Emily Witt is the Vice President of Professional Services for Brightfind, an award winning Digital Design and Development Agency. She leads clients and Brightfind teams alike through website strategy engagements, ensuring the realization of organizational strategic, web, and constituent goals in the culmination of a successful website and/or product launch. Emily loves to share her ideas, passions, experiences, and expertise; she contributes to the Brightfind blog, writes ebooks, and has been selected to for speaking engagements at national web and usability conferences.
IA Summit 2015 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): career development
The evolution and demands of the web have brought many exciting new beginnings, including the friendship and growth between roles that have historically operated in autonomy. Most relevant to us are the merging of project managers, information architects, and user experience designers. The intersections of these roles has created an opportunity for fast-paced growth in skill-set – wireframing, rapid prototyping, user stories, and data analysis – greater endurance amongst project teams, and increased fluidity and efficiency in organizational processes.
The Crossover role, and the individuals who fulfill this role, are valuable, strong players on the team, the missing links, and the hidden gems pushing the line between good and brilliant, effective and mind-blowing. Learn what the Crossover role is, why it’s important, how to embrace it, and the essential benefits for your organization, and more importantly, your career development. Through practical advice and real life examples, you’ll understand if you are the Crossover role and how to maximize your impact.
- Understanding when your traditional role is transitioning to the Crossover.
- As demonstrated through real life examples, know when it’s appropriate to don the PM, IA, and UX hat and how each will benefit the project, product, and/or team.
- How to leverage discrete skillsets to create opportunities for career growth and skillset development.
- Draw from the knowledge bank of project management versus the bank of information architecture versus the bank of user experience.
- How to reform and innovate processes through the Crossover role and keys to identifying where the process needs support from the crossover.
- Gather and structure project requirements in a way that will speak to both front-end and back-end development teams.
- Identify methods to showcase the value of crossover skills, both internally and to clients.
- Identify characteristics of crossover people by examining personas and how to engage them in the role.
Emily Witt: Thank you all for being here today. My name is Emily. I’m really excited to be talking with you about this topic, the crossover role of PM, IA, NUX. Before we get in to the meat of what this presentation is, I wanted to tell a brief story of how I arrived at the crossover role, and really this topic. Why this topic?
It actually starts about four years ago. I was living in Chicago at the time. I met this man named Frank Lawson, who’s also in the audience with me today, and talked about a job at a digital design and web development agency called Brightfind, out in the Washington, DC area.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane with two suit cases moving from Chicago to Washington, DC in about a month’s time. I was super excited about this role as a Project Manager at Brightfind.
Over the course of that time, what ended up happening is as I was digging into that role, I realized that Project Management in that frame of reference was incredibly valuable, but it wasn’t enough to really drive the process forward.
It wasn’t enough to really help customers understand what it meant to do a website redesign, what it meant to develop an information architecture. I started on my own really educating myself about what is information architecture and how can I leverage that? What is user experience, and how can I help people understand what that is?
More importantly, how can I bring that into our practices? How can I use that to bring our cross-functional teams at Brightfind together, front end talking to back end and project management talking to creative and so on and so forth?
Then taking it one step further I realized I was actually developing IA deliverables and UX deliverables, wire frames, site maps — all the things that we all know and love.
As time has progressed it’s actually become a methodology of having employees that have the skills and the ability to cross over into these roles that we’ve leveraged to better describe our processes and how we do what we do.
Also to look for certain folks that have the characteristics, that have the know-how, and that have the ability to cross over into those roles as we add people to our team. That’s how we got to this presentation today and what this topic is. It’s something I’m really passionate about, and I’m super-excited to be here and share it with all of you today.
Just to get started, this is going to be what this session is all about. We’re going to have a conversation today about the crossover role. What that will include is defining what the crossover role is, why it exists.
We’re going to understand the roles of Web professionals today and how they impact the crossover and also vice versa. We’re going to talk about the key intersections where the crossover is really necessary and very impactful.
We’re going to talk about how you all can understand if perhaps you are in the crossover role and what you can do about it. Also to find ways to say maybe, “Hm. I’m not in the crossover role, but perhaps my teammate is,” talk about how to identify who those team members are, and also discuss how to show the value of your crossover role.
That might be showing the value at various different levels that might be within the team, that might be to a client, that might be to management or to your organization as a whole.
