UX is the phoenix which has risen from the ashes of decades of the worst excesses soul–crushing IT failure.
The IT industry is legion with stories of over–budget, under–performing and occasionally not–even–out–of–the–blocks technology projects. Even when limiting his search geographically to the UK and chronologically to the turn of the millennium, this author is spoiled for choice to select from dozens of high–profile public sector and private sector IT failures.
In 2002 Tony Blair launched the NHS National Program for IT (NPfIT), an ambitious 6–year £6bn initiative involving some of the largest IT contractors in the country including Accenture, Fujitsu and American–based CSC. The programme hobbled along for 9 years, cost the UK taxpayer £10bn and never saw the light of day.
While not quite on that scale, there are plenty of other projects cut from the same cloth.
Even a cursory search on Google reveals projects such as Emergency Service Mobile Communications for senior police (3 years late, £3bn over budget), Digital Media Initiative (DMI) for the BBC (5 years in development, didn’t launch, £100m of licence–fee–payers money wasted), Recruitment Streamlining project for the British Army (£1.3bn project, many elements didn’t launch).
There are plenty more where they came from, as that cursory Google search will confirm.
The good news, if one can call it that, is that in these and 1,000s of other failed or underperforming projects, IT professionals have analysed what went wrong and explored what process, culture and governance steps can be put in place to stop them occurring again. According to Experience Dynamics, 15% of software projects fail with the most common reasons being poorly defined requirements, poorly articulated goals, poor communications, and stakeholder politics.
Failing software projects can spend 50% of development time on avoidable rework. What’s more, the further a project progresses towards launch before identifying sub–standard code or infrastructure, the more expensive it is to fix. It costs 10x to fix problems during development when things aren’t done correctly first–time round and 100x to fix problems post–launch as the BBC, British Army and UK Police will attest.
UX processes mitigate this by involving users early in the design process, iterating, prototyping and honing before the project moves to coding. UX methods invest thorough time on understanding stakeholder requirements, identifying and challenging assumptions and using data and insight to corroborate decision–making. UX measurements seek to explore KPIs beyond function requests and seek to connect design and feature requests with user goals, behaviours and context. These techniques are estimated to provide up to 90% reduction in support costs and 25% reduction in rework.
There are five key factors which UX processes empower IT teams to get right, with each of them baked into the processes and culture of UX–focused project delivery:
- Detail – design decisions aren’t pushed downstream to developers who don’t have the context to make informed decisions; there is a focus on detail as part of the design contribution
- Bias – the personal preferences (particularly those which are unconnected to project success, for example an individual’s career ambitions or internal politics) are challenged with data and insight
- Experience – the project team isn’t just concerned that the software works, they are also invested in how well it works, that it is usable, helpful and intuitive
- Challenge – by establishing KPIs early in the project the individuals working on it earn the right to challenge what they are asked to do if they perceive misalignment, thus empowering them where appropriate to not just slavishly do what they’ve been told to do
- Prototype – if a picture paints 1,000 words a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings, because nothing focuses the mind of a project team better than seeing their early ideas in the hands of a user – it is the royal straight flush of decision making
Conceiving and honing UX processes and culture has cost the IT industry billions of pounds and unimaginable man–years of misery, however having finally crafted processes to counteract the main reasons for project failure it is madness for IT projects not to embrace them. If you work in UX you work in the risk mitigation game.
But you also work in the design performance business – UX processes significantly increase IT’s chances of success by considerably reducing its chances of failure.