A review of
User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Teams
By Arnie Lund
Morgan Kaufmann, 2011
As the user experience industry has matured over the past decade or so, there has been an increase in the number of books written to help individual contributors—researchers, designers, information architects, content specialists, and others—be successful in their roles. These books are available on numerous topics ranging from how to conduct a contextual inquiry, to effectively prototype, to maximize one’s efforts in an agile environment, to complete a discount usability study, to conduct an international research project…you get the point, the list goes on and on.
While these types of books serve the very important purpose of making it easier for those new to a particular research or design method to quickly learn and grow, they arguably don’t offer as much value to those who have honed their craft and are already experts in their domain. So what resources are available for the latter population of practitioners, especially those who aspire to become user experience managers or want to improve their management skills? Sadly, almost nothing. Fortunately, though, Arnie Lund has come to the rescue with his new book entitled, User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Teams.
Arnie Lund, Ph.D., CUXP, hardly needs an introduction given the impressive mark he has made on the development and evolution of the user experience industry. Currently working as a principal user experience lead at Microsoft, Lund has previously held leadership roles at companies such as AT&T Bell Laboratories, Ameritech, and US West Advanced Technologies.
Throughout User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Teams, Lund draws upon his twenty plus years of experience in the user experience and emerging technologies fields to shed light on user experience management best practices. As he recently shared with me, “I have talked to many people over the years who have wanted a book on managing user experience teams, and there wasn’t one. It also dawned on me that some of the most experienced and talented managers I knew were retiring. I didn’t want their wisdom to get lost. But the final trigger was a set of events at work that caused me to come home steaming with the thought, ‘These people are idiots! I’m going to write down how it should be done!’” Oy vey, I’m sure there’s an amusing story behind this quote, Arnie!
One of my favorites is Chapter 4, in which the author talks about the importance of creating the right environment for a user experience team. I recently had the opportunity to tour several user experience offices across diverse companies, and was shocked by the stale environment I witnessed on many occasions. This indicated to me that providing an environment that supports and maximizes the unique work of user experience professionals is not a priority at many companies.
According to Lund, providing user experience professionals with an appropriate work environment is important because, “Space shapes our attitudes, how we interact, and, in many ways, how we think. Every place where I have seen a vital, influential user experience team, I have seen a space that reflects their creativity.” Not only does Lund provide examples in his book of what an optimal space looks like for user experience professionals to work within, but he also provides suggestions for how to get creative when minimal resources are on the table for doing so (for example, never underestimate the influence of an administrative professional.) Additionally, Lund provides helpful tips on how to bend the rules of an organization when they get in the way of building an appropriate space for one’s user experience team.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 9 and the discussion surrounding branding one’s UX team. “When the ROI discussion arises, it is often not about ROI. It is really about understanding what user experience is doing, and if the person asking the question understands how he will benefit,” he writes. This is why, Lund explains, user experience groups should have a distinct brand and communication plan in place. Such a plan not only helps to clarify ownership, but also inspires one’s team, extends a team’s presence, and helps shape the environment a team works within. Lund also mentions that coming up with the appropriate name for your user experience group can be especially powerful for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, putting effort into branding one’s user experience team is often at the bottom of many leaders’ priority list, when it should be at the top.
Additional topics covered in the book include how to build a user experience team, focus a team, create a high performing team, nurture a team, transform an organization to be user-experience focused, evangelize UX, and decide if you should become a manager. One piece of content that would be helpful to include in future editions is a section that provides more in-depth tips regarding how individual contributors can acquire management skills prior to actually becoming a manager. I was also left wondering if there are subtle distinctions between the skill sets needed for design, versus research, versus content managers.
User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Team is a must-read for anyone who is managing user experience teams, or someday aspires to do so. Not only is the content of the book based on Arnie Lund’s years of experience, including mistakes he’s made and successes he’s won, but it is also peppered with words of wisdom and advice from many other industry veterans. The book is an entertaining read, and one in which the content is practical and relatable. I think the book would make a great teaching tool for programs—such as the California College of the Arts Design MBA or Stanford’s Design School—that aim to teach effective design management.
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