In experience design, when everything is a priority, nothing is

experience design

Customer experience (and it’s more recent bedfellow employee experience) often suffer from a buffet approach. And rather than speeding up improvement, the all-you-can-eat mentality often dooms well-intentioned efforts to a bloated waddle.

The process most-often begins with an enthusiastic sprint across every stage of the experience and ends with a kind of ‘brute force’ grind through all the ideas you can throw at a wall. The resulting blizzard of Posit notes and multi-page project “prioritisation” lists makes it nearly impossible to know where the organisation should apply their limited resources — because when everything is a priority, nothing is.

In his book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown writes about “the disciplined pursuit of less”. Among the seemingly endless grasp for more, could pursuing less help shift experience thinking and practice from all-you-can-eat to something more digestible?

In the book, McKeown notes: “Most people have heard of the Pareto Principle … in 1951, in his ‘Quality Control Handbook’, Joseph Moses Juran, one of the founders of the quality movement, expanded on this idea and called it the “law of the vital few”. His observation was that you could massively improve the quality of a product by resolving a tiny fraction of the problems.”

Finding the “tiny fraction of the problems” is a useful limit when rethinking your organisation’s approach to experience (internal or external). How you see them is all in the research. Both talking to people using your products and services or working for and with you. And in data, you have about how they behave while with you and when they leave.

A few well-placed questions can help sift the unvital many. I like to ask ‘what did you notice?’ — which handily gets around a bunch of half-remembered nothings, with a nod to what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Amos Tversky called the “peak-end rule”.

The rule says our past memory of any experience corresponds to the most extreme and end points (good or bad). Which means a lot of what you do is probably falls into the unremembered middle and you can focus those limited resources elsewhere.

Once you have a picture of what your vital few things look like you can begin to examine how to evolve, change or fix them. But first, there’s the little matter of what you are trading.

Also, absent from many experience discussions are the trades inherent in the choices. I often encourage my clients to ask ‘what are we trading?’ when thinking about what they intend and the resulting promises that will shape the experience. Because there is always a trade.

Back to Essentialism, where McKeown comments on a discussion with a Silicon Valley chief executive officer:

“He shared with me the value statement of his organisation, which he had just crafted … But when he shared it, I cringed: ‘We value passion, innovation, execution and leadership’.

One of several problems with the list is. Who doesn’t value those things? Another problem is that this tells the employees nothing about what the company values most. It says nothing about what choices the employees should be making when those values are at odds.”

And that lands us right back in the value element of an organisation’s identity. You can’t begin to understand what the vital few things are until you know what is most important.

Yes, you’ve got to look at what people want, and you’ve got to look at what the people providing the experience can do — both today and with new capabilities in the future (in that order).

All the experience design in the world will not help you make promises you can keep if you’re not wired with the necessary will, skills, resources and mindset. So ditch the buffet and double down on the vital few things that are important to you.

See you next week.

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