Transformation. Change. Innovation. – The world is an exciting place at the moment. Overlooking any anxieties around complex political situations at large (!), innovation continues at pace within both the private and the public sectors (1), and that is something to be celebrated.

It excites me that many organisations have embraced the practice of listening to internal users, and then feasibly acting upon feedback, to ensure their operational services are, or at least aim to be(!), a pleasure to use. In other words, they are harnessing the power of user research.

This is a fantastic way of retaining and attracting employees who’ll also end up being more efficient at their jobs, because you’ve listened to them and recognised the value they add to your business.

 

 

Such internal change projects can often go hand in hand with the digitisation of business processes which can also bring huge cost savings (2, 3). For those of you reading this as members of a transformation team without a user researcher – take note. And those of you who have internal researchers – it would be great to hear any similar (or different) thoughts and experiences – if you’d like to leave any comments on the contact us page, I’d love to hear them…

Change, specifically, innovation required for progressive change, requires one key ingredient in every single organisation – effective communication. All too often in large organisations implementing far-reaching changes, communication of change programs doesn’t filter through to teams who are often directly responsible for the work being done. This means that big decisions are being made in a siloed and front-loaded way, without an understanding of the needs of those teams, or often the larger strategies of the organisation. With each new thoughtless decision, a worm is being added to a can, ready to emerge, wriggling, later down the line (4).

What’s that got to do with user research? Well, in my experience, an awful lot. Well-conducted user research not only helps designers, product owners and others make informed decisions, it can also catalyse new and exciting channels of communication within organisations that can help to knit together a wider picture for internal users (and get rid of those worms early on!) This means that when business changes are made, over the longer term, they not only take into account direct user needs around user interface design or content, but also solve the deeper  needs often existing around poor communication by encouraging new lines of human interaction. And by the way, the fantastic thing about having engaged internal users is that this often results in engaged external users (5) – and so begins a self-perpetuating cycle.

A great example of this added value emerged from a recent project I’ve worked upon. Through research conversations with internal users across the organisation, we quickly identified that users were clearly not engaging with each other as much as they needed to in order to progress the business change that needed to accompany our project. If we didn’t act, the whole benefit of the project could have been on the line. This led us to push for the setup of new ways for them to make shared decisions on such changes as they embraced the new service.

Through further conversations, it also became clear that not only were users not interacting with each other, but they were also not aware of several projects linked to ours that were going to really alter the way that they worked day-to-day. Simply bringing them up to speed on ongoing activities felt like a way of creating shock absorbers, preventing abrupt change from causing unnecessary stress down the line; information which they in-turn could cascade to other users, exacerbating the positive effects and transforming them to proponents of our work.

Sometimes keeping lots of staff engaged with each other and up-to-date with what’s occurring  can be time consuming and difficult (hence, it is often neglected, poorly delegated, or actively ignored!), but in the long run, it can make the difference between the success and failure of a project (6, 7). If this neglect is something that you recognise, then user researchers could present a hidden opportunity to break that mould for you.

The fact that our users did not know the full picture was both a help and a hindrance to our research. It meant that research often took longer than planned, as many sessions were spent explaining the purpose and scope of our project. But the explanations that we took the time to give were helpful in the sense that they brought our users up-to-date with what we were doing and built enthusiasm for us to visit them again; they felt respected and valued – just as they should. Given the added time taken, any extra communications role played by user researchers should certainly be recognised, both as a skill that they contribute, and as a cost to the project – but a worthy cost that could make all the difference.

Without engaging, thoughtful and communicative research, such opportunities for added value from researchers, for cross team communication and for keeping employees aligned could be lost. This isn’t to say that these things may not be happening without input from user researchers; but it is my view that having a researcher ‘in the field’ that is regularly communicating with users, face to face, getting to know them well; brings longer term benefits than may be obvious at first glance and is glossed over with peril.

So spend that extra time communicating and building change together with your users. Learn from them and let them learn from you; build lasting change.  Don’t rush to the finish line – even if it does cost a little more. If you do, you may find that nobody has crossed it with you.