Boiling the double layer pumpkin Oreo cheesecake

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I devoured a small farm yesterday. 

It’s amazing what the human body can endure.

And it’s not just the quantity, it’s the quality of the food — rich and heavy.

We have to build up our tolerance for these culinary extravaganzas. You can’t feed a starving person an entire Thanksgiving meal. It would kill them. You have to slowly restore their system with a little bit of simple, bland food before they can handle a rich meal.

The same is true for organizations.

Enduring change often has to come in small bites.

Don’t call it a “project” at all — not even to yourself

Underlying many of these letters is one question:

What does it take to transform a traditional organization into one that truly prioritizes user needs?

Fueling that question is a desire to help organizations realize the economic and cultural benefits of adopting user-centric values.

A few weeks ago I shared a recent McKinsey study on the business value of design. To establish a data-driven, user-focused, collaborative culture, the report recommends starting with a pilot project. 

But that may only be effective if you can bring in some outside agency or consultant. The outsider(s) need to have the backing of the organization’s leadership to introduce significant changes in a relatively short time.

Many people cannot propose a pilot project like the ones I described, much less see them through. I know some of you are just trying to keep up with the work you have to do each day. You have a sound reputation and considerable authority within your organization, but you’re not in a position to introduce a pilot project that models drastically new ways of working.

So what can you do if you’re not in a position to introduce sweeping changes?

Start with what you have. 

Do you have customer survey data laying around somewhere? Do you have Google Analytics installed? 

Whatever it is, dust it off and spend an hour looking for patterns. 

Even if the survey data is old, I’d argue that some data is better than none at all. Even if you don’t have a perfectly configured analytics install, you can look at what pages are attracting more visits and which are underperforming. Maybe take a few minutes to set up a goal or two to start tracking important events on your site. Then, set a reminder to look at it again in a month and walk away.

Yes, acting off of irrelevant or inaccurate data can be dangerous. But I’m not talking about proposing whole new products or services based on the data you find lying between the couch cushions. 

The goal is to add a tiny, new voice to the conversations you have at work — a few data points here and there that you can call out in conversations with your colleagues. If something you find sparks genuine interest, you can always dig deeper, verify, and update the information.

Armed with a little data, you’ll be prepared when Tom from marketing proposes a new series of blog posts called “Look How Awesome We Are”. You’ll be able to gently point out that the last time the organization wrote a similar series it attracted two visitors to the website and both of them left the site after 12 seconds. 

Then, point to what content has actually performed well in the past, and propose a compromise:

“It looks like content that uses quotes from customers performs a little better … If we make a “Look How Awesome We Are” series, maybe we can interview a few customers to try to drive more interest.”

You just put forth a hypothesis and no one noticed. If you do wind up making that series, you’ve got a little benchmark data and … Congratulations. You’re running an experiment. Don’t tell your boss.

You don’t want to throw a 20-pound turkey on the conference room table. Add a little salt here, a little oregano there … so that one day you can slip a tiny bit of bourbon in the egg nog and once everyone is feeling good you bring out the double layer pumpkin Oreo cheesecake. (Google it. It exists.)

If you don’t like what’s being said, start changing the conversation

On Wednesday, I linked to an article on proactive UX design by Jared Spool. In it, he says:

The rule of thumb is simple: If the rest of the team can notice you’re doing something different, you’re probably changing too much too fast. Design leadership is a game of patience. To avoid triggering resistance to change, any change has to happen undetected under the radar.

In other words, boil the frog. Or the turkey. Mix up the metaphors however you like — the point is you don’t have to have a gourmet chef on call to restore a starving person to health. And an organization starved of customer insights can only handle a dash of data here and there. 

You can be the one to start shifting the conversations you have at work away from risky, organization-centric initiatives toward data-driven, user-focused measures.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle

Kyle Bowen