Many of our methodological dialogue centres around best practice as it applies to agency life or inside of tech companies. But it’s a different world inside a large organization, especially one where technology is not the core product.
At Morgan Stanley (like many similar financial institutions) in spite of 10 figure it budgets and 10’s of thousands is developers, the lifeblood of the company ( and therefore it’s processes and culture) are centred around the business of banking…with technology as a secondary, though important, support function.
In a large organisation, the forces of friction acting on any given idea, particularly ones which are disruptive, are great. Organisations are organized to limit change in order to achieve efficiency. In a regulated environment, control processes are established to limit rogue behavior, and as a result can impose limits or slow down innovation. In this context it is easy to feel like you have little choice but to give in to forces that, on the surface, would appear to produce mediocre solutions, riddled with compromise and plagued with poor execution.
But I will argue that both innovation and excellence CAN be achieved in spite of these challenges. In fact, my experience is that what it takes to succeed inside an organisation draws on the very skills we have as designers: empathy, creative problem solving, iterative process and adaptability. It is ucd applied to the delivery of projects as well as the projects themselves.
In my nearly 6 years at Morgan Stanley, my team of around 40 highly talented Interaction & Visual designers and UI Developers have developed a reputation inside the organisation and out for consistent design excellence, high-quality delivery and for innovation. Many of you (particularly if you work in finance) may well of heard of Morgan Stanley Matrix (which won a UX award in 2011), but in fact most of the innovation is for internal tools which are fundamentally changing the mechanics of how the firm operates, creating competitive advantage, reducing risk, increasing operational efficiency and enhancing decision-making.
What has made that possible are recognising that, like designing for any client or set of users, getting work done inside a large organisation is, itself, a design problem. It has a complex set of personas with different objectives and success criteria who must be accommodated in the solution if it is to succeed. This means that beyond the core skills of design thinking, process and execution (talent), social, communication and consulting skills are essential.
You have to be able to establish credibility, build trust and demonstrate your value consistently. You have to be able to have empathy with your detractors as well as your supporters in order to understand how to win them over. You have to be able to influence and inspire, connect and collaborate…building a platform for your own success and the success of yours (and others) ideas utilising the very skills you deploy in creating great experiences. If you can make working with you and your team the best experience people have on any given day, then you will be on the road to building great products inside an organisation like Morgan Stanley.
The ability to rapidly transform ideas into form that can be understood and experienced by all…making it real…making it tangible is, in large organisations, an essential tool for making great things happen.
Don’t expect to be liked (or welcome) – Being enthusiastic about winning a new project or the chance to bring design to an organisation is great. But don’t assume others will fee the same way. People dislike change and are mistrustful of processes that do not reflect their own tried and true methods. We can often be seen as a threat (BAs on the one side…and Developers on the other)…and stakeholders are often worried about adding more complexity and process to getting things done…
Build on success
Begin as you mean to go on. Its important to set the tone for what you need to be able to contribute effectively from the beginning. Forming Storming Norming Performing…. Its essential to set expectations, remain open (and patient). They don’t know what design requires, so how can they provide it if you don’t ask for it?
First impressions count (listening, synthesising & communicating ideas, demonstrating the process, helping others see things in a new way, generating momentum/excitement about working with design – imagining the possibilities)
Empathy wins hearts and minds – a core part of design is empathy with the users of our products or services. But to be successful in a large organisation requires that we turn that empathy toward our colleagues and stakeholders as well. It is far to easy see the resistance of others as a battle to be fought
Many hands make light work Designing software, or any great product, is a multi-disciplinary process. But more than just the knowledge and skills required, it is a process which needs support and buy-in throughout. There is a tendency to think that design can do it all (service design, design strategy, etc.) and there is value in design operating at that level…but the further away we move from the craft of design toward the creation of experiences, the more we need others to help us be successful. We own the experience, but others own the business rationale and technology…etc.
Play well with others. How we work (with others) is as important as the work itself (process & culture). Design process, particularly iterative user centred design, is liberating for those that learn to use it (is it any surprise that HBR talks about it as a strategic function and that Stanford built a school around it?). But it is also frightening for many as it is not linear. Tunnel of uncertainty. Our job to help people feel comfortable with the process…by taking them on the journey with us…and showing them the results along the way. Including them helps de-mystify the process and make it feel less risky.
A picture is worth a 1000 words – So much of life’s difficulties arise from failed communication. Sketching/diagrams resolves the infinite quantum possibilities of interpretation into a single quantifiable outcome which everyone can comment on.
Attend to the details (quality, experience, details, impact) – you can’t hide behind process…architecture professor on me not being there to explain my building. Faced with challenges, its easy to just give in to mediocre compromises. I dislike the word compromise because it implies a reduction in quality. But there are always unforeseen constraints, or new requirements that emerge throughout the process, so its about re-framing the problem and constantly challenging the direction to ensure you get the best possible outcome. And whilst not every project can (or should) be an iPhone-style breakthrough innovation, there is no excuse for mediocrity (ie a solution which poorly addresses user and business needs).
Their success is your success – if you want design to be successful in an organisation, to be broadly adopted, then you have to think about how you build a platform of supporters whose personal success depends on the inclusion of design thinking and design process. If you can identify what motivates others, then you can help them achieve their goals and they will, in turn, help you (and your design solutions) be successful.
Connect the dots – Organisations are typicaly very siloed. inside any organisation, the future is already here it is just unevenly distributed…so you have to find the people who can best benefit from an idea/solution generated in one place that might be useful somewhere else. Designers are innovation distributors…it is the breadth of our experience and our ability to think laterally and see how patterns transfer from one context to another that enable us to .
Plant a seed (and watch it grow) – Delivering successful design in a large organisation is as much about farming as hunting. You can seek out those great projects (hunting) but you also need to plant a lot of seeds around the organisation and then nurture them. Give of your time freely to help out other teams, do freebies, workshops, etc…it builds understanding and earns supporters who may have influence down the line.
Play the long game – rome wasn’t conquered in a day. Persist against all odds. You need to constantly look beyond the current deliverable/project and think strategically about how to build support and influence the organisation at all levels. If you genuinely believe design can make a difference and that great experiences are essential, then you have to continue to find ways to share the message, the value and look for opportunities to contribute and be seen as a someone who brings valuable ideas, perspective and experience to the table.
Working with others
Leading a team
Influencing an organisation
Ian is an award-winning digital product strategist & design leader with over 20 years of experience helping companies leverage emerging technologies to create innovative digital products and services. Ian specialises in utilising User Research and Design Thinking techniques to generate compelling insights that are brought to life through an iterative Human-Centred Design process. A passionate innovator, Ian has lead high-performance, cross-disciplinary teams that have delivered ground-breaking digital products and services in industries spanning media and entertainment, mobile services, travel, e-commerce and finance.
Until recently, Ian was Global Head of User Experience and Design at Morgan Stanley, where for over 7 years he led a team of talented design professionals developing next-generation client-facing and internal software, including Morgan Stanley Matrix, an award-winning product which continues to set new standards for interface design and customer experience in Financial Services.
Previous to that he was Director of User Experience at Flow Interactive, one of the first User-Centred Research and Design Strategy consultancies in the UK, where he helped companies harness the power of customer insight to develop innovative products and services.
Company: Morgan Stanley
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