Ok, so you know that some of your company’s users are not entirely satisfied with their user experience or user interfaces. And you realize that you need to learn more from these users in order to understand how they work, what they do and what they are actually dissatisfied with. So basically you have a plan of action and have a good idea about how you will proceed.

But there is one thing you do not have: The buy-in from your top management.

In my opinion, this is one of the most challenging obstacles you will face, and normally the first one. Without the support of your top management, you might feel quite alone. And I can tell you, being alone is about the worst thing possible in a UX improvement project, because it requires more than just you to be successful.

Gather arguments: Be prepared to persuade

If you already know how user satisfaction can be measured and how to turn this into an execution plan for a UX improvement project, you are already on the right track.

BUT STOP. Don’t think that you can persuade management with this alone. To be fully prepared, you need a number of additional “selling points”:

  • As-is numbers
    You need to explain what the problem is. Talking about dissatisfied users is generally not enough. You need more hard facts. Perform user surveys and review the top 50 transactions / applications in your current setup. Identify those with the highest business value or rate them (roughly) in terms of UI complexity. You could also review the amount of incoming support requests and work out a categorization based on caused costs. With numbers and feedback from users, you can obtain valuable data points to help identify problems that can be illustrated in numbers (e.g. transaction XYZ has high complexity and produces a lot of support activity. At the same time however, it is one of the most used transactions in the company)
  • A rough vision and idea of the outcome
    You don’t need to build a complete UX strategy just yet. If you want to “sell” a UX improvement project to your company however, you need at least a rough idea of what you hope to achieve. Have a vision that has the power to impress but remains feasible and realistic (e.g. “A modern software environment provided by a highly professional IT department, offering applications that are a pleasure for the users to work with”). You should also be prepared to talk about the possible results (e.g. reduced support costs by 201x, or x users transitioned to a modern user interface)
  • A high-level execution plan
    You can simplify your plan by categorizing it into three general options. You could either ADOPT things out-of-the-box from SAP, ADAPT things that you have adopted from SAP or simply DEVELOP new things using tools and frameworks provided by SAP. If you already have the as-is numbers, you could probably start to (very roughly) sort your actions into these categories and start tailoring your plan to the needs of your users and your environment. If you want to learn more about this topic, see this video: “Typical transition paths for SAP UX improvements”.

Make UX exciting: Know the types of arguments that management is listening to

Let’s be serious here. A business exists first and foremost to make money. Unless you work for an IT company, you company’s core business is certainly not to operate IT, provide a good experience for your users or to develop user interfaces itself. IT is something your company needs in order to perform more efficiently.

Your first aim therefore must be to indicate why your company’s business can make more money by improving user experience.

Keep realistic: Be careful when talking about user productivity

I know, increased productivity is one of the arguments most frequently used to justify investment in an UX improvement project. And of course, there is huge potential in this domain, especially in business areas where a small number of tasks are repeated again and again.

Depending on the individual user however, the working environment and the typical tasks can be quite different. If most of the user’s time is spent on meetings, mails and other things, improving a user interface to gain a measly five minutes per day might not make much of a difference. So be careful when using productivity as your argument if you aren’t really acquainted with the user environment and user tasks. Being unrealistic at the beginning will hit you like a boomerang once you have to prove the success at the end of the project.

While stressing the need for care, I am not suggesting that you should leave productivity out of the equation altogether. If presented methodically and realistically, productivity can in fact be your trump card.

To play the productivity card, bear in mind the following points:

  • Have a plan for what people can do with the time they save
    Just ask yourself the following question: What would you do with five minutes saved per day? Would you just pick up another coffee, or simply relax after hours of meetings? Maybe you would check your mails. But does this improve productivity in a monetary sense? You need to have an idea how the newly available time can be used. If it is not used for tasks that are connected with real business processes, you have probably hit upon a snazzy UX improvement with zero business relevance.
  • Consider all aspects of user experience, not just the user interface
    Improving user experience can amount to a lot more than just looking at user interfaces. Based on the example above with a user’s day full-packed with meetings, mails, Excel sheets and the like, you have a springboard for improving user experience right across the spectrum. 

In both cases, SAP can only provide a limited amount of out-of-the-box help during this part of the improvement process, as a customer-specific analysis is required. SAP can help you with UX consulting services however.

Use facts, reliable numbers and a healthy ROI: A good way to satisfy decision makers

Beside productivity, another winning argument is reducing costs. Please remember that UX improvements require investments as well however. You have to put your numbers through a Return-on-Investment (ROI) calculation and have an idea of a break-even period. To stay realistic the break-even period in a medium-sized UX improvement project should be around 12-18 months, although your company might see certain benefits much earlier.

