Sunday, December 16, 2007

Assessing Your Team's UX Skills

Does your UX team have what it takes? ...

"I didn't realize it required so many different skills," the newly-appointed user experience (UX) team manager told us. "I mean, it seemed so straight forward when we came up with the idea, but once we got into it, we kept realizing all the things we didn't know how to do."

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time we'd heard this from a manager. In fact, we hear it quite often. Managers embark on a project, say a redesign of a critical internal application, only to realize their team, proficient in a few skills, doesn't have the breadth of skills necessary to develop a quality experience. The result is an app that works, but frustrates the users because it doesn't quite meet their needs.

Migrating Away from the Specialists Approach

Traditionally, when an organization set out to build a UX team, they did so by recruiting and hiring individuals trained in the various specialties. The individuals, having studied and practiced in areas, such as information architecture, visual design, and usability research, were hired to spend their days applying these skills to solve the organization's design challenges.

However, most organizations couldn't afford such a team. Either they didn't have the budget to have someone dedicated to one area or they didn't have the workload demand to justify it. Since the specialists weren't really trained beyond their specialty, they couldn't easily be assigned other work. (And if they were, they often resented the vast amounts of non-specialty work.)

Organizations that couldn't afford a team would then "wing it", training the personnel at hand to solve the problems on an as-needed-basis. These individuals, not having the experience and solid work time to dive deep into a specialty became generalists who could do many things on a satisfactory basis, but few things as well as the specialists.

Yet, over time, the specialties have become better at explaining what they do. Through conferences, a vast amount of well-written books, certificate programs, and online resources, the wealth of knowledge formerly only available to trained specialists is now generally available. Add that to the growing sophistication of today's projects, and today's best teams have generalists with experience and a level of knowledge on par with the top specialists.

Assessing the Team's UX Skills

Part of the role of today's UX manager is to ensure the UX team has all the necessary skills, at the best level possible. To do this, they need an easy way to assess the current skills of the team. Once they've got their assessment in hand, it's fairly straightforward to design a coaching and training curriculum to fill in the gaps.

To help managers with the assessment, we've created a simple 130-point scoring process. They can just walk through the various skill areas, rating their team on a 0-5 scale, based on the teams current level of competency. When done, they'll not only have an understanding of the team's overall effectiveness, but a clear idea of where to improve."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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