Blog post

Breaking Through the Enterprise-UX Disconnect

By Brian Prentice | January 29, 2014 | 1 Comment

Let’s face it. Enterprise software is the land that UX design forgot.

Whether it’s an internal enterprise application development team, or the R&D department of an enterprise software vendor, the practices commonly found in UX design agencies the world over are poorly understood and rarely implemented. Pre-development ethnographic research is almost never conducted. Personas seem confusing and if ever applied are done so incorrectly. The opportunity to collect data that can be used to refine UX design specifications is regularly missed.

And yet, the stewards of enterprise software are honestly perplexed at the negative feedback they get from “users” (a semi-affectionate term developers apply to human beings).

From the perspective of a UX designer, the solution is simple. Implement UX design processes undertaken by UX design professionals. Based on my conversations with many in the UX design community, most are just as perplexed why something so obvious is so rarely acted on.

Generally speaking, the diagnosis of the UX design community is that enterprise software suffers serious usability problems due to mass ignorance. If application architects, development team leaders, and vendor product managers in the enterprise space could only be made aware of UX design then they would logically seek to apply this to create successful outcomes.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t one of mass ignorance. The problem is one of mass delusion. Application architects, development team leaders, and vendor product managers already believe they’re people-centric. They would argue that an application project is largely a culmination of features users asked for themselves. In fact, over many years they’ve perfected processes to collect and prioritise feature requests, figure out how many you can get completed within a time frame users define, create a version, and deploy it.

This is why these people commonly conflate graphic design and UX design. If users are unhappy with a system delivered as specified, it must be the way the specifications are presented.

It’s akin to the dilemma of the indulgent parent. Such parents think that giving children everything they want is the best way to make them happy. When the child remains unhappy the parent thinks the problem is that they aren’t giving them enough, or fast enough, or nice enough. A vicious cycle of repeat behaviour emerges that results in a bad outcome for both parent and child. The effective parent, on the other hand, provides for their children based on a deep understanding of who they are as people and their actual needs at the moment.

This is the basis of the UX disconnect in the enterprise. There are competing world views for what being people-centric means.

UX design is the effective parenting method for software development. But a bridge between these competing world views needs to built in order for the enterprise software community to move to the other side. The onus lies largely on the UX design community. They need to put as much emphasis on their communication strategy as they do on their design methodology. And the language they use needs to resonate with their intended audience. Here are a couple suggestions:

  • Start with the baseline perspective that everyone wants delighted users. The question is what the best approach is.
  • Don’t challenge the enterprise software community on their understanding of UX – challenge them on measurable outcomes they understand. For example, what is the impact on a project’s ROI for features written but rarely used? How does under-utilised functionality impact the overall productivity of the application development team? Can a project be measured on the extent to which users stop using alternative software applications, hence supporting application rationalisation initiatives?
  • Push the enterprise community to acknowledge emerging work patterns. Therefore, a software system that enables a particular business process can only be considered successful if it also reflects the way people are conducting themselves in relationship to the business process.
  • Avoid semantics. Focus on success stories.
  • Be a matchmaker. UX design will create better outcomes that line-of-business managers will be happy with. Find ways to let the enterprise software community share in the success.

I’d welcome your additional suggestions.

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1 Comment

  • Mohamed Ali says:

    Very astute observations. UX is one of the big reasons the era of “digitalization” (as you guys call it), or the era of collaborative engagement (as Neulantis calls it), will be different from the previous two eras of enterprise IT.