Contextual Inquiry as an agent of organizational change

Contextual Inquiry as an agent of organizational change

I met with a prospective client today and I went in with the idea that the issue at hand was conducting user research to better understand the needs of several under-served user populations so that future-state planning could be done to draw these audiences in. As we talked one of the things that came to the fore was internal resistance to making changes to the status quo. Initially these seemed like two very different/unrelated challenges but then I remembered a project that I supervised while I was at Wachovia (which I think I can discuss with impunity, since there no longer is a Wachovia–which is a truly sad thing). I suddenly had a revelation (cue super hero “da-da-da-da”) “This is a job for Contextual Inquiry!”

When we launched the newly redesigned site following the First Union and Wachovia merger we got a lot of things right–but our usability testing revealed serious flaws in the Investing Center. Subsequently we began working on a redesign of that section even before the new site had launched. In our postmortem review of the project we concluded that one of the reasons we didn’t get the design right (and in this context design refers primarily to IA) was that our team didn’t have a great working relationship with the content owners–in this case, Brokerage.  The UX team felt there had been a lot of resistance to our user-centered design process on the part of the Brokerage team; the Brokerage folks didn’t think the UX team understood the topic/business and were wary about letting us get too close to the customers (a whole other story).

I don’t actually remember how we came to the conclusion to us CI for the investing center redesign (it may have been a case of a solution looking for a problem–I know I had been very eager to try the methodology out for several years at that point and hadn’t had the opportunity).

The CI process had a pretty profound impact; we learned a great deal that directly influenced our redesign, but we also transformed our team’s relationship with the brokerage team–a lot of resistance and mistrust was broken down/overcome in the course of the project. CI is not for the faint of heart; it’s a complex methodology that takes some real commitment to follow–and yet when you can use it to learn what you need to do a successful redesign *and* evolve team relationships I suspect it’s cheap at the price.

See also: InContext Design (the folks who wrote the book on this subject)

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