Organizational paradoxes

Most of the organizational challenges related to design process can be mitigated with the right design technique, relentless communication and a bit of a design alchemy (Uday Gajendar).

But sometimes, we run into challenges bigger than the design domain. Challenges that exceeds technology and process. These are often phenomenons related to complex nature of large enterprise organizations.

This was inspired by The paradoxes of organization by Dave Gray.

Bad products are created by unqualified people.

Maybe you can recall the frustration of using particular enterprise or professional software. Struggling to enter a simple value into the system using unlabelled dropdowns thrown all over the screen. Horrible screen layout, non-sense interaction flow, slow, bulky and ugly. Immediately, you get to the conclusion that this app has to be produced by a complete loser. In fact, someone had to grab a random guy on the street, put a gun to his head and forced him to code this.

But then you meet the team in reality.

And it's composed of talented and skilled engineers, all around nice personalities. They are led by incredible domain expert and they even have a designer in their team. They are following the agile best practices, the project planning and rituals are running smoothly.

So the initial conclusion was simply not true. Indeed, a poorly designed product can be created by brilliant engineers. In fact, when the first usability issues are recognized, companies often appoint more and better engineers to solve the problem.

But these teams almost never attempt to do less by focusing more, where with fewer resources, fewer outcomes and fewer features, the company might deliver a better product.

The good-team-bad-product paradox is also caused by a platform lock-in and legacy. It does not really matter how brilliant designer or engineer you are if you are just tweaking the configuration of a horrible legacy platform.

If the product is bad, the team will always get the feedback.

So you might think that you can clearly recognize and describe a bad enterprise product. The team has to be frantically working on fixing it, or rip-and-replace it with the next generation.

But then you meet the team, and you see the surprised faces. They all live in a beautiful bubble — “Well, there might be some issues here and there, but its complex. It’s difficult. And after all, who is complaining anyway? Tell me the names.”

There are many reasons, why the product team is having hard times getting access to actual users. The real ones, those who are not yet suffering from a Stockholm syndrome. But then there are always people communicating with the user-base, like pre-sales, sales, consultants, so they should be able to pass the feedback and benchmark against the competition, right?

I have seen environments where this is was not happening and the product teams were just left in the dark. Enterprise selling is difficult, and especially in the Fiscal year results orientated, sales and renewal driven jungle, people want to succeed. And they use the most famous weapons - Gartner reports or Central IT station reviews to turn “it’s not that bad” into “look, it’s actually good”.

I can find a number of IT Central Station “user reviews” written by people who then confirmed over an interview, that they never used the actual version of the product they were reviewing. I can find a whole list of features reviewed in an expensive Gartner report, that does not exist — these features were never released to the public, they remain to be checkboxes in Excel feature list. I can recall a high-level executive recognizing this as the reason of a company legacy and directly addressing his staff to “not believe our PR but focus on the user”. But in large corporations, this might require a systematic cultural change that a small product team can influence, but not really drive or initiate.

Conclusions

Sometimes, even if you are following a brilliant design process and working with amazing engineers and product managers, it will not end up being the “next Slack” and you should rather strive for Microsoft Teams. Such is a nature of enterprise environment, that definitely needs more and more UX Design professionals to join and nurture the environment and hopefully, one time to become executives. We have a lot of techniques and tools in our arsenal, that can enable us to challenge the status quo. If you have enough motivation, a good team and an interesting challenge, you should be ready not to give up even when you can recognize the gaps in the final outcome.

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