What is the crossover role? When I’m talking about the crossover role today, I’m specifically talking about the intersection between information architecture, user-experience designers, and project managers. There are many ways in which the roles of Web professionals cross over each other. This is not the only way.
This is what the presentation today is focused on and what this concept is really focused on. This is a definition of what the crossover role is. Those emphasized words in that orange color are really what’s at the crux of what the crossover role is and what it takes to fulfill a crossover employee description.
These words also really speak to how the crossover can be very impactful, how it can be very beneficial, and how it really starts to build within a team within an organization. It starts to carve out a place for itself.
The ability to recognize, understand, and execute communication, leadership, intersections is something we’re going to talk a lot about today. Then all this is in the context of a digital engagement. These words will really frame the conversation as we move forward.
Why the crossover role? Why does this exist? Why is this something that we’re talking about today? To take a higher level up, it’s important to take a look at how we’ve gotten to where we are today and what has put us in the position where we have a space for the crossover role.
What I’ve got up here is essentially a slide that at a very, very high level indicates how the Web has evolved over time starting with the ’90s moving into the 2000s into present day. The ’90s we had a lot of text-based websites. The Web was new. It was very textual.
As time went on in the late ’90s, in the early 2000s, we started developing ways to make it more visual, make it more structured, make it more impactful and really by extension user-friendly.
We had things like Flash come into our world. We had CSS come in and provide structure, Java Script, the semantic Web, really providing ways in which we needed to use it and build it.
Then moving all the way into today Web 2.0 several years ago was something very popularized by Tim O’Reilly bringing social into the mix and having a new understanding of what it meant to be social and incorporate users into your experience.
Then today we have responsive Web design, and we have mobile Web. Many of you as I look out are on your phones. You’re taking notes. You’re taking pictures, video, what have you. This has all really caused us to evolve how we think about a digital experience, how we think about the Web.
It’s at the intersections that we’re seeing today with mobile, with different Web professionals, with the new demands of users, with constant change that’s happening that has created the space and the opportunity for the crossover role to live and exist.
Next I’m going to walk you through three examples of why the crossover role is necessary in today’s world. The first example here, the crossover role is necessary because we live in a constant state of change.
That constant state of change is something that we have all come to accept, but it is also something that we all need to continue learning about and learning how to work with. This example that I have up here is about Google’s search algorithm.
That’s [laughs] something that I’m sure some of you might have a love/hate relationship with. In 2014 there were 14 major changes to Google’s search algorithm. These are the majors.
This was not the hundreds of other changes that they make throughout the year or throughout the month, so on and so forth, but this constant change puts us in a unique space where we need to reevaluate what we’re doing.
Oftentimes we work so hard at iterating through something that we get to a point where we’re finally seeing it happen fluidly. We’re finally seeing our teams work through it really well and bam. Something changes. How many of you have been in that situation?
You’ve worked through something. You’ve gotten it. All of a sudden it changes. The crossover role can come in and really help understand how that change is impacting the team at large, how it’s impacting these different skill sets.
Because they’ve got a really broad set of knowledge that they can draw on and say, “OK. This change while Google is factoring HTTPS into their algorithm now actually impacts some decisions we need to make on the user interfaces.”
“It impacts some decisions that we need to make on the back end as well and really how the project-management team communicates with the client.” The crossover role brings all of those things together and helps us communicate the impact of this constant change.
The crossover role is also necessary because users’ expectations are evolving and they’re changing. Again this example up here is very focused on performance, but it illustrates a bigger picture.
In this study that I found 40 percent of users that were interviewed expected a two second or less page-load time. 52 percent of those users said that page-load time would impact their loyalty. I don’t know about you, but I had a very recent experience where I was on a website trying to track a package that was coming to my house.
That website just spun and it spun and it spun. I was off of it before I knew it, and I haven’t gone back. Now can I avoid UPS sending me a box? Maybe not, but can I avoid going to the UPS website and finding a different way? Absolutely.
That’s probably something, I’m seeing head nods, that all of you can relate to as well. You’ve been there where you’ve left a site because it’s just spun and spun. These expectations of users really illustrate that in this case, while this is performance-related, it’s not actually just about that very unique very singular goal that’s happening here.
The crossover role in this example is not only concerned with performance. They’re concerned with the impact on overall project health. They’re concerned with the impact on overall customer satisfaction. They’re concerned with the impact on user experience.
They’re able to communicate these impacts across a team again drawing on those different knowledge areas, drawing on that experience, because they have an understanding that, “Wait a minute. This one concern that users have and this expectation that they have is a much bigger thing that we need to address.”
