Starting in April, I will not be an employee of IBM. Why? They laid me off. I am not upset about it.
It was a great 10 years. I got to work with great people on really challenging and interesting business problems. I contributed to several important, transformative efforts within the company. I made a difference for users across a variety of IBM digital touchpoints.
What's next for me? I do not know yet. If you are going to the IA Summit this week, then I want to talk with you about opportunities to collaborate. I am excited that I will get to do something new and different, and can build upon what I experienced working for IBM for a decade.
What did I learn, teach, discover, accomplish, survive the past 10 years? Four items to start with as I reflect back a bit.
1. You can indeed have effective, distributed, worldwide teams (e.g., dozens of people, all working remotely, in many time zones) but it is not easy. It takes discipline, planning, good communication skills, and proper use of a wide variety of tools.
User experience methods are useful for planning the "team experience" and information architecture skills come in handy for organizing the work spaces.
2. Agile UX & development processes, in general, are a better way to work in large corporations, since it makes it easier to do continuous, incremental improvements.
In a large, complex, systems-driven infrastructure, the "trick" is in the analysis phase (aka "writing stories"), where large problems are broken down into smaller work items. Avoid the roadblock parts of the infrastructure - things that are so broken, they need to be thrown away.
Certain parts of the user experience will always stink until the company commits to starting over from scratch. Make progress where you can and constantly remind management what is FUBAR.
3. One of the trends I see coming is more and more integration of UI design systems. Within IBM, our latest web redesign included a huge effort to combine our intranet and internet UIs. They do not look exactly the same, but our definitions/implementations of breadcrumbs, local navigation, icons, page grids and other UI elements are the same now.
The business case includes both UX benefits and costs savings. For example, a widget developed for the intranet can easily be used on internet sites.
The integration is happening at a larger scale within the company now. With platforms evolving quickly (smart phones, tablets), companies will need to spend even more time integrating UI design systems to make all of their digital touchpoints fit together.
My personal interest is on the information architecture side: how to organize the elements in the design systems (in a multi-faceted classification scheme, of course) so they can be integrated.
4. A technique I used for dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis was acting like a "requirements therapist". Groups would come to me with the "solution" in mind (e.g., "add a link to the home page", "we need smaller tabs to fit them all on our pages") and I would ask them lots of questions about how they got to this as the answer to their problems.
What is the actual business problem you are trying to solve? What are the user needs, goals, tasks? What other options did you consider (and what are the pros/cons of each)? What impact would this have on other business units? What would be the ideal user experience (even if we know that is not possible)? What is the bare minimum we can do to move us in the right direction? And so on.
Sometimes the net result was no actual change to the user experience, but the client changed through the therapy.
Four of my thoughts after 10 years with IBM, without getting into the weeds. And boy, are there a lot of IBM business and technical details I have gotten into over the past 10 years, things only an "innie" gets to experience. I guess that is something else that is important: how to stay at a high level for a while, and when to get into the details to actually get the work done. Being able to switch your brain quickly from the "clouds" to the "weeds" - and back - is crucial.
10 great years: now to start the next great 10 years!