Enterprise flUX: the evolving practice (and conference) of enterprise user experience

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  • In a nutshell: The 2019 edition of the Enterprise UX conference will focus on two new use cases: 1) helping UX leaders and managers more effectively partner with their peers in product management, CX and other parts of the enterprise that share responsibility for delivering great experiences; and 2) helping enterprise UX practitioners up-level their skillsets to become “enterprise-ready”. To keep up with our program’s progress, join our Enterprise UX community mailing list.

    What’s the use case for a conference?

    That may seem like an odd question, but conferences are like any other product—they need a reason to exist. Given their annual nature, you really need to be asking this question every year, especially in a field evolving as quickly as user experience design. That’s hard to do, especially when the wheels of conference production must begin turning well in advance, sometimes more than a year before the event takes place.

    Enterprise UX Conference Panel Speakers

    That’s why we’re making some significant enhancements to the 2019 program to stay relevant.

    Enterprise UX 2018 was the fourth edition of the conference and, in many respects, we really hit our stride: a user research-driven program, exciting and diverse speakers making polished presentations, and a well-choreographed production.

    But the 2018 program repeated many of the same themes as our inaugural program back in 2015. While those themes remained relevant, the industry has changed in important ways over those four years. So we’ve begun planning a new program to match the community’s evolving needs.

    From one use case to two

    Like the good UX folks that we are, we started with the conference’s use case. The inaugural use case looked something like this:

    The Enterprise UX conference provides content and community to UX leaders and managers who are trying to build—and sustain—UX teams within large enterprises.

    The future is famously here but unevenly distributed: since 2015, many of those leaders and managers have succeeded in getting their UX teams established, staffed, and funded. They no longer have to constantly look over their shoulders and worry about regime change, activist investors, and other threats that have decapitated design orgs in the past. UX is now irrevocably a part of the DNA of many—if not most—enterprises.

    Rather than managing up to get a seat at the table, UX leaders and managers now need to shift their focus: managing down (building the right teams) and managing laterally (collaborating with peers from other parts of the enterprise). Ergo, two new use cases for Enterprise UX 2019:

    The Enterprise UX conference provides content and community to UX leaders and managers who need to:
    1) Help their teams acquire the skills they need to succeed in the face of enterprise challenges; and
    2) Understand, align, coordinate, and collaborate with peers in other parts of the organization that impact the user’s experience.

    Use case #1: Managing down

    It’s no secret that the supply of UX talent simply can’t keep up with demand. And perhaps the biggest driver of that demand is the growth of teams at large enterprises.

    This results in placing fairly inexperienced practitioners—many fresh out of short-term programs like General Assembly’s—into settings rife with complex political, cultural, and historical challenges. These practitioners maybe be strong craftspeople, but don’t have the business acumen and soft skills to succeed in an enterprise setting.

    To become “enterprise-ready,” these practitioners desperately need to expand their toolkits, and it’ll take more than a single conference to get them there. But acknowledging the need in a public setting is an important first step. Enterprise UX 2019 will offer a variety of workshops to help practitioners become better at the listening, collaborating, negotiating, empathizing, understanding, and partnering skills they need to create and sustain great experiences at enterprise scale.

    Use case #2: Managing laterally

    In enterprises—large, distributed, and deeply complex—the user experience can’t be owned by UX teams; at best, we’re its shepherds. UX leaders and managers realize that they need to understand, serve, and partner with peers in all the other parts of the enterprise that impact the users’ experience, whether employees or customers. That means learning the goals, motivations, challenges, perspectives, and—perhaps most importantly—the language of people in HR, sales, CX, engineering, innovation labs, analytics, and the C-suite.

    We envision an Enterprise UX 2019 program that takes the bull by the horns, teaching UX leaders and managers how their peers think, feel, and act, and modeling ways—through panels, storytelling, group exercises, and other means—to combine forces to create better experiences for enterprise users.

    Diversity of the multidimensional variety

    At Enterprise UX 2018, we made huge strides in diversifying our speaker roster. The key to reaching underrepresented communities was acknowledging that we, the program curators (Uday GajendarLada GorlenkoDave Malouf, and me) lived and worked in a detached, self-reinforcing network made up of people just like ourselves. The only way to reach beyond it was to let go: to delegate a share of our programming to people who inhabited very different networks. It’s never easy to give up control, but the outcome was well worth the risk.

    For 2019, we face a similar task. In addition to reaching underrepresented communities, we also need to reach beyond UX to our “sister” enterprise silos that impact the experience. We’ll start with these siblings:

    • Customer experience (CX)
    • Product management
    • Engineering
    • Data analytics

    Cross-disciplinary diversity in our program will require a similar approach: adding well-connected members of those communities to our curation team and empowering them to take substantial roles in programming. These ambassadors will help us understand the landscapes of their respective communities in terms of potential speakers but, more importantly, the goals and challenges they face when it comes to crafting successful enterprise experiences.

    Is it still Enterprise UX?

    Most definitely. But the past five years have made it clear that enterprise UX is not owned by the UX team—it’s owned by the enterprise. To make the conference a home for anyone involved with the enterprise experience, we’re considering changing the conference’s name to something more inclusive—perhaps simply “Enterprise Experience”.

    While the name is important, the program and the people it serves are what matter most. If you’d like to keep up on our progress and let us know what kind of program you would like to see, please subscribe to our Enterprise UX community mailing list. That’s where we’ve already been sharing resources, ideas, and discussions about Enterprise UX for many months now, mostly in the form of free monthly videoconference calls. I hope you’ll join us and be part of the discussion!

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