The ship Discovery, Antartica, 1901
Earlier, I posted about Mike Gualtieri’s recent Forrester paper (I should credit his co-author also, Mary Gerush), titled “Business Analysts: Seize The Opportunity To Deliver Compelling User Experiences“. From reading the initial abstract, I challenged the thesis that a Business Analyst can truly deliver the value that a user-experience designer can and committed to reviewing the paper in greater detail. I have, and I’ve engaged in some really interesting and thought-provoking dialogue with Mike, that I want to open up here a little.
First and foremost, if you are working in the enterprise, where I believe that user-experience designers have the opportunity to fundamentally unlock the value inherent in the digital enterprise, then I highly recommend subscribing to and following Mike’s research. I have spoken with many enterprise customers, where internal advocates for user-experience struggle to articulate value within a technology-centric organization, and Mike’s work is most definitely going to help you address the impedance mismatches that recur.
As I read Mike’s paper, I really enjoyed the setup; he does a great job articulating the importance and value of the design process, as well as the traits and characterists of the value that a user-centered approach brings to the enterprise.
My initial contention still remains (though I’ll also represent Mike’s position here, which softens my pushback a little) however.
Traditionally, Business Analysts would be responsible in an organization for creating business requirements for software products, these requirements would be captured in a specification/business requirement document, and these would be passed to an engineering team for estimation and implementation. Oftentimes, there is zero design featured in the process – and what design is involved is often “small d design”, that focuses more on adherence to style guides and templates, than the more fundamental value of (big D) Design that really seeks to deliver a product that more ergonomically meets the needs of users, as well as the needs of a business. The Design process hinges on user-centered design methods, most notably observation methods that inform the solution.
Mike proposes that to address this shortcoming, of little or no Design in the process, is to “give UX eyes” to Business Analysts, to encourage the armies of business analysts in the industry to learn to “see the world as UX designers see it”, to employ user-centered design methods (ethnographic research, user interviews, understanding personas, etc).
Here’s my concern; I think the value of the above-mentioned activities isn’t in their execution, but in the environment they create for a Designer to Design. While a business analyst might employ these methods, without Design in their DNA, I don’t believe they are going to get to the same solution and innovation as a designer…they may observe pains through the lens of a user, but it’s what they then do with them that concerns me. Or more specifically, what they don’t.
This process of Discovery is where I believe most of the magic happens in our application developments; it’s where we uncover the insights that reveal the “soul of the application”. These soul searchers are designers however, able to translate insights and observations into ideas.
Furthermore, I believe and advocate that “Requirements inform Design, but Design informs Requirements”. Innovation rests upon prototyping and “failing early”, and where we are most successful I believe, is where we immediately act upon insights with Design prototypes…as we test the success of these design concepts, they in turn drive features in the requirements. Rarely do these innovations emerge as interpretation of a requirement.
However, this is where I think Mike and I agree more than we disagree! I asked Mike if I could open up some of our dialogue here, I think the key comment he made back to me that opens up my thinking is this:
“Our premise here is that most application development teams don’t know anything about UX design. But, they are the very people who end up “designing” the user experience, usually by accident. So we are just trying to turn the dial a little bit in the right direction by getting app dev pros (in this case BAs) to start thinking about how they can pragmatically contribute to better UX in applications that their team develops. If we tell them it is important and to go hire a UX team, it won’t always happen.”
I think this really sums up my philosophical difference; I’ve been doing some work recently with Geoffrey Moore, and a phrase he often uses is “Crossing the Chasm in the Belly of the Whale”, which I would paraphrase as untethering an approach temporarily from the desired (ideal ?) end-state until you can drive it to scale, and then fold it back into the process.
As I relate these ideas, I think my position of “user-centered methods belong to user-experience designers” is the crossing of the chasm, while “business analysts should embrace user-centered design methods” is a tactic (and perhaps not the only tactic..) that can be employed today, while we are in the belly of the whale…
What’s interesting for me with Mike’s approach, is the scale that it offers…there are many more business analysts inside enterprise IT organizations than there are unfortunately user-experience designers. While I believe it compromises the end-product, is it worse than having no design sensibility at all ? I’m wrestling my own conscience here…
This whole dialogue has caused me to pull up some old presentations and papers that I started writing some time ago, as I was helping system integrators think about how they might bring user-experience design into their technology and business consulting practices. It was the idea of a “User Experience Capability Maturity Model”, that describes the spectrum of “UX maturity” within a team or organization, similar to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) from Carnegie Mellon, formerly prevalent in software development.
I’m going to think more about that in the weeks ahead, as I think Mike and I may just be plotting a couple of points along the same curve.