The Anatomy of a UX Car Crash

All names, places, products have been changed.

This actually happened. I’ve spent all weekend writing an 80 page power point presentation and I’ve spotted a major opportunity for the client – a global retailer – they have virtually no traffic from social media.

Our project manager thinks differently “yeah, but people using link shorteners won’t show up in the stats” and instructs me to remove it from the presentation. I don’t know if this is true and the evidence is mixed, but for a global ecommerce firm to only have single digit traffic from Twitter I venture something is profoundly wrong. But Catherine gets her away and the client is never aware that their social media strategy sucks.

I could tell this project had already left the rails when I first joined. “Where’s the user research?” I ask “Oh, we haven’t time so we’ve got a focus group with the client and I’m going to get them all to make up fake Facebook profiles of their customers” says the lead UX. Right. And now I’m pouring over a bunch of wireframes from the retailer, all arranged into different scenarios. I have 10 PDF documents and 200 wireframes. There is repetition everywhere. “Oh, they’ve already started coding them”. Right, erm, hmmmmm.

I’ve worked in UX for about ten years and if a project is to fail it’s because of when and where UX is involved. Projects work best when a bunch of user research is carried out before anything else; semi-structured interviews, some good old ethnographic ‘lurking’ and maybe some desk driven competitor analysis would have been the ticket. But in this case, the client was in such a rush to get to market and the agency just a bit clueless that things quickly deteriorated. Add in a dash of ‘challenging project manager’ and you can see how things went awry.

But back to the agency. I’ve spent half a day with the lead UX making up some user journeys. They’re cool. They make sense and I’m confident the client will appreciate them. But when the lead UX goes on holiday, Catherine reckons they are wrong and spends a day rewriting them with one of the designers. She also gets me to rewrite the lead UXers key recommendations based on a truly bizarre template from another company: a bench-marking document so full of holes I end up writing some of the benchmarks for the damn thing. Confused? I just want Catherine to fall off the end of Brighton pier.

And that’s another thing. If you have no project manager, you have no captain and things lack direction and decisions don’t get made. You need strong leadership and someone to ‘guide the orchestra’ – as the famous saying goes – not someone willfully driving the musicians off a cliff.

And so it came to pass that 6 UXers would come and go over the period of this project. The lead UX left the day she came back from holiday, having seen what had come of our combined efforts and I left soon after.

As I understand, the customers new online shop was delivered 18 months late and massively over budget. I have no idea if Catherine is still there and I really don’t care because train wrecks like this should be forgotten.

I’m on twitter


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