Jun 18, 2008

Managing UX Teams


I gave a talk yesterday at the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) conference about managing user experience teams. (It's a version of a talk that I gave last year at the IA Summit and again at UX Week.) In it, I talk about the importance of personality in hiring, and how personality and can make or break a fit.

The work we do is so collaborative—if people can’t work well together, then they certainly won’t be able to do successful design work.

I also talked about my cardinal rule, which is this: Don’t hire closed people. This seemed to strike a nerve, and several people asked for my notes, so here they are:

Don’t hire closed people. Here’s why.

People who practice user experience design are usually generalists. We do research, strategy, information architecture, interaction design. We do everything from determining the strategy of the home page to deciding what should go in a radio button. No one does all of this perfectly. In fact, I think that eventually this work brings out everyone’s fatal flaw—poor time management, being too detail-oriented, having trouble seeing the big picture—whatever it is.

But as a manager, you can work through most things if the person is open. Here’s what I mean by “open.” Open people can look at the world around them and the see affect they have on others. They can empathize. When there’s a problem they look to their own behavior, as well as others’ behavior, to see where the problem lies. They like to solve problems. They rejoice in their own success, as well as the success of others. They will make their best attempt to hear others’ opinions even if they don’t always agree with them.

Closed people, on the other hand, are very difficult to reason with. Things may go fine as long as they happen to agree with the people around them (or vice versa), but it’s very hard to resolve conflict with them because they lack empathy. They have a tendency to blame others, rather than looking to their own behavior when there’s a problem. Closed people may work well by themselves, but they are terrible collaborators. They drive teams crazy. They are a manager’s worst nightmare.

Now, no one is always open or closed, but people do have tendencies to be one way or the other. Avoid hiring closed people and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Here’s the full presentation.

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Interact Seattle » Blog Archive » User eXperience Digest No.'s picture

[...] Managing UX teams [...]

User Experience, Usability and Design links for February 26t's picture

[...] Managing UX teamsI gave a talk yesterday at the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) conference about managing user experience teams. (It’s a version of a talk that I gave last year at the IA Summit and again at UX Week.) In it, I talk about the importance of personality in hiring, and how personality and can make or break a fit. [...]

User Experience Design Career Development – Part 2: Beyond t's picture

[...] Katrina Alcorn on managing UX teams [...]

Pat M's picture

Great presentation and helpful take-aways. I will be sharing it with people who are just now stepping into team-lead roles. And slides 42 and 44 are great -- I can share them with my manager, team, family, peers now when they ask "and what do you do all day?"

Tom Humbarger's picture

Katrina - this is a very good presentation and blog post. I wanted to let you know that I re-posted the slides and a link to your blog post in the Resources library of the Catalyze Community at this URL: http://www.catalyze.org/Resources/tabid/871/Default.aspx?FolderId=265&Fi....

Thanks for sharing...


Matthew DeVille's picture

I saw your presentation and really enjoyed it! It really helped me come to the realization that my career has been stagnating for a bit and I need a change. I hope you don't mind, but I wrote a post about the presentation on my blog and how it affected my thinking: http://www.rationalrhino.com/2008/06/21/what-a-week-upa-2008-day-1/

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sharing the insights and thanks for the insiration!

Katrina Alcorn's picture

Mmmm. Good question. How do you know if someone is open or closed? I don't have a formula for this, but after many years of interviewing and hiring, my instincts have gotten quite strong (as evidenced by the star-studded cast of UX practitioners who work for Hot Studio today). My advice would be to listen to your intuition and involve other people from your team in the process.

Peter P. Jesella's picture

"Pushing into touch-feely territory" with "lofty goals".

I find human communication in the form of dialogue to be mostly silence and wonder why?

On April 9th, 2008 I gave Maria Giudice and other speakers at the Commonwealth Club talk on "Collaborating for Change" my 30-year wish, and requested some written feedback. It appears in real life and time, all have priorities that preclude them from making this happen

This being:
From "Proposal on U.S. National Policy regarding establishing a Participatory Citizenship System" at the May World Affairs Council Asilomar Conference

"HR 1730 ? 1979/80, HR 2230 ? 1981/82 A bill in the House of Representatives to awaken and enhance a nation-wide voluntary service system, through a superior registration and feedback policy. Today with the Internet network, such a system provides the potential of more efficient coordination, impact if policy makers are willing to listen, think, consider, reflect on, educate, and
Advocate to concerned citizens and politicians."

Three-part theme:
Educational [decision-making] Democracy;
Constructive [sweat-equity] Citizenship; &
National [economic-individual] Security

My little wish is for a dialogue about this with Hot Studio's CEO and billing representative regarding the cost for one individual to effectively challenge the internet world with a robust Drupal, Content Management website. And also understand why the Contact page on your site is blank?

My big wish is to see the U.S. Congress debate and vote up or down on such a simple but touch-feely territory, but with lofty goals, this core idea, and if passed seeing the President of the United States clearly articulate why it is placed into law or vetoed by the President.

That's about it, onto your next blog.
Peter Jesella alias http://www.gosella.com still under construction years after its creation

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