Picture a room full of smart people from different disciplines, brought together to create an innovative new product. They’re inspired by their shared purpose. They’re led by a skilled facilitator. They’ve got the supplies they need for a day of creativity. There’s just one problem: Their disparate backgrounds mean they don’t speak the same language.
As the design principal for AI practices and leadership at IBM, Jennifer Sukis knows this challenge well. It’s her job to bring teams together across the vast company to develop AI products and features. Those teams may include designers, developers, and marketers, but Sukis suggests each participant focus on one individual throughout the session: the end user. “You have to help everybody in the room understand that, no matter what angle they’re coming from, at the end of the day, it’s still about the user,” she says. “If it doesn’t work for that person, you’re going to hear about it in one way or another.”
Focusing on the user is, of course, a key tenet of design thinking. But Sukis avoids even mentioning that term to cross-functional teams. “Calling it design thinking definitely creates a barrier for anyone who’s not a designer,” she says. “They don’t want to be forced into this touchy-feely, non-engineering or non-business world.”
Speak Their Language
Instead, she calls the process design strategy or experience strategy—terms that help the non-designers in the room feel more comfortable and more willing to share their points of view. And through all the exercises and iterations that follow, Sukis brings to bear a relentless focus on the user. Say the team is coming up with features for a new product and begins by drafting their ideas on a series of different colored Post-it Notes. After the initial brainstorming, Sukis will have them rank how valuable each feature is to the user and group the notes accordingly.
As the team repeats that process throughout the course of a workshop, they continue to rearrange the Post-it Notes as necessary. The colorful slips of paper become a tangible reminder of which features provide the most value—and best meet the end user’s needs. With that information, the group’s focus becomes clearer, and by the end of the workshop they’re able to articulate the value their innovation creates for their company, in addition to the end user.
Ultimately, Sukis says, this user-centered process gives team members the language they’ll need to communicate with upper management: “They know how to answer the kinds of questions I know they’re going to get from leadership, like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why does my user care? What’s the payoff going to be?’ That’s what value is about.”
This article was created with and commissioned by Post-it Brand.