IA Summit: Designing Influence in Organizations

by Luke Wroblewski April 11, 2010

At the IA Summit in Phoenix, AZ Jess McMullin outlined an design-centric approach to gaining influence in his talk: Designing Influence in Organizations. Here's my notes from his presentation:

  • If we know what makes a product great, why isn't every product great? Success has actually proven to be the exception not the rule. How do we fix this?
  • The number reason IT projects fail is lack of user involvement. Even projects where user experience in involved are not guaranteed to succeed. It's not the only factor. The team, the market, and the client can all impact success
  • Organizations can really cripple products. Sign off meetings are a big part of the problem. There's a huge imbalance in the relationship in sign off meetings. Participatory design can help but you need to be able to influence how groups work together.
  • In UX careers we have a double s curve. In the first part we learn about skills, tools, peers and get really excited but no one else cares. But we need to figure out what other people care about. We have to own the problem. It is not about blaming the problem on the client.
  • Every company has two organization charts. One is the formal management model. The other is the influence model that has a say in the decisions at get made.

How do you influence outcomes?

  • If you take your ability to design for human beings, you already have many of the talents and the skills you need. Just apply them to an influence problem.
  • You need to ground your arguments with evidence. Without fluency you may not be making the right argument. You need empathy to realize peoples concerns are valid. You need authenticity to make sure you come across as concerned vs. Power hungry.
  • People, decisions, and actions are the components of influence. Who are the people that can make decisions, who do they listen to. You need to understand who needs to be involved and when.
  • Decisions are the engine for influence. This is where you shift from “this is a good idea” to “we are going to do this”. Some decisions are more important than others.
  • Actions are where we put decisions into play. Have a big picture plan then work on it in iterations. To get there. work backwards from the outcome you want to see happen. What will you see, hear, read, do, and feel that is different from today? If you can't articulate this difference you don't know if you are getting closer. Then think what would have to be true for that outcome to happen. Consider the decisions that need to happen and prioritize them.
  • What is the very next decision you need influence on with who? Collect background information so you know what matters to that person and the situation. Connect with individuals by having conversations. Care and confirm background information -this allows you to connect with people about the things they care about. Contribute your own ideas. Create together by sketching and drawing together to get shared beliefs. Commit that person to a specific action through a "will you?" question. This turns the conversation to commitment. Co-own the result to build solidarity with people.
  • All this sounds great but we are still working with human beings. People who actively oppose you feel like they have something to lose in the outcome you are pursuing. You need to find opportunities for them in the outcome you are pursuing.

The influence process is a design process and you already have the tools for that. It is a human process so you need to understand what others need and why. Influence is an iterative process. Don't be discouraged if it does not work the first time.