Tame the HIPPO in the room with speedy decisions and lean user research

We’ve all been there, mid way through a project, after hours of painstaking discussions, hard-fought decisions and meticulous execution you’re introduced to someone new. Enter the HIPPO.

It stands for ‘the ‘highest income paid person’s opinion’ and is a term coined originally by Avinash Kaushik, a data and digital marketing expert from India. It’s almost always seen in UX as a bad thing.

Ok, back to our mid-project meeting and the HIPPO in the room. We’ll assume they’re new to the organisation. If they potentially had an influence on the design when you started the project, you probably should have picked it up and added them to your RACI matrix. But you didn’t and now, this person has load of new ideas. But, let’s be honest, you’re probably quite annoyed because all of them have already been discussed.

You look around the room for support but unfortunately all the people who made the decisions so far now report into the HIPPO and guess what, they’re all nodding along enthusiastically.

Do you?

A) Do what the HIPPO wants, ignoring the user and just change the design

B) Work with the HIPPO to turn their ideas into testable hypotheses and carry out some lean user research?

Be brave, be bold. The answer is always B.

Here’s what you do. Take control of the meeting. Immediately. Fortunately, lean user research allows for change and for speedy decisions to be made.

You capture their ideas. Use post it notes and encourage everyone else in the room to do the same. Given that everything may change at this point, it’s best to get everyone’s ideas out in the open. It may be that their thinking has evolved at this point and perhaps yours have too, or you’ve thought of some ideas around existing features you’ve already validated.

Then, you discuss the outcomes. For each idea written down, get the room to associate them with an outcome such as “increase sales” or “improve conversion rate”.

In order for this to be a useful exercise, you need to agree measures. Agree specifically how each outcome will be measured, what constitutes success. Make sure there’s a consensus in the room so that everyone is striving for the same endpoint.

Map ideas and features to the audiences they apply to. Who are they for? A specific audience? The business itself?  

Finally, recommend the right research method to test each hypothesis. Remember, you’ve chosen to work with the HIPPO but not at the expense of your overall goals and so, lean user testing should still be a key part of your project.  Depending on the nature of the hypothesis, the right method could be remote usability testing of a prototype, an MVP or perhaps a survey. Set expectations as to what the burden of proof is for each hypothesis.

Why do all of this?

It seems like a lot of work, especially because up to the point that pesky HIPPO got involved, you were probably progressing nicely through your project. Actually, this will save your project, it will get it back on track and lean user research nearly always improves the end result.

By taking control, you’re keeping the project focussed on users and there’s no harm in retesting existing assumptions. Take the replication crisis gripping the world of psychology right now - the discovery that replication of results isn’t as easy as they thought. A problem when you’re trying to prove a theory but in lean user research, not so much. See it as more of an opportunity to tweak and refine your design further through additional user testing.

I’m aware that I’ve painted the HIPPO as the bad guy in this piece. But actually, chances are , they’re highly paid for a reason. Whilst the Peter Principle could apply here, we have to assume that they’re there on merit and can make a valuable contribution to your project.

I’ll finish where I began:

You don’t have the support of the people around you because they all report into the HIPPO. But that’s ok. You’ve made the decision to work with them rather than against them. You’ll turn their ideas into testable hypotheses and carry out some lean user research.

Why? Because the alternative is more painful.  Just changing the design because the HIPPO wants it risks reducing the ROI and sets a precedent that stuff can just be changed without testing.

Who knows, it could even improve things.