It’s not just from a user-experience designer’s perspective. It’s not just from the customer’s perspective. It’s a very holistic perspective that the crossover role brings to the table.
The third reason why the crossover role is necessary is because of this data-driven approach. How many of you have heard in your organization or somebody has said to you, “I want our next project to be data-driven”?
You’ve heard that. Really common. It’s something we laugh about, but it’s actually a really good thing. It means that we’re gathering information, and we’re learning about constituents. We’re learning about end-users.
We’re using that to make decisions, but in this case that data again if it’s viewed through a very singular lens is going to have a very singular approach to how it’s implemented. The crossover role is able to understand how that data impacts all aspects of the process that we’re working in.
How it impacts all of these intersections where a user-experience designer passes something off to the front-end team or where the information architect creates a site map that somehow needs to be implemented through a wire-framing practice or a prototyping practice. The crossover role is able to understand how to use that data.
In this example up here this study found that these were four different major ways in which data was being used to make decisions about a website. Behavioral data, for example, isn’t just impacting the experience. It actually probably impacts how we should develop something.
That’s not just a UX designer’s job. That’s the whole team’s job. Purchase history, user preferences — these are all examples of data that’s being used to help us make decisions. It’s not just a singular avenue that you look down as far as what this data can do for you and how you can use it.
The crossover role helps us take that step back, look at it from a higher level, and understand how it impacts things at large. Let’s take a look at understanding a little bit more about how the crossover role impacts Web professionals today and how Web professionals today are really impacting the crossover role.
The way we’re going to do that is by looking at a very similar diagram to what we looked at as far as the evolution of the Web goes. You can see again in the ’90s how the folks in that category, the roles there, was a smaller amount. On top of that they’re very IT-focused, IT project manager. Maybe marketing was involved in the ’90s.
As we’ve progressed to modern day you see how in the 2000s we’ve added things like social-media management. We’ve added things like user-experience design without a digital interactive project management.
Now in some cases these things have always been around, but these roles haven’t always been recognized as a key player on these teams. As we’ve even come forward to the 2000s to where we are today these green bubbles here representing professionals has increased even more.
How many of you see a job that you fulfill currently listed in one of these bubbles? That’s great. What’s more important about them, how many of you think that where you see these bubbles touching actually represent intersections that you deal with on a daily basis? It’s at those intersections where that crossover role can come into play.
The crossover role isn’t about defining a new job or a job to take over somebody else’s job. It’s about defining a very specialized, very professional skill set that’s able to understand how these roles interact with each other and what the greater impact is on an organization, a team, a client at large.
It’s these intersections again between all of us as Web professionals — all of you who raised your hands, your teammates back at work — where the crossover role lives and where the crossover role is necessary and impactful.
Even though we have all of these Web professionals that are going on and even though all of us in this room maybe have a different job title or a different thing that we’re passionate about, the great thing about the crossover role and how it impacts these Web professionals and vice versa is that we share common goals.
At the end of the day we’re in it for the same thing. What this slide illustrates is six shared goals of Web professionals as I’ve heard them, as I’ve researched them, as I’ve felt them, as I’ve lived them, as I’ve breathed them.
The first one is to have happy customers. Whether your customer is an internal team, whether it’s your CEO, whether it’s the person in the cubicle next to or on the consulting side it’s a large client that you’re working with, you want them to be happy. You want the experience to be beneficial and exciting for them.
We also want to meet and exceed expectations. We don’t want to just come in and say, “We’re going to do this” and “OK, sure. Here you go. Here’s the deliverables.” We want to deliver them with a lot of pride. We want to deliver them with a lot of energy, and we want to exceed the expectation that we gave.
We also want to demonstrate a forward-thinking modern Web product. We want to make sure that what we’re delivering is in line with not only best practices but it’s going to take an organization, an individual, or your team into the future. We want to make sure that we are being forward-thinking.
We want to communicate effectively and collaborate with our clients, with our team members. We want to engage in conversation. It’s not an us-versus-them, it’s a we. Let’s collaborate. We want to gather and use data to be data-driven.
We’re all going to be data-driven. We want to use that data to be really smart about making decisions. The last one is my person favorite. It is last but it is definitely not least. We want to achieve user delight.
We want, when somebody experienced something that we developed, to feel like, “Wow. That was amazing.” How many of you agree with this? How many of you guys share these goals with me?
