I was talking recently to a hiring manager about an open position for their first full-time, in-house User Researcher.
We talked about the intended scope of the position, what the common activities would be, how much access to customers, etc. They said a couple of things that made me pause. Then I asked my litmus question which gave them pause:
To what extent will the research impact the roadmap?
Silence for a few seconds, mild stammering, then, “Well, not a lot right now actually.”
I started asking this question of people in a position to hire [insert your Experience-related profession here] back in 2009. At the time I was a Product Manager, having moved into the position from UX within the company. My team had been tasked to fix a major feature that sat between the web app and the client app.1 We had an SVP of Product that was publicly (within the company) touting how Customer Need would drive the roadmap. So, me and the UXer on my team got to researching.
We established what the customers needed the feature to do and established that its current state was not up to par. The devs said the best way to ensure it worked properly and scaled to where we thought it needed to scale was to rewrite and redesign the entire feature. We validated again with customers. Would they be willing to wait an extra release2 to get the feature right? “Fuck, yes,” was one of the more straightforward customer responses.
We did the work the right way, had support from our SVP, and presented our roadmap into the giant roadmap pool of work.
“You will not skip a release.” said those above the SVP.
This is where I learned my lesson to really push upper-management-types for an answer to my newly-minted litmus question.
If you're looking for a [insert your Experience-related profession here] job or consulting gig solely for a paycheck, that's cool. You may not totally care to what extent you have impact within the organization. Been there, done that. It's not very satisfying, but I do understand that sometimes it's where you are at.
That said, if you are looking to have an impact on an organization, asking this litmus question is right for you.
Phrasing it as, “To what extent...” is a decent open question that shows you have some inkling that you know how things should happen. It's then an opportunity for them to come to terms, rather quickly, with the current state of data-driven-ness or making-shit-up-ed-ness.
It is a completely acceptable answer to say, “Well, not a lot right now actually.” The follow up from you then becomes, “That's fine, lots of organizations are there. Can I help you get to the right place?” That then becomes your decision point. If they are open to having the help, it potentially becomes an excellent opportunity for you to drive an organization to delivering better outcomes for its employees and/or customers. If the answer is, “Well, we're completely behind, so we're really looking for someone to jump in and help with the designs,” well, that, for me, is a problem.
I want to change the way an organization functions. I have very little patience if the answer will always be, “we need someone to help make the designs better,” or “you will not skip a release.”
If you want to have a greater impact as [insert your Experience-related profession here], your work needs to impact the roadmap (product, service, or other). And not just impact it, but drive it. That means you're going to have to learn how to Business3, how to negotiate, how to elicit & diffuse hidden agendas, and how to persuade. The good thing is, as a [insert your Experience-related profession here] you likely have some of the skills already.
If you want to have an impact, it isn't good enough to UI/UX-it, or Lean-it, or Guerrilla-it.
If you want to have an impact, do your work where the decisions about What and Why get made.
1 This was all accounting stuff related to online donations and making sure it was all tracked properly (reconciling) in the client app.
2 We were, right or wrong, on a 6-month release cycle.
3 A much better thing to learn than learning to code.