6 Ways You Can Build a Supportive Work Environment Now

projekt202's Karen King provides tips to boost teamwork and workplace morale

By    Karen King    VP of Talent Management projekt202

By Karen King
VP of Talent Management
projekt202

In my career, I have been fortunate to work, more times than not, in teams with people who were supportive and nurturing.  When this type of environment is found, I felt I was on the “dream team” and that “all things were possible because we were in it together.” Not having this support can be a drain on morale as people feel they have to “watch their backs” or “play the game of office politics.”

Organizations can cultivate a supportive environment by implementing, reinforcing and rewarding the following behaviors:

Assume positive intent

I truly believe that most people want to do the right thing.  By believing that, then it’s easy for me to first assume positive intent when I may not understand why someone did something, or why they have a different viewpoint or opinion than me.

Seek to understand

If you don’t understand or agree with something, ask questions with the intent to truly understand rather than to judge.

Treat others with respect

It is imperative that we all treat each other with respect.  Name calling, gossiping about each other and other types of bullying are counter to our culture.

Accept that there will be differences

One of the things I love about working in my current role is the ability to professionally discuss differences of opinion with my co-workers, and then brainstorm solutions that are in the best interest of the organization, rather than considering only my personal beliefs.  This happens regularly between me and other members of the leadership team.  While we don’t always agree, we know we have a safe place to offer our points-of-view.

Treat feedback as a gift

If someone is giving you feedback, positive or developmental, consider it a gift.  If they didn’t care about you as an individual and teammate, they wouldn’t tell you how to improve; they would simply let you fail.  Compliment your teammates when they learn new skills, exceed customer expectations, and generally do well, so they keep exhibiting those behaviors.

Don’t let your teammates fail

Give feedback in a respectful, professional way.  Escalate situations if necessary to your managers so they can hear your concerns and step in, if appropriate.  Call out behaviors that are counter to the principles, and explain ways to do things better and/or behave differently.

Organizations must be vigilant in calling out behaviors that undermine these principles so they can continue to nurture the supportive culture they want for their employees.

Where can you improve to be a better teammate?

4 Important Ways to Reveal the Reality of Your Users’ Needs

TRANSPARENCY & CONSISTENT COMMUNICATION ARE ALSO HALLMARKS OF PROJEKT202’S RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

By    Bryce Cottle    Program Manager projekt202

By Bryce Cottle
Program Manager
projekt202

A core component of the projekt202 methodology is understanding the needs of users via foundational analysis and design research. This is uncharted territory for those who do not normally operate in the user- centered design space. 

We realize that the research process can appear mysterious and opaque to our clients. The activities and associated outcomes that occur during the research process are new and unfamiliar, and uncertainty exists about ability to provide input and feedback into the research itself.  

When a company is spending thousands to millions of dollars to achieve an outcome, “Trust us, we’re the experts” is simply not good enough to put minds at ease. Our clients expect high levels of transparency and the ability to provide input on a regular cadence. This is why we strive to find new, interesting ways to communicate.

Keeping clients engaged and happy throughout a project is equally as important as producing high-quality deliverables. We have found that the following methods help reveal the reality behind Revealing Reality (pun fully intended) throughout the course of a project: 

Research blog 

The primary goal of a research blog is to improve our clients’ ability to understand, follow along, and know where they are in our Experience Strategy and Insight process. Blog entries are uploaded to a client-specific site on a regular cadence, with the ability to search for, and navigate to, past entries.

We have found that research blogs are the most effective way to communicate our progress throughout a project, as they contain a large amount of information, and clients have expressed feeling engaged/having a clear understanding of the research activities.  

A point to consider when employing this method is that the blogs take a considerable amount of time to create/maintain, which can increase the overall cost of an engagement due to the resource time required.

Participant data sheets

Similar to blogs, participant data sheets are engaging ways to communicate data on research participants to clients by providing a summary of each participant in a consistent format. The research team creates a template of content sections (demographic information, detail specific to the scope of the research) and summarizes the notes captured for each participant. 

These are more efficient than research blogs because the data is already being captured as part of the research process, so the effort is mostly a matter of formatting. However, it is important to note that the scope of the information is limited to the perspective of single users, not overarching themes.

Including users in the process

This method is exactly what it sounds like: simply have clients participate in the research process, so they get real-time insight into the process and research findings.

While this can be an effective way to keep clients informed as to what activities are being accomplished/what their users are saying, and truly pulls back the curtain on the research process, it is the most difficult to coordinate. This is due to conflicting schedules across all parties involved; on a project with a compressed timeline, this can be extremely difficult to manage. 

Sharing raw data (e.g., Evernote, Dropbox Paper)

In this scenario, we invite the client to see the 'raw' data while setting expectations to not take any one interview as the needs for all. This method is the lowest level of effort and provides full transparency into research data points that clients can refer to later.

The primary risk with this approach is that large amounts of data can be difficult and confusing for clients to synthesize. The aim of our projects is to use the gathered data to provide insight into overarching themes and opportunities; providing the raw data does not necessarily achieve this.