It’s safe to say that just about everybody in this room shares these goals. Each of you raised your hands before as fulfilling one of those Web professional roles, and I’m sure it wasn’t all the same one.
Whether you’re thinking at this point, “I might be the crossover or I might not be” or whether you’re in a very specialized role in your organization, we are all in it for the same thing. We are all in it with these shared goals in mind.
Just taking it one step back to the crossover role definition and looking at those emphasized words again, you can really start to see how they bring what we’re talking about to life, how they provide meaning to what this role is and meaning to these intersections and again all in the context of a digital engagement.
The next thing that we’re going to talk about is what these intersections actually are, what do they mean, and more importantly how does the crossover role fit into them? The way we’re going to take a look at these intersections is by looking at it as an example engagement life cycle.
This engagement life cycle is adapted largely from a common process or a set of tools that we follow at Brightfind, but I’d imagine this looks similar to some of the things that you all follow in your practices whether you’re internally focused or you’re externally focused.
The other thing about this diagram is that it is purposefully messy. Who here can say that you have been a part of a digital engagement that went perfectly?
Emily: Nobody can say that because they never do, and that’s OK. That’s also why we have squiggly lines and why we see things rotating back and forth.
The orange dots that are on this screen highlight the intersections that happen between these different aspects of an engagement. It’s at those intersections where the crossover role lives, exists, and becomes very impactful and necessary to keep the engagement going.
All the way from discovery through delivery in website implementation the crossover role has a place. I’m going to highlight a couple of these intersections for you to paint some examples of where the crossover role fits in. The first one that I’ll talk about is user research and strategy.
At the user research and strategy phase we’ve gone through the initial goal-setting. We’ve talk about scope, and we’ve gotten through some of the hard stuff. At this point we’ve got strategic goals to work with, and we’re ready to have a different type of conversation and start gathering that data that we all know and love.
This is fun. The user research and strategy phase is really fun. We’re probably doing things like focus groups. Maybe we’re doing different constituent surveys. Maybe you’re doing internal shadowing, shoulder-surfing if you will of how people use a system or how they use a website.
You’re journey-mapping. You’re gathering all of this information to make really awesome decisions. The crossover role is really impactful here. The crossover role is impactful because it’s that person that fulfills that role that was probably also a part of that less fun discovery and goal-setting environment, that part of the process.
That person is able to participate from a user research and strategy perspective and make sure that all of the things that we’re doing — those focus groups, those surveys, et cetera — align with those strategic goals, that they’re in line with the scope of what we’d agreed to.
More importantly, because that crossover role has different feet and different camps of knowledge, they’re also able to participate in some of these things. They’re able to contribute to these processes being a really strong contributing team member.
Finally once you’ve gathered all that data the crossover role is going to be looking at that data through a very different lens. Again it’s a much more broad lens than maybe just a user-experience researcher…excuse me.
Not “just” a user experience researcher, but a user experience researcher that’s very talented would look through the lens of that data. Same thing with an information architect.
We all have context to what we do that frames how we look at something, and the crossover role’s no different. The crossover role has a much broader context, a much more holistic context of what this engagement is achieving.
The second intersection that I’ll walk you all through is the implementation and development phase. At this phase, let’s say the engagement has gone well. Maybe you had a little bit of rockiness, but it’s gone well, as far as imperfect digital engagements go.
You’re cruising through implementation, and all of a sudden a developer, whether they’re front end or they’re back end, comes up to you and says, “I was just looking at this document that I have, this user story, and I don’t know what that means, or what I should be developing that for.”
How many of you had that experience? I’ll raise my hand too. That’s OK. Because at this intersection, the crossover role lives and breathes. The crossover role in this situation is able to explain to the developer from various perspectives, what that requirement is.
What that user story is driving at, and how it impacts not only the experience of the person using this product that we’ve created, but how this impacts the overall information architecture, perhaps if it isn’t implemented correctly.
How it impacts the user interface from how somebody needs to click through it and interact with it, how it should drive an experience. If that same question is asked of a creative director, or if that same question is asked of an information architect.
Or that same question is asked to somebody, who fulfills a very straightforward, very project management role, that answer wouldn’t be as all composing. It wouldn’t give the developer the context, to understand the impact of the decisions here she is making for this particular task.
The crossover role has the ability to live at these intersections, where information needs to be transferred. Information needs to be communicated, both to the client within the team, facilitate communication amongst team members.
