last thing

Never stop caring about people. You may have to care much more in such organizations, but when a UX professional loses their empathy, hope is lost. The big ship will turn eventually, Once such a ship commits to a turn, it will not waiver. Maybe not in one year, two or five years, but one small step for a User Experience designer can lead to a giant leap for an entire organization.

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One thought on “UX in Big Ships: How To Stay The Course

  1. Pingback: UXCampLondon, Spring 2014 | Antonia Anni

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