How to Onboard a UX Designer with a New Client Partner

I must profess that user-experience design or UX should no longer seem an alien concept to anyone who works in technology. Users participate in their own experience when browsing through the feeds in Facebook accounts, book an Uber, or swipe left/right on some popular app (you know that app… come on). These tools have become second nature or a habit during a commute or checking on friends’ activities. The reason is the user experience and ease of use it creates for us as a user.

When a client who never worked with a UX team member inquires, “I want a UX designer to add to my team,” certain questions arise:

  • What do you mean UX?
  • What problem are you trying to solve;
  • And finally, do you want this individual to do visual design, interaction design, information architecture or – the buzz word – “a hybrid” of all these functions?

The client invariably has a quizzical look denoting “what did I sign up for?” ‘Cause I know: they want a “unicorn” to do a bit of all but don’t know:

  • How to engage with them?
  • How to fit them into the scrum team?
  • Will they add value?

All of the aforementioned client problems could be resolved with a clear “client onboarding” process. Identifying and working with a UX Engagement Partner could be a solution that helps resolve this delicate but consistent hurdle new clients face.

What is a UX Engagement Partner?

Within the technology service industry it is imperative that a client who is newly engaging with a UX professional be given consulting or direction on roles a UX designer performs and how they can be fit to the client’s needs. The engagement partner builds a bridge to help the designer ease into their new role; and to help the client plan a roadmap for the team’s and the designer’s successful delivery of assets.

Working with a few clients over the past year, I created a playbook for this UX Engagement Partner and would like to share it:

I) Prior to candidate start:

  1. Meet with the manager with whom the UX candidate will work.
  2. Set up bi-weekly meetings with the hiring manager during the interview process. These meetings are crucial to obtaining feedback on the candidates or discussing operational topics regarding new hires (e.g. tools offered by the client and tools that need to be purchased or provided by the candidate).
  3. Develop an onboarding guide that walks the UX candidate through their initial and daily routine, hardware provisioning, and software setup needed for a smooth start. The client should review this to approve appropriate steps.

II) Post start:

  1. Be the client-partner. On day 1 when the UX designer starts working with their team, schedule a meeting with the entire scrum team (e.g. product owner, scrum master, engineers and QA). This is the time to introduce the candidate and ease the anxiety of all parties involved – or to pique their interest of how a UX Designer can support them. It’s also a good time to explain to the team’s members what responsibilities and types of deliverables belong to the UX designer.
  2. Work with product owners to set up cadence of the UX deliverables. This could involve scheduling meetings for –
    • UX backlog grooming
    • Usability testing: standard, rogue, and rapid labs
    • Design reviews with the team
    • Copy reviews if needed
    • Measuring readiness for backlog refinement for engineering team
    • UX retrospective

III) A month after:

  1. Schedule a retrospective with the hiring manager that involves the client-partnership participants. This retrospective is a learning opportunity for the hiring partners and the client. It allows the opportunity to measure success and where improvements are required.
  2. Scheduling a retrospective with the UX candidate is crucial. The designer is a team member whom you’ve trusted to go in the field and given all the ammunition to succeed design methodology and components for product design. This gives the candidate a platform to talk about things that went right and wrong for them.

As a Director of Product Design and an engagement partner, I have been following the above script for a year of role assignments. Most of the onboarding exercises have been a success. The retrospectives, I have noticed, usually become a catalyst to new work and relationships. The above approach can be used as a client experience testing tool. Their feedback helps to augment the approach. I am sharing my approach and findings with the hope that it helps other UX engagement partners succeed in onboarding a UX candidate to a team unfamiliar with User Experience Design.


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