The crossover role lives at the intersections, where the ball typically gets dropped. The crossover role is giving the ball a place to drop, and in doing in a way that not only is it dropping in a place, but it’s dropping in very capable hands, that has the ability to take it to the next step, in a meaningful way.
In a way that’s going to help the engagement moves smoothly or more smooth, and in a way that’s going to evolve a lot of communication and a lot of leadership. Those are two examples of where, and it’s very robust engagement life cycle that crossover role fits in, and provides a lot of necessary information, and provides a lot of leadership.
The crossover role is also beneficial. Not only does the crossover role live at these intersections and facilitate certain communication and leadership, but the crossover role brings a lot of benefits to an organization. The first of which is growth. When I say growth, I mean it from a couple of different perspectives.
I mean it from the perspective of team collaboration. It’s very typical that an engagement team or delivery team is going to include lots of different roles, UX, IA, PM, front end, back end, some engagement manager, even a higher level of vice-president, whatever the case is.
That doesn’t necessarily mean all those people are communicating. That’s likely happening, because they don’t understand why or how. That’s what the crossover role brings to the table. They add the wire haut, to the communication amongst the team.
They also add growth to the team at large, through the ability creating opportunities for people, to grow their skill sets. This isn’t about taking over somebody’s job, but this is about adding to your skills at, and understanding how to leverage these unique skill sets within the context of what you do every day.
The crossover role also is beneficial, because it adds endurance. Before we had talked about how at those intersections, the ball gets dropped. All of a sudden your project stagnates. All of a sudden, you’re wondering what’s happening next.
You all talked to each other, and you all look at your finger with your nose. “It’s not me. I’m not next.” The crossover role is able to give that ball a place to drop, and keep the project moving forward in a very agile, in a very focused, in a very methodical way, making sure that everybody knows what’s going on and what’s to happen in next.
The crossover role is also beneficial, because it adds efficiency. It allows us to move through things more quickly, because we have people communicating more. We have people moving not dropping the ball. We have the project on a continuous life-cycle going forward. The crossover role also will increase customer satisfaction.
This was back to a lot of the shared goals of Web professionals. User delight, happy customers, meet and exceed expectations. When the crossover role’s able to explain to a customer what’s happening, why it’s happening, when it’s happening, what they can expect, that’s something that adds to satisfaction.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about identifying crossover people, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s a teammate. One of the ways that we can have this conversation is by looking at the characteristics of the crossover role.
When I was developing the slide, and I was really going through, what are all the characteristics of the crossover role? At one point, I had over a hundred potential characteristics.
Emily: I didn’t want to do that to you all today. I actually said to myself and conduct to the little card sort. I came up with these three main buckets, where everything rolled up into. Egoless, empathetic and educated are the key characteristics of somebody, who’s in a crossover role.
From an egoless perspective, somebody who’s fulfilling this role understands what his or her own strengths or weaknesses are. Not only do they understand those, they also understand how the team, the company and the organization, can help support their weaknesses.
They understand, “I’m not everything, but I know who I can rely on to help me.” They’re also from an egoless perspective. They have the ability to keep the project going in a very proactive way, keep the process in motion, without stepping on anybody’s toes, without framing it from a, “This is what I’m doing.”
It’s a very team-centered approach, to keeping things moving along. Also, they have the ability to influence a wide range of stakeholders. They are taking that perspective of, “What does the stakeholder need, in order to feel comfortable with what’s going on?”
That person in the crossover role is able to communicate that effectively, and get different types of stakeholders on board. From an empathetic perspective, because they understand these different camps, these different professional areas, they’re able to approach things from that person’s point of view.
They’re able to say, “I’ve got my UX designer on this team. I need them to do these things. What is their point of view on this? How can I help them get to the next step?” Combining a lot of that egoless and empathy into those types of conversations. They’re also very strong and very effective communicator.
They’re somebody that’s able to talk to the team, bring the team together, facilitate in a very leadership, very focused way. The communication that needs to happen to keep things moving along, whether you’re doing a 10-month engagement, a five-year engagement, or just a couple of months engagement.
They also have the ability to see the bigger picture, and accommodate the top strategic priorities. Those strategic priorities are coming from some type of a customer.
The crossover role has the ability to put on an empathetic lens, when looking at those strategic priorities, always bringing the team back to them and saying, “This is why we’re doing this. It’s not about us. It’s about what our customer needs from us.”
