New culture = new product


IBM is a large corporation. Although it’s in the midst of a design transformation, there are large swaths of the company which are still run using largely old-school processes. They’re not yet transformed. There are a multitude of teams like this, my previous team included.

Part of this old-school approach includes a lack of user-focus and an absence of meaningful data. This drives decision-making based on opinions, or the loudest voice in the room. If a large client wanted something changed, we changed it. If a specific VP had an idea, that idea drove the team’s direction.

During my time at IBM, our business unit’s (BU’s) Director of Research was focused on facilitating culture change. He worked across all products within our BU, and I was focused on our BU’s largest product team. My greatest achievement was facilitating a more democratic decision-making process. Instead of the loudest voice in the room leading a discussion - let the data drive it.

As a researcher working towards this change, it was my goal to:

1. Increase stakeholder buy-in by engaging them throughout the research process - giving them a sense of ownership of the work.

2. Empower the team to advocate for user needs by making them easy to reference in their own work — with reusable artifacts and approachable data.

3. Strengthen our findings by taking a mixed-method approach, adding to the depth of insight.

Before this shift, when an associate member of a team spoke up in a meeting, their voice was not consistently heard. But, when user needs and data were drive discussions, we began to see a significant shift in the way teams approached solving a problem.

We engaged each member of the team, from PMs to dev and clients to support, in the research process. This encouraged everyone to feel ownership of the research findings - leading to continued advocacy of the user when decisions were being made. And ultimately, a more democratic culture.

Culture change, manifested

That moment when…

The VP of Development funded an involved research study
We regularly involved executives in analysis of NPS data, both sharing the data with them and teaching them how to examine it on their own. This made it possible for them to understand the value of further research inquiry independently, and led to dev leadership contributing significant funds to further some studies.

The VP of product management championed personas
& the dev team got involved
Previously, product management had struggled to relate the design team’s sole persona back to their decision-making. It was a symbol, but not of value when making decisions. We crafted personas built off of real, actionable data, and involved all disciplines in parts of the synthesis process. This empowered our teammates to champion the value of personas and utilize them in their process.

The dev team had the strongest positive reaction to this work:

We (devs) don’t get very much direct exposure to customers (probably a problem on its own) and most of the info we get is filtered down from other people. It was interesting to be able to hear the actual words and their actual opinions
— Sr. Dev Lead

UX writers could independently test & defend their decisions
Previously, UX writers needed to have a UX researcher conduct their testing. Due to lack of resources, this led to no testing being done before launch of changes. It also meant that once agains, decisions were being made based on opinions. By taking time out every week to assist in up-skilling our UX Writers in the basics of comprehension testing, terminology testing, and usability testing (for basic interactions utilized in education tools) — we increased testing of UX Writing deliverables for our team by ~75%.

Feedback on the impact of this:

Your willingness to take the time to review test approaches and questions has also enabled my team to adopt User Testing and apply to their work.
— Director of UX Writing & Education