True Autonomy Requires Clarity Around Outcomes

Christy Ennis-Kloote
3 min readMar 15, 2021

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Christy pointing at a whiteboard covered in notation with a collegue

Good UX work can sometimes be squashed by vague responsibilities and unclear goals. To be part of a high-functioning team running at max velocity, a core element is clarity to outcomes inside the unique context of your team. When you don’t have true autonomy you can feel crippled by micromanagement or struggling to move forward. If only achieving that freedom could be as easy as changing a physical or technology constraint. Unfortunately, it is usually something less tangible but still simple in concept such as permission to move ahead on a concept.

Getting that permission to move with one of our clients began with an assessment of where they were in their own maturity and approach. They had a young development practice with experienced leadership, a progressive project manager, a business sponsor, and a solid business analyst. Thanks to the business analyst, they knew they had to talk to people and start to gather requirements. Armed now with the information, they were still struggling to see the vision, and prioritize where to start. You can bet they were deep in UX debt and didn’t understand the real customer problems they needed to solve. There was nowhere to go but up. This team make-up got them by when they had the original product to maintain. However, their sponsor was determined to start over and challenge the way their software defined their approach to the workflow. So I knew we had to highlight the gaps in the current workflow and also identify how we could fill them. To gain my own autonomy, I established expectations in every meeting on what I could reasonably accomplish before our next meeting. Then of course I delivered what was asked for and also pushed one step more to encourage a better direction. This showed my investment and gave them a higher return than expected, building faith and trust.

The way to create freedom for movement is to set very clear expectations. . To do that well, I found it best to use a framework with specific responsibilities and outcomes but not be too prescriptive on how to achieve the outcomes. To establish clear responsibilities, start by identifying team members’ skills. Team members should self-express explicitly what they believe they have the capacity and capability to take on. In the team structure, establish together exactly who is responsible for what outcomes so there is no confusion, added efficiency, and you understand how each person is uniquely suited to cover that role. Ideally when defining outcomes, there should be a reference back to the vision for the product. To align outcomes to that product vision, start with a tactical plan on what is achievable in the near-term, keeping in mind the context of the whole product vision.

By understanding the responsibilities and outcomes for each member of the team, the hand-off between all areas becomes seamless (makes your team happy) and increases velocity (makes your client happy). Creating clarity and aligning to outcomes (yet not being prescriptive) allows for autonomy. Team members with autonomy own decisions and set confident directions because of their findings or experience. This autonomy yields authentic and more powerful movement of engaged employees and clients through contribution of individual ideas. This investment can be one of the most meaningful ways to impact the product outcome and improve the user experience. Clearly-defined responsibilities give team members permission to contribute autonomously and produce a better end result.

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Christy Ennis-Kloote

Local UX Leader and Managing Director, Experience Design @Argenta Park Kalamazoo, MI