From an educated standpoint, the crossover role is somebody that demonstrates a lot of ability and a lot of agility in their skills set. They got their feet in a couple of different knowledge areas. They may have one specialization.
For example, taking myself, I probably and more specialize in the project management, engagement management. I have a lot of knowledge in the UX area, in the IA area, and understanding a creative process. That allows me to be very effective in a crossover position.
Education, agility and ability is very important. From an educated perspective as well, this person has a deep understanding of the process. This person has an understanding of what it takes, to get through, to the delivery aspect of an engagement.
They understand that it doesn’t just start to happen. They understand that there are some steps that you work though, and there’s people that are involve in those areas. This person also has a shared knowledge of Web experience.
They have an understanding of what it means to be a user of the Web. They have an understanding of what it means, to provide an experience. When they are shoring it up against their strengths and weaknesses, their team’s strengths and weaknesses, they’re communicating with stakeholders.
It’s all coming up to a higher level of those strategic priorities. Those blue arrows that you see swirling around those three buckets of characteristics represent communication and listening.
There are many folks that embody these three characteristics, empathetic, educated and egoless. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in an ideal crossover role. They become the ideal crossover role, and they’re able to marry that with communication and listening.
Being an effective communicator, knowing when to leverage certain communication styles, knowing when to take a step back, just be quiet and listen, and internalize what’s being said, makes somebody an excellent crossover role.
The combination of egoless, empathetic, educated, combined with effective communication and listening, are the characteristics of what a crossover role is. I’m about to ask you all a question. How many of you are starting to see your face, where this orange person is?
How many of you think you are in the crossover role? Awesome. If you’re not quite sure yet, if you’re in a crossover role and even to validate those of you who raise your hands, here are some things that you can think about, that help you understand that you’re in that crossover role.
One of the things might be, that you find yourself in some uncomfortable spots. You find yourself titter tattering on the line of, “That’s something that’s right. We should be approaching it this way. That doesn’t seem to align.”
You’re not quite sure why you should say how you should handle that. That’s a sign that you’re probably in a crossover role. You also might be having team members coming up to you and seeking advice about something that isn’t necessarily your standard practice area.
That’s because they’re starting to recognize, “So and so has some great knowledge in these different areas. I want their opinion too.” Your interest may also be peaked in cross-functional areas.
Maybe you’re an information architect, but you are actually interested in the project management aspect of things. You’re starting to figure out how much you want to get in, how much you don’t, where you want to dive in, where you don’t. Perhaps you are executing task or deliver balls that fall outside of your common practice areas.
Maybe you’re an information architect, but you found yourself documenting the scope of a project. You’re doing something that isn’t quite in your practice area, but has some relatedness. More importantly, you’re understanding the research that’s being gained.
You’re understanding how to leverage it for a stronger overall project outcome. It’s not just about that singular lens, you’re starting to look at that data that’s coming in and you’re saying, “OK. I see how this aligns. Here’s what I think we need to do next.”
How many of you still think you’re in that crossover role? How many more of you think you’re in the crossover role? Maybe that’s a better question. Awesome. The next question for you is, how many of you have seen teammate’s faces, right here where we got this question mark?
Huge table in the back there. Everybody thinks their team is a crossover person. Wonderful. Here are some ways that we can think about our teammates, and how we can help them identify as a crossover role, and how we can support them in that.
One of the things to think about is, how does my teammate research? How do they get information? How do they evaluate it? Another thing is, what is their desire to learn like? Are they really interested in digging in and learning new experiences? Where are they at from learning perspective? What are their leadership skills like?
When we’re in a team setting, are they the person that’s really jumping in, driving the agenda, helping people get from one concept to the next? Where do they fall from a leadership perspective? Not only do they lead, but how do people follow them? This is a person that is not afraid of making mistakes.
Maybe you’ve got that person in your team that’s always trying something new. It feels a couple of times. The next thing you know, they’re trying yet a new thing. That’s a great sign that you’ve got a teammate in the crossover role.
In fact, perhaps you yourself on the crossover role. That’s another characteristic. This is a person that would leverage the team for greater success. Going back to knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
This person knows, “OK, I’m not so great here. But, you know what, I really know that Emily’s really good at this. I’ve seen her do this. So, I’m going to bring her in to help me with this.”
