In response to my treatise on qualitative and quantitative thinking styles and the need to find a new way that transcends the zero-sum game played by each side, Rich Wood asked: "I see it as the duty of the third-party consultant to push for the qualitative, because sometimes clients are myopically focused on the quants. I'd be curious to see what strategies you've used to state this case in your UX career."
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places
It has taken me a couple of weeks to get my thoughts on this together as I have only really developed tools to communicate qualitative mindsets and ideas to those predisposed to single-minded quantitative analysis (the "quants") and not the reverse. I tried to think of tools for the reverse and couldn't come up with anything worth writing about as I thought they were all too obvious, and then it hit me that I was looking for the wrong thing.
Qualitative thinkers don't need someone to help explain quantitative thinking as linear thinking is more easily communicated and understood. What helps to build the bridge from the qualitative side is something a little different. What will help the qualitative thinkers is an understanding of what prevents the quants from seeing something beyond the details and why their expectations of the quants to read their minds is irrational, unfair and, taken to an extreme, destructive.
Building From the Right
As I mentioned above, I do have a bunch of communication tools to help build empathy from both sides and in-between. Each of the ideas below have been "play-tested" before several audiences and have yet to fail in helping to develop much-needed empathy related to the realities of the marketplace.
Google & SEO — Perhaps my favorite and most successful tool in helping the quants understand that quantitative analysis and tools don't always work is to examine the SEO marketplace. So often in my career, I find engineering groups taking the position that quantitative and incremental improvements should be released to users as they, by their very nature, improve an offering.
SEO reveals this to be a sketchy idea at best. If a company was to devote a serious investment — let's say $100K — to improve its organic search performance and as a result moved from page 10 of Google to page 9 of Google, would the effort be worth it? It can be reasonably argued that any investment that "improves" organic search results but fails to move a result to page 1 of Google is a waste of money and effort.
Many incremental "improvements" fall into this same space. Incremental improvements are only perceived as an actual improvement if they break through a bubble of highly impervious doubt by users that changes will be good. Users of most services, whether commercially offered or employee-centric, are highly skeptical of change. It is only the rarest of new offerings that are viewed as a significant enough departure from their predecessor to be positive. Even Apple, which is arguably the most beloved by its users, suffers massive criticism when a new release is not significant enough and is viewed as staging releases around profitability rather than user delight.
Building From the Middle Out
Going to Mars vs. Going Across Country — After using the above example, it can be fairly argued that some problems require holism. The challenge is figuring out which toolset to use. I've attempted to describe this dilemma and chart a way through it with a metaphor. Some journeys are into unknown territory (i.e., a mission to Mars) and some are across well-understood landscapes (e.g. a road trip to up the East Coast). If you were attempting to get from Earth to Mars, getting halfway is really no help at all. Getting halfway is probably a recipe for dead astronauts.
Going from my current hometown of Atlanta to my original home state of New York is a different matter entirely. If my car broke down in DC, it's not a big deal as I can always catch an express flight, a train, a bus or I could even beg my sister to help me on the last leg of my journey. In this case, the incremental improvement is a good thing.
Identifying the type of problem you have is fairly easy in this model. If you can understand whether you are moving into a brand new space where your first impression will make or break your fundamental possibilities of success, then you had better be sure that your release is awesome and not just a bunch of incremental improvements. If, instead, you are in known territory and are struggling to make any advancement in your offering relative to your competitor, something might just well be better than nothing.
Before jumping to quick to the "known problem space," be sure to identify the price of failure. If the price of even the slightest shortfall in your initiative is onerous, then you still are in the "Going to Mars" model rather than "Going Across Country".