06 Jun 2019 by Christopher Nash
Set your UX work up for success by learning to ask questions like a boss

Like a Boss

Remember the classic Venn diagram for UX, balancing user and business needs with the area of overlap being the sweet spot of value? One thing that can often throw off the balance we aim for is directing too much of our time and attention to developing only one side.

How does it happen, and what can we do to bring some more balance back into the ideal UX approach?

For that, let’s take a side trip to the hockey rink.

So what’s your curve?

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a hockey player, and you’re dreaming of playing in the big league. Of even being an elite-level player in the NHL. Someone who makes an impact. And you’re willing to do the work to make that happen.

Where do you put your time and attention in order to develop into (hopefully) such an elite player as Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

The list of must-learns is long, and filled with a dizzying number of skills, tactics, history and strategy that players of any level and age can easily spend countless hours diving down countless rabbit holes.

Let’s take just one simple example: your hockey stick. What *should* be one of the world’s simplest inventions (it’s a stick) is something you can spend your entire life researching, trying out, and arguing over. When choosing your stick, you need to know:

  • Are you left or right handed?
  • Modern composite or old school wooden stick? One piece or two?
  • Cheap or expensive? What brand? Bauer? CCM? Warrior? Something else?
  • What length?
  • Which one of 100 available blade curve patterns is your favourite? Open or closed face? Square or rounded toe?
  • What flex? What kick point? What lie?
  • Grip or no grip on the shaft? Classic or concave shaft? Rounded or squared shaft corners? Tapered or non tapered?
  • Black or white tape? Do you tape from the heel to the toe or toe to the heel? In what pattern? Wax or no wax? And how do you tape the knob — or do you use a prefab end?

As much fun as it is to geek out on all the stick technology, here’s the problem.

When the game is actually on, you’re not helping anyone by staying in the locker room and arguing over whether the P28 curve (McDavid) is better than a P29 curve (Crosby). You need to be out on the ice, playing the game and making an impact, and to contribute to the game like a Wickenheiser or Fuhr or Draisaitl, you need to be deeply knowledgeable and skilled at so many other things than what curve is statistically better for what shot.

Here’s the thing. We do that as UX practitioners all the time.

Many of us spend our time and attention learning about, and debating the merits of, whatever happens to be the newest design methodology or design hack. We geek out on what excites us, and those UX trends seem to live mostly on one side of the user/business Venn diagram. That one side grows at the expense of the other, and when you don’t have balance, you’re robbing everyone of the value you can be providing.

User Needs Business Needs
Focusing so much attention on learning about and developing skills and techniques in one circle means we neglect to develop complementary skills that build our abilities within the business circle.

One way to correct this? Ask questions like a boss.

Like a Boss

Asking questions like a boss means going beyond asking the typical “business” questions to a client regarding a given project — what’s the goal, what are the metrics, what’s the budget. Those are important, of course. But if we want to truly speak to and understand the business needs of this equation, we need to go to a higher level.

Asking questions like a boss means putting yourself in the shoes of an owner. Be the president and CEO. Be the entrepreneur and founder.

A boss needs an awareness not only of your specific project work, but how it ties in to the entire organization now and years into the future. So approaching your work by getting an understanding of the business needs from the highest level will give you a much more balanced approach to any UX work.

What does that sound like in practice? Here are some example questions to get you going:

  • What impact will this work have on other business units?
  • Can we manage this product/feature/service in the years ahead? How?
  • What impact does this have on the tech stack? What influence does IT have on internal direction?
  • Does this align with our efforts and priorities related to overall customer experience? Corporate social responsibility/sustainability?
  • Change management — how prepared is the organization for the change we’re building? How prepared is it to help users through the change?
  • Does the whole org understand its why, and how this project can fit with that understanding?
  • What will this mean for our working relationship with: Regulatory bodies and legislation? Legal compliance? Security? Unions? Health and safety requirements?
  • Where does the organization truly sit on the continuum of: Digital maturity? Capacity? Resourcing? Innovation scale? Ability to leverage data?

Learning to ask questions like a boss will help grow the business need-side of the UX Venn diagram, and that can bring balance to your overall UX approach to maximize the amount of value you can bring to any project.

Remember that the goal is always to balance attention between user needs and business needs. Geeking out on hockey sticks is absolutely allowed and encouraged. Just be sure to balance it out with learning how to ask questions like a boss.

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