This person fulfills various roles during engagement, perhaps. Maybe it’s a smaller engagement and it doesn’t necessarily call for a full-time IA. Somebody who’s in a project management or a UX role says, “You know what? I’ll do the IA work for this too. I feel comfortable with that.”
This person is also asking the right questions. They’re asking the questions that are going to get them to the next step that are going to help them understand more of what’s going on with this engagement, what’s going on with these strategic goals.
You all still think, especially that team back there, teammates are in the crossover role? Wonderful. What’s next? Let’s say you think you’re crossover role. You’ve got teammates in the crossover role. Maybe you’re interested in mentoring somebody into this role. What can we do next?
If it’s you, here are some things that you can do. First and foremost, embrace it, own it, know it and love it. This is a good thing. This is something that is adding to your skillset. This is something that will help you grow professionally.
Next, inform your team how you can contribute. Say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve got this interest in this. I think I’ve got these skills. I’d really like to participate in this part of the project.” Here’s why. Let people know how you can contribute in a different way in that crossover style.
Also, get comfortable in knowing when and where and how to wear and switch between these different hats. Really get comfortable saying, “OK, I need to focus on PM stuff now, but I also need to transition later on into this wire framing aspect and, therefore, look at things through UX lens.”
Get comfortable with that transition. Lead by building empathy, most importantly. Lead by knowing that you need to understand who you’re working with, what their needs are, before you can dive in and participate and help with certain things. You really need to lead by building empathy.
Now, whether it’s you, whether it’s a teammate, it’s important to show the value of the crossover role. Let’s talk about that.
One of the ways to show the value of the crossover role is to simply look for opportunities to exploit the skills of your crossover teammates, or look for opportunities, vice versa, to exploit your own skills as a crossover person.
Maybe that’s again saying, “Hey, I think Emily will be really great at this project management aspect. I think she should also probably do the site map for this project.” Maybe it’s just baby steps like that, but you can eventually continue to grow that.
Also take a look at what your organization or even at a team level that you’re doing and really understand how you can adapt and where those intersections are and how you can leverage them. Also showcase multiple skills in one deliverable. Don’t just focus on wire framing from a UX lens. Focus on it from strategic goals.
Don’t just evaluate it from an experience, but evaluate those deliverables from, “OK. So, I’m the CEO at this customer. I’m looking at it from those strategic goals that I defined, are they represented?”
Most importantly, learn test, change and repeat. Continue that learning process. Continue that evaluation process. I want to wrap up with a quote from a book called “Creative Confidence” that was written by Tom & David Kelley of IDEO.
Quote really embodies what the crossover role is and how it’s impactful. “Creative confidence is about believing in your ability to change the world around you. It is the conviction that you can achieve what you set out to do. And this is what lies at the heart of innovation.”
That is what the crossover role is about. It is about affecting change in the world that is yours. It is about believing that you have the ability to crossover into these different skillsets and into these professional practice areas and leverage it for something more. Leverage it for the purpose of innovation and leverage it for the purpose of improvement.
Thank you all so much for being here today. My name is Emily. This is all the ways that you can contact me. These slides are also available for you at info.brightfind.com/crossover-role. Please fill out the speaker evaluation. Thank you so much.
Mark: Hi, Emily. My name is Mark.
Emily: Hi, Mark.
Mark: My voice is not what it should be. My question is what you’re about landing here is a new role. You’re classifying something called the crossover role. In order to do that, we’re building a taxonomy, like what’s the relation to other roles. It has to be an intersection of defined roles.
My question is as you’re defining this new role, the crossover role, do you see this happening as I have a job application for a crossover individual? Is that what you’re thinking this is going? On my resume, I’m a crossover or something to that effect?
Emily: It’s really funny that you ask that. I was having a similar conversation with somebody last night at happy hour about this. One of the ways that I’ve looked at this from Brightfind’s perspective in looking for people to hire is I focus more on the characteristics of the crossover role because I don’t necessarily think that this is a hirable role today.
Potentially as we see, even as Jorge talked about today, the intersections of language in information architecture and content marketing plays into that with IA and how you manage things. There’s all of these crossovers in this big space that we have.
It’s not necessarily right now, today, about going back to your boss and saying, “I’ve got to hire a crossover person.” It’s going back to your organization and thinking about, “OK, so what are these characteristics that our organization needs. And more specifically, where are the intersections where we need this person?”
“Where are the intersections where we need help in keeping things moving forward to achieve those web goals, to achieve that endurance in your project and that efficiency?”
