UI16: Experience Leadership

by Luke Wroblewski November 8, 2011

At the User Interface 16 Conference in Boston, Kim Goodwin discussed the impact of culture on successful design leadership. Here are my notes from her Experience Leadership presentation:

  • Managers are assigned. Leaders emerge naturally out of a team.
  • How do you know if you are you a leader? Are people coming to you with questions? Are they asking for your advice? Leaders influence others to accomplish goals.
  • You don’t need an title to be a leader, but you do need the respect of your peers and organizations.
  • Effective leaders make people want to volunteer. Why volunteer: do I believe in person and their vision, do they value me & my skills, can I trust them?
  • Effective leaders know their style. What assumptions do you have and how do you prefer to behave? How do you learn best? Through big ideas or concrete examples? We all have a natural range of skills -look for people who supplement your skills.
  • Many organizations are looking for UX leaders. There’s not enough out there -this leads to frustration for many organizations.
  • Sometimes companies do this to themselves because they are looking for “unicorns” -people who can do it all. Often these organizations don’t know what they are looking for.
  • When people can’t find candidates with lots of experience, they try to bring in less qualified team members and tech/train them. It takes about 10,000 hours to master your craft. That’s roughly 5 years.
  • You need one mentor or practice leader for every 3-4 junior designers.
  • Not every senior designer likes to mentor or is good at it. Practice leadership is important but its not good enough.
  • There’s a lot of obstacles between a good idea and getting that idea into user’s hands. Moving through these obstacles is the role of a leader.

The Role of Culture

  • An organization’s culture is usually to blame for process problems. How focused are they on design, on users, on quality?
  • Cultures are manifest in systems, artifacts, stated values, and shared assumptions. The most important indicator is where they put their resources or budget.
  • If we don’t understand cultures, we will be their victims. If you don’t know what makes people tick, unintended consequences can ensue. We need to be masters of culture and leaders of change.
  • Challenge to designers: find your leadership path -what are you good at, can you help others find that path? Develop a deep understanding of how culture works and practice your leadership skills.
  • Leadership requires different deliverables and different media.
  • The real test of a leader is whether or not they create a culture that allows an organization to continue forward without them.

Creating Change

  • Organizational change is individual change. We have to change the mind’s of people and their assumptions. It’s human nature to resist change.
  • Change happens when dissatisfaction + clarity+ process is greater than loss.
  • Big changes takes a long time. It doesn’t work as a big event, you need a long term plan with milestones.
  • Design as a pedestal doesn’t work either as it silos off the design team from the rest of the organization.
  • Kurt Lewin’s model of change: Unfreeze -shake people loose from existing norms. Transition, then refreeze. The new culture needs time to take root.
  • John Kotter’s model: develop a guiding coalition, and get short-term wins. Don’t decide to boil the ocean upfront. A coalition lets you have multiple change leaders not just one person.
  • Continuous change model: there are four types of change agents. It starts with influencers or evangelists. They sell ideas to the people who can make change. Then autocrats (people with power) can dictate and move things into practice. Then architects are required to establish the systems needed to put things into place. Finally educators tell the stories and help train people.
  • You don’t have to play all of these roles. Find people that can help you.
  • Plan cultural change as carefully as you plan any design project. The biggest factor is behavior of leaders. People pay attention to what leaders do, not what they say.
  • Conversations and decisions are like a leader’s design medium. They are what leaders have to work with.
  • Stress shrinks our leadership range and makes us less effective. We have to take care of ourselves as leaders.