User Experience Management: techniques to promote knowledge sharing

Many of the blog posts, discussion threads and literature I read, in the area of UX Management, have a strong focus on process management. That is, of course, very important. How do we integrate user experience effectively into a development process? How do we fit research into the agile methodology? All incredibly pertinent questions that need discussing.

The beatings will continue until morale improvesHowever, there is another strand to leading a UX team. There is the people side. How can we motivate our team? How can we engender an environment of skill improvement and knowledge sharing?

The majority of user experience and design people are, in my experience, incredibly creative and passionate. There is a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for new ways of doing things. However, quite often, as managers, we lead teams that have graduates and people new to user experience. People at this stage in their career need a more formal framework for skill and knowledge learning. Not everyone is a natural self-starter. As user experience managers it is our jobs to nurture talent with skills and knowledge.

Over the course of a few posts, I’d like to talk about user experience management, outside the methodology/process arena. Things like knowledge sharing, motivation and making sure that UX has its place at the table in the corporate environment (yes, that does mean gaining influence, budget etc.).

In this post I’d like to share some of the techniques I use for knowledge sharing in my teams (user experience and design teams).

 

Weekly UX & Design Video

Every week a member of the team hosts a 30minute meeting. This meeting is open to anyone. At the meeting we show a video, or number of videos, on interesting topics. For example, we’ve had Seth Godin’s 7 Kinds of Broken and Vilayanur Ramachandran’s A journey to the center of your mind, to name but two.

The purpose of these sessions is to make sure we all stay outwardly focused. Making sure that we are always looking at new and different things, things that could inspire us and trigger a great idea. I got the idea for making this a regular team event from @leemcivor, so thanks Lee!
 

Brown Bags

Brown bags are knowledge sharing seminars. According to Wikipedia:

Brown bag seminars, sessions or lunches are generally training or information sessions during a lunch break. Brown bag is a symbol for meals brought along by the attendees, or provided by the host. In the USA, those are often packed in brown paper bags. Brown bag seminars normally run an hour or two.

The aim is to use regular breaks, e.g. the lunch break, to provide some information to the attendees in a voluntary and informal setting. It is often followed by a discussion of the topic.

I send out an open invite to team members to propose a subject that they have an interest in, and would like to research and host a brown bag on. Anyone that doesn’t respond gets assigned a topic. The person researches the topic and gives a talk, usually lasting around 45mins, to the team, or to the whole department (depending on the depth of UXness of the subject). The subject is then opened up to the floor for some discussion.

Here’s a flavour of our brown bag topics:

  • Typography
  • Research on a shoestring [low cost research]
  • The craft of effective user testing
  • The customised user experience
  • Editorial design

The topics are broad and deep, and are a good mix of UX and Design, which helps to cross-pollinate knowledge between the two disciplines.
 

Book Reviews

There’s not a huge amount that I can add to the heading! Everyone on the team is given a book, from our library, to read and review. I like a specific emphasis on themes/techniques that the book mentions that may be applicable to us – how and why we could adopt/use them.
 

The Cool Wall

Our Cool Wall

Unashamedly ripped off from the BBC Top Gear Cool Wall! At a team meeting every month or so, I will invite people to bring along a printout of a site that they love or hate. They then pitch it to the team, why it’s good/bad and where on the wall it should go (Seriously Uncool, Uncool, Cool or Sub Zero).

This is a great way of doing some informal coaching around design critiquing, and how to articulate what works and doesn’t work. it teaches how to communicate what is good and bad about a site, its usability, experience, features and design.

This is also a nice, informal way of getting people more comfortable with public speaking, and a little bit of pitch practice too!

 

Pictionary

I spoke about this technique in my previous blog post Promoting Sketching, and how I like to use it to promote sketching. It’s also good fun and get the team working and laughing together. This was especially  useful when the design team joined my team, and it’s a great way for new starters to feel part of the wider team.


 

Do you use any of these? Do you have other techniques that you’ve found fun and effective?

 

 

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