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VI.4 July-Aug. 1999
Page: 13
Digital Citation

Business: a day-in-the-life of a customer centered design consultant

Deborah Mrazek, Amy Silverman


There is really no typical day in the life of a Customer Centered Design Expert. In fact, there is no typical CCD Expert; some of us (including the authors) are consultants, while others work on a specific product. But all of us in the field share a commonality of experience that can be both illustrative and constructive.

For those of you who work on a specific product, we thought you might like to see how the "other half" lives. For those of you who are consultants, we hope you see a little of yourself in this article. We hope that by stepping back and showing you a little different view into the customer centered work world, you will better understand and appreciate the role you play.

We decided to use a diary format to make reading (and writing) this a little more fun. For each diary entry, we’ve included the time, location and activity. We’ve also included a retrospective for each entry. These retrospective sections are the key to tying together the individual tasks and pieces into a larger whole. We hope this diary format will help show the variety, challenges and rewards of a consultant’s job.

The specific person ("Clara") and day illustrated in this diary are fictitious, but this day is based on real-life experiences of activities and problems that we (and others) have been asked to help solve.

A Day in the Life

Clara the Customer-Centered Design (CCD) Consultant was supposed to be in the Bay Area to facilitate an important workshop. She also had several other commitments for that day. She decided that she would fly into the San Francisco Airport (SFO) the evening before, so she could be ready, rested and prepared.

However, the SFO weather didn’t cooperate. Instead of landing at 8:30 p.m., her plane didn’t land until after 11 p.m. Not feeling alert enough to drive in the middle of the night, she cancelled her hotel reservations in Santa Clara and stayed near the airport. We pick up with the start of her busy day.


Again, this is a fictitious day, but it illustrates many of the challenges and rewards of being a consultant. The challenges include balancing work and family life, feeling stretched between a variety of projects with dissimilar timelines, international travel, and blurred boundaries between work and personal time. The rewards include applying a variety of methods to a wide range of technologies and business situations, horizontal and vertical influences within an organization and the ability to see the "light bulb" go on as people become more customer-centered in their thinking.

Us and Our Team

Deborah and Amy are members of Hewlett-Packard’s Customer-Centered Design team, part of HP’s corporate Customer-Centered Quality (CCQ) department. The team has been in existence for about 4 years, and is tasked with helping HP become a more customer-centered company, particularly in the area of planning, designing and building products and services. This is done by partnering with divisions to help them better acquire, analyze and apply customer data.

Deborah Mrazek is a Senior Customer Centered Design Consultant. She has been with HP for over 11 years. During this time, she has worked as a Customer Centered Design Consultant, User Centered Design Manager and User Centered Design Expert. In the last five years, she has done extensive work in the area of international ethnographic (day-in-the-life) research methods, customer profiling and converting customer data into product and solution requirements. She has worked in and with a wide variety of projects, including both products and services to be used by consumers, corporations and internal to HP.

Amy Silverman is also a Senior Customer Centered Design Consultant. She has been with HP for over 4 years. During this time, she has worked as a Customer Centered Design Consultant and a User Centered Design Expert. In the last two years, she has done extensive work in the area of international usability testing and integrating customer centered methods into an organization’s development lifecycle. She has worked in and with a wide variety of products, her primary focus is on consumer oriented products.


Deborah Mrazek
Customer Centered Design Consultant

Amy Silverman
Customer Centered Design Consultant

Business Column Editor
Susan Dray
Dray & Associates
2007 Kenwood Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55405 USA
fax: +1-612-377-0363 or

Sidebar: Diary



6:00 a.m.

San Francisco Airport Hilton

Called Jesus, an engineer in Barcelona, to talk with him about some questions he has on interpreting the usability testing results.


I’ve been working with Jesus and his multi-disciplinary
  team for 6 months. His team is working on a new product for
  the office. This product has had many engineering challenges
  and the customers’ expectations are high. This is the first
  time this team has really followed a customer-centered design
  process from the beginning to end of the product


I have focused my engagement with them on helping them
  analyze customer tasks, set customer-centered release
  criteria and then iteratively design and test using the
  predefined release criteria.