Then from there, you’ll start to define who can fulfill those roles because you’ll have a listing of characteristics and you’ll understand how you can bring somebody into that, whether it is a new hire or whether it’s somebody that you already have.
Jeff: Hi, my name Jeff.
Emily: Hi, Jeff.
Jeff: I’m curious how you would go about introducing yourself to a client when you’re fitting into all these roles and roles that people might not understand in the first place, then combining those altogether and saying, “I do these three things.”
Emily: That’s also a phenomenal question and is a conversation that I actually have a lot with clients. One of the ways that I introduce myself, for example, when I go out to a client is I’ll introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’m Emily. I’m here as part of this engagement team. My responsibilities in these engagement are.”
I don’t necessarily lead by saying, “And I’m the manager of digital engagements and project strategy,” because somebody is not going to effectively understand what that means.
They will lock into, “OK, great. So, Emily’s going to be responsible for delivering me wireframes. She’s going to be responsible for making sure my focus groups gets done. She’s going to be responsible for these things.” That’s something that they lock into.
We try very hard to make that actual job title very secondary because often it’s something that’s a bit of like looking at you bellybutton. It’s only valuable to you. It’s not as valuable to a client. Anything else? You guys have phenomenal questions.
Jaime: Hi, my name Jaime and I’ve been realizing that I’ve been a crossover person for many years and this is the first time I’ve heard someone talk so much about it and it’s like, “Oh, this is me.”
Emily: Great. Wonderful.
Jaime: It is really good, but my experience in this has been also there has been a little bit of a negative to it. What put me in this role is I’m very enthusiastic to learn new things and recognize when there is a role not being taken and I’ll take it on.
I have sort of like this inability to say no. I get overwhelmed because people are like, “Oh, Jaime will do that. She’ll take that on,” just like that. Also like I’ll see, “Oh, this isn’t being done. Nobody knows how to do it. I should do it because I know how to do it.”
How do you keep yourself from taking on too much and not being able to say no?
Emily: The first thing that I will say is I try really hard to also not say no. What I do try hard to do as well is say, “You know what? I’m not the right person for that. Here’s a couple of reasons why I think so and so should do that,” or, “We’re not really ready for that right now. I think we need to take a step back and focus on this.”
Because saying no also, for a person like me and somebody like you, I’m guessing, is something that hurts you a little bit to say. I try to find ways to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but here’s a better way to go about it, perhaps.”
When you do find yourself in those positions where like you’re just articulated, “Nobody is doing this, but I know I have the skills to do this, I should do this,” roll with those things because that’s also probably giving you the opportunity to do all of the things that the crossover role is beneficial to grow, to lead, to be more efficient.
Try to shore up what you are doing with where your interests are peaked in those cross functional areas and making sure that it is supporting your goals as a professional and it is also supporting those higher level strategic goals even of your team, the mission of your organization so on and so forth.
Is that helpful? Great.
Kate: Hi, I’m Kate. Wonderful talk, by the way.
Emily: Thank you.
Kate: I see a lot of things that are what I’m growing into. I don’t know if other people are identifying with that. Like I don’t have a manager. I’m not a project manager in my title. Some of the friction that we’ve experienced between people who I also think are crossovers is that’s not your job, that’s my job.
It’s very much stepping on toes thing. I don’t know if you had any experience with that or could speak to that and how you guys work that out.
Emily: One of the most phenomenal things about Brightfind as an organization is we are a very, very egoless organization. We’ve probably had less of that than most organizations. One way where we’re having those things that’s really helped us is we recognize in that moment, “Whoa, there’s a major friction happening here. Let’s figure out why.”
More often than not, it actually isn’t that somebody thinks that’s my job. It’s more often or not related to what somebody’s interests are and that they see themselves growing into something or they see themselves interested in something and they want the opportunity to work on it.
Those are all really good things that should be fostered and supported. What it really comes down to is as that crossover role having the conversation about why you’re not taking their job and while what you’re doing is actually supporting, it’s leading.
You understand where they’re coming from and you’re actually helping them through it and you want to work with them.
Even taking it a higher level if you have to, “So, here’s where we’re currently at with this project. Here are the things that need to be done. So, this is where your interests are. This is where mine are. How can we get these things done together?”
Is a way to approach that and avoid as much as possible the, “Nope, this is my job,” because a lot of times that comes down to job title which often isn’t really relevant for actual task-based work.
Thanks guys. So happy to be here.