The imperative of change management

The first time I heard somebody refer to UX work as “change management,” I comprehended but didn't really understand. Only now do I get it, after a recent client meeting in which a stakeholder said these words, referring to the organization's users:

“We need to get them using our terminology.”

The emphasis is mine, and I hope you're not in too much physical pain, because I was. Hearing this was the user experience equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. With swift clarity, I realized we had a fundamental problem on our hands, something that no amount of architecture, interface, or interaction could fix. Rooted deep within the organization's mindset was a way of thinking that needed to change. But nowhere in the budget or project timeline had room been made for the work of “change management.”

Now, the person who made that eye-opening statement was what I might call a deep stakeholder. She worked in the trenches of this organization, and she wasn't involved in earlier meetings or conversations about the redesign. At first, I was frustrated. After all, so many other key stakeholders were already on board, convinced of the value of rethinking their approach. As the meeting dragged on, it felt like this one outlier's voice threatened to undermine all of our progress.

Of course, getting frustrated is not the answer. To her, the threat was from us. My team was proposing changes that promised to have a significant impact on her day-to-day job. It’s easy to feel in the right as a designer when you’re busy advocating for the user, but that doesn't absolve us from the impact our solutions have on other people, no matter how far they might be from the project’s epicenter.

UX is on the rise, and that means more and more people will be coming into contact with it and those who practice it. When that happens, there will be conflicts … and you know what? That's OK. Conflict is an opportunity to start a relationship with somebody, to understand where that person is coming from and engage them. Whenever these opportunities arise, we can’t be shy as designers and architects. We need to take them, because change management isn't an option in this line of work. It’s an imperative.