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  • Writer's pictureLisa Morris

Employee Experience Design—Driving the Creative Process (EX Series, Part 3)

Updated: Feb 16


What’s the best way to propel employee experience design processes at your organization? This three-phase approach can produce amazing outcomes.

In Part 1, “Employee Experience—What You Need to Know,” of this blog series, we defined employee experience (EX) from two perspectives: the human’s and the organization’s. We examined why and how investing in EX delivers significant return and is beneficial to any organization.

In Part 2, “Employee Experience Design—Finding the Right Problems to Solve,” we defined employee experience design (EXD), discussed the importance of project scoping and described how to plan and conduct research for your project.

Now we will actually turn the key, start the engine and begin moving toward our destination as we present the reframing, ideation and prototyping/testing stages.

1. Framing the focus of your design effort

After your team has gathered lots of data about the people you are designing for, it is helpful to run a ‘sense-making workshop’ to involve external stakeholders in analyzing the data and visualizations that you created as part of the research phase. This process ensures that teams tap into multiple perspectives on the data to help minimize implicit bias. It also helps to involve key stakeholders early in the design process so they feel more ownership and buy-in to the process and resulting solutions.

Whether in a workshop with other stakeholders or just the design team, the sense-making process allows you to look deeply into the data for patterns and insights to inform choices about where to focus your EXD efforts. First, the group should look carefully into the visualizations developed during the research phase—specifically, personas and journey maps—to identify problem areas (pain points) and opportunities to improve employee experience.

Second, the group should decide which opportunities to solve for first. This is a multi-step phase that often includes some form of voting (e.g., ‘dot voting’), then generating alternative problem statements (e.g., “How Might We” or “Point of View” statements), and finally sorting through and discussing alternatives in order to make a final selection of the problem areas for the next step—ideation.

Often this reframing process reveals many more problem areas than are possible to take on in one go, so this step is about forcing decisions. This is a good moment to include key decision makers, influencers and even the people who might be involved in implementing solutions in order to gain buy-in and ownership in the process.

Reframing ends once the team has landed on one or more concise, clearly worded statements that frame the problem solving effort. These statements are called ‘challenge statements’.


2. Ideation

After key problem areas are identified for a specific persona (employee type), we generate ideas for solving the challenge statements. This is one of the more energizing activities since the design team is finally able to work on solutions.

Ideation is a structured form of brainstorming. It seeks to elicit ideas. Any ideas. Ideas that may be only partially formed and may be outlandish, too expensive or not even technically feasible. Quantity is paramount while also tapping into the creativity of the design team, stakeholders and even—or especially—the specific employees for whom you are designing. Don’t hold back! It’s often easier to transform a “crazy” idea into a more realistic solution than to transform a conventional, mundane idea into something that truly delights.

A productive ideation session involves multiple idea-generation exercises. Three to five different techniques can generate dozens or hundreds of ideas. Unsurprisingly, more people involved means more ideas generated. Often this translates into running a workshop specifically for ideation.

The quality of the ideas tends to improve with the diversity of the set of people generating those ideas. In EXD, this means including the employees you are designing for as well as any and all people who will shape the employee’s experiences directly (managers, organizational leaders) and indirectly (HR, IT, support staff).

After generation of ideas, we filter and combine them into a set of concepts that can be tested. Key stakeholders such as decision makers, sponsors and implementers should be consulted at this critical EXD threshold.

The output of a well-executed ideation step should be a manageable portfolio of solutions to the pain points for the employee type in question. It’s common to have a greater number of solutions to be tested than the number of solutions that realistically can be carried into the prototyping phase. With this in mind, solutions should be prioritized and sequenced according to criteria like available resources, expected impact of the solution, fit with other ongoing initiatives, etc.

Teams that are new to EXD may find it challenging to select and prioritize, but their confidence and effectiveness will increase with experience. As with all aspects of EXD, there is a healthy dose of learning-by-doing, and it is extremely helpful to have a trusted guide who has been through the whole EXD process many times to coach and train the team.

3. Prototyping and testing

A design prototype is a visually tangible representation of a concept to assist teams in identifying and refining important details while allowing others to understand the concept and provide feedback. The prototype is a vital and rapid tool to help the team evaluate what works and what doesn’t work. Prototypes can also act as powerful research tools that elicit new insights and help the design team better understand a persona’s needs.

Effective prototypes test key hypotheses. A hypothesis example might be: ‘If call center staff have more flexibility in determining their work schedules there will be fewer sick days and reduced staff turnover.’ The testing process involves presenting the prototype solution to one or more people who are familiar with the persona’s experience. Testing sessions are typically short and informal but relatively structured.

Testing in EXD often involves describing a present-day scenario and explaining where the problem lies for the employee of focus. The team then relates a future scenario where the proposed solution is in place and has solved the employee’s pain point. Feedback from the test subject is valuable, even though this process is partially hypothetical.

EXD testing is not the same as user experience (UX) testing. It’s about learning what works for the employee which means that iteration of the concept is permitted, even encouraged, as you gauge responses—especially positive ones. If subjects provide additional ideas for improvement, those ideas can be made part of the concept and the prototype can be revised for the next session. The beneficial side effects of this iteration are an increase in efficiency/speed and a decrease in cost.

Generally, the team will become confident that the concept is sound, is desirable, and solves the challenge for the employee in as few as five or six sessions. Concepts are then ready for further testing and iteration (usually two or three more). Those iterations will become more detailed—higher in ‘resolution’ and closer to their final state.

Up next

In the fourth and final post in this series, we will talk about how to take the design prototype and move it into implementation. This is the most critical point in the process and can be a key point of failure of the entire EXD effort if not carefully considered up front.

We will also provide recommendations so that teams may avoid common pitfalls and increase the likelihood that their EXD projects will be successful.

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Co-author Lisa Morris has over 25+ years’ experience at the forefront of brand, organizational behavior, and human-centered design. As founder and CEO of XPLOR, she has become a leading expert in EX design and service design. Her innovative approach has helped clients in a range of sectors to create engaging, effective experiences for their customers and employees.

Co-author Marc Bolick leads the US office of DesignThinkers Group. With 25+ years’ experience in product and service design, he’s worked in sectors including medical devices, mobile & web applications, travel & leisure, financial services, and innovation consulting.

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