The Never Ending Buy-In Cycle


January 19, 2017 by SDesign

In my first assignments at Qualcomm in the early 2000s, I joined a team that had never worked with  user experience designers before.  Initially some of the engineers were quite hostile to our proposals, and it took a long time to get their grudging buy-in.  Then QA entered the picture, and there were similar issues: QA kept filing bugs on behavior that we had written down in the specification as correct. Getting QA to adhere to the specification was a whole training exercise in itself. 

Sometimes during this process a new engineering lead would show up, or a new technical lead in the QA practice would appear.  These new leads would always immediately start introducing a counter-productive behavior – they would actively challenge our designs again, or ignore our written specification in coding or testing.  Each time a new person joined the team, I found that I needed to educate them on the UX process and what my expectations were of them.  I even developed an explicit on-boarding set of slides to present to new entrants to our software lifecycle.  Some of the most hard headed of these new people required multiple iterations of this re-education, but in general they would get the message since the rest of the organization was in sync with me.

And then, after three years….a big re-org. One QA team was completely replaced by another.  And guess what? That QA had no experience working with UX;  not only that, the new team considered UX to be partially under their remit because the user experience was an aspect of ‘Quality’.  At this point I was very tired of fighting the good fight, and I did not initially put together an explicit education and buy-in program.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be a big mistake.  Only after six months of failing QA practices did I realize that I was going to have to get up off the mat and start building up buy-in all over again.

I have experienced this same process of re-education and buy-in over and over again.  It continued every place I have introduced UX. Usually major staffing changes or re-orgs have caused a need to go through the same process again.

I won’t lie. This process of continually needing to get buy-in is very tiring.  I have witnessed many designers flame out during this continual cycle. Some of them believed that the best way to avoid this problem was to move to an Agency, where they will not have to interact with the implementation team, or where the in-house implementation team stays relatively constant.

I don’t have any magic answers in this post. My main purpose is to shine a light on an unfortunate truth, and to point out that it’s a good idea to be pro-active when new team members join your project. If you nip the problem in the bud early, it will spare you a lot of pain down the road.

Certainly not all organizations have this problem. Some have UX built into their DNA, and so anyone joining the implementation team will have been vetted for sensitivity to UX, and the overall process will require them to conform to a human-centered design practices.  There is also no question that it helps to have the passionate buy-in of people at the top, whether it be the head engineer, head of R&D, CTO, or even CEO.  However, I have found that having a person at the top being a UX believer is not the same as having the whole team operating using best practices.  The buy-in that is required is all the way up and down the organization, including managers and the individual contributors.

Perhaps it will be of some consolation to you that you are not alone. So…lick your wounds, and get up to keep fighting the good fight!  That’s why you wanted to be a designer, right?


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