GE User Experience Strategy and Capacity Building
GE User Experience Strategy and Capacity Building
I think we all instantly spotted the significance of this undertaking in terms of the impact it will have on the company and the immediate benefit it will have on the thousands of people world-wide that interact with these products and systems. Efforts such as this can at their inception appear to be almost insurmountable, however over time they form the foundation for how we communicate the value of design. – Don Carr
GE User Experience Strategy and Capacity Building
1. The Nutshell: In plain language, tell us what your project is, what it does, and what it’s comprised of.
This is a strategy for increasing GE’s capability to engage in user-centered design and deliver superior software user experiences across all of its businesses. The strategy was developed and communicated over the course of 11 months through a broad range of tools and activities that engaged stakeholders throughout the organization, including
• a GE-branded UX design process and design principles
• a series of collaborative workshops with UX practitioners
• pilot programs to provide hands-on experience with each of the businesses
• a community hub, UX Central, for sharing best practices
• a roadmap for building a central UX team.
2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
GE takes pride in the quality of its engineering, but customers do not perceive their software as being on par. GE realized that their software engineering needs user experience design to succeed. But while there is strong executive-level support for a global UX strategy, the business culture is driven by a strict six-sigma process that prioritizes efficiency and bottom-line results over creativity and empathy.
GE customers are highly siloed within individual operational cultures, making it challenging to generalize across industries to establish a common process. While GE has a strong sales and marketing organization, most businesses have spent little time immersing themselves in their customer’s workflow and behavior. Accessing customers is not easy as many work in heavily regulated industries. Their energy business, for example, sells to a handful of major governments and utilities. Sales people are very guarded about opening up access to a small set of high-value customers.
GE is also not centralized. Many of the divisions are Fortune 50 businesses in their own right with a high degree of independence in how they operate within their market. Few of their major businesses employ more than a handful of UX practitioners, who are isolated and underappreciated. Corporate initiatives are seen as largely brand-driven without providing much business value. To convince the businesses to invest in UX teams requires specific ROI and other metrics, which can be hard to correlate directly to investments in design.
3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
You can’t build momentum within GE without creating value directly within the individual businesses.
Over the course of the project we worked with all of their primary industrial businesses to introduce UX methods and demonstrate the value of design. Our first engagement focused on the maintenance and repair of aircraft engines. Our redesign was enthusiastically received by customers and led to follow-on engagements with software products and services related to energy plants, locomotives and hospital hygiene.
4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Despite an executive mandate to build UX capability, it is impossible to build momentum within GE without creating value directly with the individual businesses. The strategy developed in parallel with executing a series of pilot projects that applied UX thinking to high-profile software applications. The project team worked with four businesses (Transportation, Energy, Aviation, Healthcare) to introduce UX methods and improve the design of software applications that do everything from track aircraft engines through the repair and maintenance process to manage the performance of a fleet of energy plants to monitoring compliance in hospitals with hand-washing regulations. These hands-on design efforts provided a good understanding of the operating environment across a broad range of businesses and helped to identify UX practitioners and executives who saw the value of UX for their business.
These pilots provided an indispensable base of knowledge to understand how to build a broader UX strategy. The pilots were supplemented with a broader survey of the software landscape, auditing 18 different applications from across the businesses to better understand the variety of contexts in which GE software was used. This uncovered a set of patterns regarding common user types across industries, and common capabilities necessary to support business processes and add value. Consolidating this knowledge into a map of the software landscape revealed the value of design in identifying patterns and highlighting valuable areas for investment. Analyzing the different ways that software is packaged and sold within GE, often as part of long-term service and maintenance contracts in which software was either given away or provided incremental revenue at best, provided insight into potential business arguments for investing in UX.
An audit of the organizational capability surrounding UX convened 50+ design and product leads for a series of quarterly workshops to tackle topics like UX process, roles and business value frameworks. This was the first chance for many design practitioners, even within the same business, to meet and share their experience. These sessions created a foundation of language, needs, roles, tools and success metrics that is the core of an emerging UX knowledge base, UX Central, an online digital hub for the entire organization. This led to a GE-branded UX process pooling the experience of these teams and aligning it with GE’s famous six-sigma process. The team identified key metrics that can be used by the business to certify their approach to UX. These activities culminated in a two-day workshop that brought UX, business and software leadership together to set a roadmap for UX investment priorities for 2012.
5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The GE User Experience Strategy project is part of a large investment in software platforms that is a central growth pillar for GE. While GE has delivered software tools to support the management and maintenance of industrial systems (such as energy plants and high-speed trains) for many years, these tools are a low margin business providing limited utility to their customers. GE would like to be able to price these tools based on their value, in increasing the longevity and efficiency of a power plant or preventing costly maintenance issues over the lifetime of an aircraft engine, rather than simple utility. Better use and maintenance of these systems also has the potential for significant environmental benefits in increased energy efficiency or decreased fuel consumption (for an aircraft engine or locomotive).
The key to realizing this value is driven, in no small part, by user experience. A new generation of workers is entering these industrial businesses with much higher expectations from the software that they use. They have grown up in the age of Salesforce and Basecamp. In addition, GE is looking to reach a more important audience, Fleet Managers and Business Executives, with digital tools that help them make critical business decisions to maximize the value of their assets and anticipate problems long before they occur. These senior stakeholders have little time or patience for mining data. They expect critical indicators to be surfaced in a timely and intuitive manner.
6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
The initial focus of the project was to broaden the awareness and appreciation of UX as an important part of GE’s product development process. Early activities included outreach activities to engage the small pockets of design and UX people distributed across GE’s massive businesses, from Healthcare to Transportation. The goal was to empower these teams with a richer understanding of the emerging role of UX as a critical element in achieving the level of quality and performance that is at the heart of GE.
However we quickly realized that this was too small a community to influence an organization as large and distributed as GE. We also realized that GE’s culture is largely driven by business performance. So we need to shift our strategy to demonstrate that UX can be a key driver of value for customers and revenue for GE. With that awareness we translated UX into a more concrete business process and produced a “gold standard playbook” for Jeff Immelt and other senior leaders to show how UX could be measured throughout a product development process. We also partnered with key businesses to support “Pilot Programs” that put this process into practice to support next generation platforms such as MyEngines – e.g. “facebook for aircraft engines” – to demonstrate immediate value for GE’s customers and businesses. The learnings, principles and patterns from these pilot programs are now being integrated into GE’s developer tools as part of a unified, next generation cloud platform for GE.