CONCLUSION

The above communication methods are by no means the only ways to keep clients informed and engaged throughout a project. However, they are good starting points for pulling back the curtain on the research process.  

At projekt202, we find that providing transparency throughout an engagement leads to more satisfied clients – clients that want to continue working with us to transform the experience of their users in ways greater than they originally imagined.

B2B Portals are Mission Critical, So Why Do So Many Offer Frustrating Experiences?

Telecom B2B websites serve a critical function – simplifying the most common tasks for the largest clients. projekt202 has done extensive user experience research and design on these B2B portals, and I thought it would be a good time to share some of our findings.

By    Joe Dyer    Director of Experience Strategy & Insight projekt202

By Joe Dyer
Director of Experience Strategy & Insight
projekt202

Many B2B portals are complex behemoths that try to serve a number of purposes – provisioning, paying bills, monitoring usage, upgrading equipment, tracking customer support and more. This complexity — coupled with the fact that many business customers have told us they don’t find much value in some of the larger B2B portals — can make for a daunting user experience challenge.

Don’t frustrate your largest clients

It’s obvious that businesses spend much more on communications infrastructure and services than a family of four. What’s not obvious, however, is that breaking common user experience principles can lead to frustration and lost brand trust for these larger clients.

Less is more

Because these portals evolved over time, with functionality often powered by cobbling together several back end systems, they may try to do too much. We found that users got overwhelmed quickly by bloated navigation or dense menu screens, and they mainly wanted to get to the most popular tasks quickly.

Simplifying the menu screens and navigation to the most frequently-used tasks offers a simpler and faster user experience for most users. As long as the full list of tasks is still available for more advanced users, the tried-and-true “less is more” approach works well all-around.

Follow the users’ mental model

Our methodology for discovering mental models involves ethnographic observation of the experiences of users and customers to identify critical information – looking past what users say and getting to the heart of what they really think. This approach always uncovers key findings about how users view and use the site, vs. how the business thinks users use the site.

Language and wayfinding that seem intuitive to employees can often baffle real users. That’s why it’s important to take a fresh look at mental model research every few years. This can help designers not only meet but exceed user expectations when designing a B2B functionality-driven site.

If you have to offer training to use the portal, that’s a sign that the design is not intuitive and could be losing your customers’ trust.

Consistency is key

Users generally learn how a site works faster when similar elements (navigation bars, buttons, links, menus, etc.) have a consistent look and feel and work the same way across the entire site. This is a core UX design principle, and it’s been proven hundreds of times through countless usability studies.

So, even though the functionality may rely on multiple back end systems, it’s important to give users a consistent experience – leading to reduced frustration and faster time on task.

Our User Experience Design practice helps you deliver that seamless experience that’s needed for the connected world. Our software engineering practice can bring that experience to life.  We lead with the intention of improving your organization’s bottom line — to drive revenue growth, customer lifetime value, and increased scoring across social sentiment and Net Promoter Scores.  Leading with strategy-filled observational insights ensures we’re solving the right problems, and our UX Design team will make sure customers and users love the outcome.

Contracting in the Agile Age

By    Rob Pierry    Chief Transformation Officer projekt202

By Rob Pierry
Chief Transformation Officer
projekt202

Building a sustainable agile software process requires adjustments across your entire organization. To deliver iteratively, incrementally, and continuously, all participants in the process must be prepared to work in a way compatible with these goals. If, for example, product ownership and development teams are on board, but QA is still a fixed, lengthy process before every release, true agile delivery won’t be possible. In effect, you are only as agile as your least agile part.

Every business (and software initiative) has unique constraints that the development methodology must fit within. For some domains where security is critical or defects would cause significant harm, an intentional lack of agility before launch may be a desired step, but the important word here is ‘intentional’ — do things on purpose. You understand the constraint, implement a step in the process to respect it, and also understand the impact (in this case, a period of little to no velocity and no ability to change course combined with a less frequent release cadence).

For the projects that we at projekt202 undertake, we often partner with clients to form blended teams or take on complete sections of the process ourselves. This adds an extra complication to agile development: contracting. Internal development efforts need only to get business stakeholders on board with incremental delivery. Working with partners now means legal and procurement departments have to find a way to integrate with agile processes while still being able to perform their critical functions of protecting the company and looking out for the bottom line.

The broader acceptance of agile methodologies forms a positive feedback loop with contracting. The more companies work in an agile way, the more willing procurement departments become to write agile-style contracts that talk more about teams of people over time than they do about specific deliverables at specific dates. The more of these contracts that get written, the more agile development gets done. Because of this loop, agile methodologies have become commonly accepted, both internally and when working with partners.

