This article is part of a VB Lab Insights series paid for by Capital One.
Within any organization, various business functions vie for a seat at the elusive, and sometimes mysterious, “table.” It can seem like a game of musical chairs, and you don’t want to be the one left standing.
I believe it can be instructive to take the perspective of those already seated at the business decision-making table. Why would the existing tablemates find value in your being there? What does your expertise and perspective bring to the business’ goals and objectives?
While the answer to these questions will vary based on your role, function and experience level in the organization, I’ve found the common denominator that can be most impactful for securing a seat at the table is centered on relationship-building and human-centered principles.
Demonstrating experience design’s differential impact
With more than 20 years of design experience from tech startups to consulting firms, and now as the head of design for Capital One Software, I know firsthand how critical design and experience is to any business initiative. And research confirms it.
McKinsey & Company found that the best design performers generated 32% higher revenue growth than their industry counterparts over a five-year period. Having design at the table helps companies gain a competitive edge — from helping ensure the business delivers on the core of its deepest customer needs to capitalizing on nuanced opportunities and mitigating unforeseen risk. That is especially true if your design team is focused on human-centered design (HCD).
Applying HCD to a business initiative starts from the perspective of “who” will be impacted by a product or experience, rather than “how” to build a new revenue stream. It’s meant to ensure that the end result truly addresses a need or solves a core problem for the user we aim to serve.
Incorporating HCD into the cross-functional development process from the start can materially impact whether or not the product, service or experience meets the deepest needs of the customer. Before the development process goes too far down one path, human-centered designers will work to understand the root problem the product or experience seeks to solve:
- Who is the customer?
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- What do they need, and do they know they need it?
- What about the current solution is causing friction and/or not working?
- How will what we’re building show up in their life?
By taking this HCD approach and investing the time to truly understand the needs and goals of your business peers and partners, you can begin to uncover further questions, insights, and potential solutions to challenges they aim to solve. Through the process, you’ll be demonstrating your own unique value and contribution to the organization, inherently making the case for why your perspective matters to critical decision-making.
The case for human-centered design
Just as technology has transformed the business world, so too have HCD practices. Although the concept has been present in design for decades, its approach — putting the needs and goals of the human user or customer at the center of the ideation and development process — is becoming increasingly important as companies seek to appeal to customers with heightened expectations. Integrating research, insights, and perspectives backed by HCD with those of other key business partners can dramatically improve the quality of the ideas, prototypes, and finished products.
HCD has been a critical throughline in the development and launch of Capital One Software and our first product, Slingshot. Our entry into the enterprise B2B software market comes after years spent building our own in-house cloud and data management tools that enable us to operate at scale in the cloud.
Throughout that process, we worked with partners across the business to take a human-centered approach, leading us to realize that many other businesses operating in the cloud may face similar cloud and data management needs. So we reformulated some of the tools we developed for our own needs and applied them to the enterprise B2B software market. The work naturally evolved into a new business that enabled us to solve a set of identifiable, core customer needs.
Key considerations for driving influence and outcomes
Throughout my work as both a designer and a business partner, I’ve learned to follow a number of considerations and proven best practices backed by relationship-building and HCD to make the most of cross-functional business partnerships:
- Building relationships with partners is job number one. This helps establish trust, shared empathy, and understanding of one anothers’ priorities. It will inform how and where you can personally offer the most strategic value to the broader group.
- Understand the business. This may seem intuitive, but really digging deep into the business drivers and key objectives behind an initiative — and how its impact will be measured — is essential to understand early on. Make no assumptions.
- Work alongside, and in service of, others. When you know the business landscape, how your partners fit in, what their goals are, and how you can help achieve them, you’ll face less barriers and engender the reciprocal support of your peers.
- Gather insights and feedback. As the team’s thinking progresses, check in with your customers — informally or through surveys — and leverage those insights to offer suggestions or nuance to how the existing approach remains aligned to their needs.
- Roll up your sleeves. Developing new systems, products, or experiences can be complex. Embrace it together. This will not only improve the final product but can help create an engaging and resilient culture of collaboration and shared pride across the team.
Leveraging the principles of human-centered design and prioritizing genuine relationships can help uncover insights that will help you best demonstrate the value and perspective you can bring to your business partners.
You’ll have both understood the needs of your peers and your end customers, acting as a bridge between the decision-makers and their customers. And ultimately, you’ll help foster a more integrated, well-functioning team that delivers differential impact.
Élida Cruz is vice president and head of design for Capital One Software, an enterprise B2B software business of Capital One that helps accelerate cloud and data management journeys at scale.
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