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This chapter is from the book

The Role of the Executive Champion

The executive champion might be the most challenging role in the entire institutionalization effort. There will probably be no formal position and authority, and the organization may not have even begun the process of sensitization and assimilation. Yet the executive champion must gather resources, create a strategy, and keep the process moving. He or she must manage points of contention and chart the course to full acceptance.

Without a champion, the usability staff often has a hard time being included as part of a cohesive strategic effort. The presence of an effective executive champion is the best predictor of success for a UX institutionalization effort. Without a usability champion, the usability group does not have access to key players in the organization, and it is nearly impossible for them to effect change within the organization. With an executive champion, however, the group has a chance to create change and attain the visibility needed to succeed.

The executive champion doesn’t need a background in usability engineering or software development, but he or she does need to understand the value of user experience design, its proper applications, and the importance of an implementation strategy. It is possible to get a sufficient foundation in usability engineering from a short course and some reading. First and foremost, though, the champion must have a clear understanding of the business imperatives of the organization and must see how UX work supports these objectives. He or she must understand the core value of user experience design in the organization and repeatedly reinforce this focus, with examples showing how UX design will reduce call time or increase sales.

The champion keeps the whole effort focused on the business goal. This guidance is the differentiator between an effective executive champion and an ineffective one. Ineffective champions say, “We need user experience design.” That is nice, but the reality is that no business ever needs UX for the sake of UX. Effective executive champions say, “We need to sell more, get fewer returns, and reduce support costs.” They know the specific things their business needs. They say this over and over, thousands of times. The business focus of the usability effort is their mantra—and it works.

The executive champion needs to be able to effectively influence the key people in the organization’s power structure. This means arranging for project funding as well as convincing key people in an organization whose approval and support are necessary for the institutionalization program to succeed. The executive champion needs to employ the approach that works best with each person—understanding individuals’ hot buttons and learning styles.

The executive champion must guide the UX staff through the project approval and selling process. The champion needs to check for acceptance and detect areas of resistance at all levels of the organization. The executive champion is the key agent of change and, therefore, must be able to network with key people in the company, detect areas of resistance before resistance emerges, remove organizational obstacles as they arise, and work continuously to promote acceptance. These skills are essential.

The executive champion must be responsible for the institutionalization strategy, no matter whether the practice is new or seasoned. There must always be a written strategy that directs how that operation will be maintained and enhanced. This means ensuring that the capability-building activities are aligned and that they progress. It also means identifying how the required usability work is to be staged and ensuring the proper allocation of responsibilities and resources. A good strategy is critically important (see Chapter 5), but beyond the content of the strategy, the champion must monitor progress and demand results. Progress takes place when an executive regularly asks for updates and checks milestones, keeping staff members on task. The executive champion cannot create a strategy and forget it. He or she must firmly ensure that the team carries out the strategy.

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