How do companies protect themselves? At first glance, open ended contracts with no deliverables and no acceptance criteria would seem to be a professional service company’s dream. For a short-sighted company, they might be. Companies that think long-term want to know concretely how to exceed expectations and agile-style contracts no longer contain this mechanism. Instead, we find ourselves in a continuous process of understanding and exceeding expectations. We have no concrete deliverables achieved to rest on. If our customers don’t think we’ve delivered fast enough or at sufficient quality, that’s it, regardless of what we have produced. Because we are delivering iteratively and incrementally, our customers get to see new stuff from us every week. They are, in effect, in a continuous process of acceptance. If something doesn’t pass muster, the work to remediate it gets added to the backlog and the business stakeholders get to decide what is likely to yield the most value, new features or fixing defects or a combination of both. If nothing passes muster, then we won’t be partners for very long.

It’s tempting to retain traditional contracting methods and assurances when moving into agile delivery, but many of these effectively make agile impossible. A time period allowed for explicit acceptance of delivery imposes a mandatory pause on progress. Now your two-week sprint contains two weeks of work and a pause for another week for acceptance to be granted before you can build on top of this foundation. When these contracts also include guarantees about finding and fixing defects, then fewer stories can be tackled as well.

Agile methodologies shift your organization to expect continuous delivery of value, but this is only possible when all contributors can work in a compatible way. Imposing traditional contracting constraints on an agile methodology leads to delays, additional effort required for upfront specification, and lower effective velocity. Instead, agile-style contracts actually offer companies more protection, by asking their partners to continuously and obviously demonstrate their value.

Overcoming Skeptical Stakeholders with a Little Contextual Conversion

By    Felice Brezina    Senior Program Manager projekt202

By Felice Brezina
Senior Program Manager
projekt202

You would expect the topic of being a change agent to be appealing to me, as an employee of a company that helps our clients transform. As such, I found myself in the presence of Carmen Medina (@milouness), of MedinAnalytics LLC, as she presented at SXSW Interactive 2019 on the topic of surviving in an organization as a change agent.

The concept of “survival” was an interesting notion to me personally. I don’t have to worry about survival in my role. I work for a company where innovation and change is encouraged, in fact required, to be successful. As a professional services consultancy, we are paid to be change agents for our customers. They seek out our expertise in experience-driven design and development as a way to transform their product or organization. But the idea that others still have this problem was a hook for me to question how I could leverage Ms. Medina’s tips and tricks to better relate to my clients. 

I won’t steal Ms. Medina’s thunder by regurgitating her presentation here, but I highly recommend attending one of her sessions given an opportunity. However, I do want to leverage an idea that surfaced in the follow-up Q&A. As the presentation wrapped, an audience member came forward to ask a question about how to convince stakeholders to change when it was in their vested interest to NOT change. Whether through a sense of tradition, job security, fear of the unknown, or other reasons, there are always individuals within an organization who are hard to convince that there might be a better way to tackle a problem and that change can be positive. 

In her response, Ms. Medina talked about finding a way to help those dubious or reticent stakeholders to have a “conversion moment.” I am sure a lot of the audience was asking themselves, Exactly how do I do that? Part of the challenge in answering that question is that the strategies are numerous, diverse, and dependent upon your unique situation. So, instead I asked myself, How do we do it? 

For that answer, I turn to one of the more memorable experiences in my time at projekt202. In 2015, we were hired by a large healthcare management company to perform research into ways to improve medical billing and consumer payment through the application of digital and experiential tools. One of our sponsors was a somewhat dubious executive from the Data Science department, who was not initially convinced of our proposed qualitative research approach to refine the opportunity definition. What did we do in response? We invited him to join us in the field and experience it for himself. 

Through the course of a day or more, he joined our researcher and designer in multiple end user Contextual Interviews in people’s homes. He sat and listened as person after person described their very real, very human experiences with complex insurance forms, opaque healthcare policy, financial stress, family loss, and anger at the system.

The experience was transformative and I feel two key changes occurred in his perception of the value of our work: 

One, there was a human connection to the services provided by his corporation, which went beyond operational strategy, market analytics, corporate financial statements, and data science. The problems posed by the current process and solutions now had faces and stories. Helping people is a powerful motivator! 

Second was being energized to solve those problems. Numerous potential solutions surfaced and there was a sense of urgency to act upon the best of those ideas. The simple process of listening to end users was a form of creative outlet, surfacing ideas not previously considered in internal brainstorming sessions. Instead of defining a solution in the boardroom and hoping it solves the market need, the company’s end users directly provided a wealth of product opportunity on a platter. 

This stakeholder’s experience wasn’t unique. We repeated the exercise with several other members of the executive team with similar results. Not all required conversion to advocating for user-driven solutions, but all left with an appreciation for using Contextual Inquiries as a research technique and renewed confidence in the direction we were going as a project team. 

An even better part about providing opportunities for this is that it need not be the realm of the privileged project sponsor. Invite other skeptical stakeholders as well. I can’t tell you how many developers I have met who have fundamentally approached their role with a different perspective after meeting the people who use their software and watching them use it to perform their jobs or tasks. 

While there is no magic solution that will move all entrenched stakeholders 100% of the time, having witnessed the power of this one technique in changing quite a few, Contextual Inquiries have become a go-to motivational tool. Try it the next time you have the chance!