Here are some examples of UX-related cost reductions:

  • Reduced correction costs
    Simpler screens result in fewer input errors and ultimately in increased data quality.  You should ask your business organization what percentage of their time they spend fixing bad data.
  • Reduced error handling costs
    Realistically, bad data will not always be fixed upfront. There are cases where bad data will be fixed when errors occur (e.g. unexpected errors, incorrect reporting, product sent to the wrong customer address or wrong customer). Depending on the case, this might impact your support or specific business users, and will generate process costs. While correction costs are painful enough, costs arising from errors are a source of real discomfort for the business.
  • Reduced training costs
    Simpler screens are easier to use and will ideally be self-explanatory too. As a result, training costs can be significantly reduced. While many argue that this only impacts on new users, you need to keep in mind that your improvements might also be new to your existing users. Reducing to a minimum the amount of training required to get them productive with the new solution might be another argument you could use.
  • Reduced user support costs
    Simpler or let’s say better tailored screens will cause less user-driven support messages. It might sound strange, but less interaction and options on a screen means fewer ways to do something wrong or get into a muddle and need support.
  • Reduced development costs
    This area of costs is obviously connected to user interfaces developed within your company, but can also be roughly connected to cases where you plan to adapt existing user interfaces from SAP. If you want to develop your own, case-specific applications, you can reduce costs significantly by considering methods like design thinking. In addition to talking about  technologies and screens, also use the UX topic to attempt to involve modern methods that are in sync with your idea for improving user experience. These methods ensure that you have a much more detailed idea of what you need in your application BEFORE you start building it. Using development resources to build early prototypes or to repeatedly patch up your application as new requirements come in later on is not the right approach, and has a negative impact on costs.

Convince your CIO and business leaders: The reputation of departments

Are you proud of the great things you have achieved for your company? Your CIO and the business leads will be proud too if they can make their business even better or making their employees that bit more motivated and happy in their work.

Talking about the CIO, wouldn’t it be great if s/he could do these things:

  • Announce that user satisfaction has increased over the last year by x%
    If you do it right starting from the beginning, you already have a number of figures. You know how your users feel after conducting a user survey. If you use this feedback and translate it into improvement activities, it will not be difficult to help your CIO to sing the praises of the IT organization.
  • Act rather then re-act
    I guess your CIO doesn’t like surprises. So help him/her to understand the concerns of the users AND the business. Being prepared and having methods and solutions ready before people make complaints in the first place is surely the best way to demonstrate the strength of the IT organization.
  • Announce that s/he is successfully cooperating with the business
    No CIO wants to be just a service provider. If the IT masters UX methods such as design thinking, it becomes a valuable partner for the business. And as we know already, this is the key for success in any UX improvement project.

With regard to the business, wouldn’t it be great if the leaders could do these things:

  • Announce that user satisfaction has increased over the last year by x%
    They will like doing this even more than the CIO did.
  • Announce that productivity and profits have increased
    Once again, this is about real numbers and good KPIs. While most of them are already known to the business and are already constantly measured, you might add some new data sources like “numbers of reduced clicks” and “number of reduced screens”.

You can position an UX improvement project to provide these benefits. If you get the chance to import UX methods into your company and have the time to make a plan based on real feedback from real end users, all of the above is possible.

Let’s summarize the facts:

  1. You don’t have the support of your top management? Then work on it. Without the support of top management, your chances of successfully implementing UX improvements are compromised.
  2. Be careful not to make assumptions, especially when it comes to productivity. Base your arguments on measurable facts (like user survey results) and figures (support costs, training costs and the like).
  3. In addition to cost savings, user satisfaction and productivity, stress how the improvements will also enhance the reputation of various departments in the company.
  4. Finally: Think big but start small. Start with small projects and cooperative users to gather experience, strengthen your case and be prepared to prove the value of your proposal and acquire support for further improvement steps

Let me know if this helps you. Do you have other arguments? Or do you have difficulties in discussing the topic of UX in your company?  Is certain information missing, or is there information you would like to share? Feel free to use the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,
JJ

Jürgen Jakowski – Twitter: @JJComment

(This blog was also posted in the SAP Community Network)

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  • Koen van Niekerk   2 years ago

    How dare you speak of UX when your product is the worst experience ever?

    (An experienced UX designer and SAP user)

    • Juergen Jakowski   2 years ago

      Hi Koen,

      Thank you for your comment. I can certainly understand and appreciate how a bad user experience can elicit strong negative emotions. In particular in the enterprise software space, there is often a lot of room for improvement. SAP has made great strides over the last few years to focus very specifically on improving the user experience of our software. You can read more about SAP’s user experience strategy here: https://experience.sap.com/ux-strategy/. We now deliver new and renewed applications, for which there was a big focus on the UI. In addition, we deliver a set of enablement tools which allows customers to adjust the UI to specific needs of their users. This includes adjustment of the content, things such as input fields and the layout of the screen as well as visual adjustment to match the colors, etc. to specific needs or tastes. The SAP Fiori applications are another good proof-point of how we are creating new, modern user interfaces and revitalizing the overall user experience of SAP software. The feedback for these applications is very good, from customers and their users.

      The reasons for a bad user experience can be manifold. Perhaps the user interface you are using was built many years ago, at a time when, not only at SAP but with many other enterprise software vendors, the focus was much stronger on functionality rather than usability. Perhaps the customization of the interface was not done properly. Or perhaps even you are using a custom-built solution. We have often heard negative feedback from customers and, after investigating the root cause, have discovered that this is the case.

      Nonetheless, your feedback asks specifically how I can speak about UX. I can confirm that I like the user interfaces SAP is currently producing and the direction in which we are driving the user experience.

      The message in my post really centers on the importance of knowing and understanding users before you can judge what they really need and also on getting upper management on board by focusing on the business aspects of a UX improvement project. As you are a designer and UX professional, I’m sure we can agree that this is essential.

      With kind regards,
      Jürgen Jakowski