"How are you getting away with that?!" Building UX into Everyday Work

I'm on what I call a 'luxurious" project. We are a budget initiative which means we have the funds we need to get our work done. We are a bunch of nerds in a policy shop which means no one tells us how to work because they don't really understand what we do or how we should do it. We are building our own team, defining our own project approach, building our own project plan and setting our own milestones for delivery.

Naturally, we don't have nearly enough time to get everything done in the time frames we've been allotted. So it's not quite paradise, but given the realities of other projects around us, I'd say it's pretty close.

This freedom and the very experienced team leading the project means that we get to work properly. We're redesigning a public-facing service and the internal-facing system used to support that process, so it's all about service design. We're doing collaborative design, user research, empathy mapping, customer journey maps, stakeholder influence frameworks, roadmapping, workshops, etc. We're not "consulting with clients," they're just part of our extended team: we job shadow them, they come to working sessions, and not once is there a round table discussion to be seen where only a small group of voices are heard on the topic of the day.

When I recruit potential team members or talk about our methods, I get the same question all the time: How are you getting away with that?!

Yes, we have money and the luxury of no one knowing what we do, but there are still expectations of oversight and approvals. The real answer to that question is: we just do it because it's the right way to work. It's the right way to deliver the value to both our internal and external users. And that right there is how we justify our approach. We can point to a ton of examples in both other governments and the private sector that demonstrate we are using proven methods that will get us closer to delivering on our commitments than relying on bureaucratic processes that seem to have failed in the past. And mostly, we know what needs approval and how much leeway we have to play within that space.

User research is a great example of this. If I need to design a common system for the our clients to use, it's only logical that I'm going to go out to a representative sample of those clients and watch how they use their existing systems. The data collected by interviewing and job shadowing people can be analysed for trends and common processes, which become a baseline for the new system. And significant outliers can be evaluated against the baseline to determine if their requirements are one-offs or could be re-used by other clients. And it doesn't cost anything but time. So we build it in: this is how we need to gather requirements, therefore this is how we will gather them. Our execs were only involved in making the connections with the clients, so we could find the right people to interview.

How do we get away with it?! To be honest, we don't think we're getting away with anything; we're just doing our jobs. We can all take the time to look at how we work and rethink our approaches with the end user in mind (whether it's the person reading your report, or the end user using your service). Chances are there are small tweaks or changes we can make to the way we deliver, which will fall within the scope of our own jobs and which don't need approval or permission.

So the next time someone seems to be getting away with something you wish you could do on your project, take a look at how you work and see if there is something you can do to hack your work for good, too. I'll bet there is and you'll "get away with it" too.