Throughout my partnership with the team they have
  increased their knowledge and have gained more experience
  with CCD. As a result, I’m glad to see them taking more
  ownership for the outcomes of their customer-centered
  activities. They have even begun to develop some innovative
  task analysis formats that better fit their organizational
  style. I really enjoy it when my involvement with a team
  results in them starting to think outside of the box.

7:30 a.m.


Drove to the Santa Clara site. Called home on the way
  to see how everyone is doing. All is well.

8:30 a.m.

Santa Clara site

Facilitated a half-day workshop with Program Managers
  about vintage chart planning.


Today I met with some of the higher level Program Managers
  to help them plan their solution road maps around delivering
  a whole-customer solution. They were familiar with my
  colleague’s earlier work, with some of their Product
  Managers, aimed at aligning customer solutions with specific
  product objectives. It is great to now have the opportunity
  to continue to tie the customer needs and goals with higher
  level program objectives.


Delivering this kind of workshop is very streamlined since
  we can build customized versions for individual needs from a
  basic template. Leveraging workshops benefits
  everyone…we can deliver services efficiently, and our
  clients see quick turnaround times for workshops that
  perfectly fit their business needs.


It is so rewarding to have such wide span of influence
  within a company benefiting people at multiple levels in the
  organization and affecting positive change.

1:00 p.m.

Santa Clara site (borrowed empty cube to use for the

Participated in a virtual meeting with our team
  training coordinator, the Andover, MA site education
  coordinator and an Andover project manager. Meeting was to
  review the customized training module that they


The activities of this day really remind me of the
  diversity of the work we do. I remember when we first spoke
  with the people at Andover about adding this class to their
  site open-enrollment education list. Once our team training
  coordinator spoke with their site education coordinator in
  more detail, it was clear to us that involving the project
  manager in the discussion was key to its success. From that
  point on we all worked to evolve the class and customize it
  to best meet their needs and align with their target


The Andover coordinator expects that most of the people
  that will be taking this training are hardware engineers, new
  on the job. We plan to add a module that we call ‘What’s
  wrong with this picture’. In this module we will show
  pictures of common day things and situations that have
  inherent usability issues. We will then have the class
  participants critique these slides for usability


It turns out that some of the organizational alignment
  problems they were hoping to solve through training are
  difficult to address in a class format. Supporting management
  consulting is also needed. I am no longer surprised when a
  request for training turns into a consulting engagement. It
  just highlights for me that the most successful training our
  team takes part in works best just-in-time and with an intact

3:00 p.m.

Red Carpet Club at the SFO airport

Reviewed e-mail. Received thank-you letter from
  Loveland team, several at the SFO resumes for job candidates
  for a position within one of the divisions I am airport
  helping to fill, a request for information on developing
  metrics for Web usage, and a status message about the date
  and time of our next staff meeting.



I received today a note from a program manager in
  Loveland. He seemed to really appreciate how I framed the
  work with them into short-term and long-term activities and
  how I was able to work within some of their short-term
  resource constraints but still highlight the long-term
  payoff. One insight he had was when he recognized that even
  though "more time is spent with up-front activities, the
  payoff is with the speed and accuracy of product design and
  development later on."


Several resumes came in today for my review. Helping
  divisions with the hiring of employees that are in human
  factors, marketing, quality or some other CCD position keeps
  me in the loop with how the division is developing their
  program. Having our support and corporate wide insight is
  really critical for those divisions who are just starting to
  build their customer-centered capabilities.


I am excited to see the message from one of my CCQ
  colleagues about helping her support a division that wants to
  measure usage of the corporate Web site. An opportunity to
  collaborate with other consulting peers helps me develop a
  unified understanding of corporate consulting skills. In this
  case there is an overlap between our areas of expertise since
  she is chartered with helping divisions create metrics to
  measure customer loyalty and my knowledge focuses on usage
  issues. Partnering with others just increases my personal and
  professional rewards.


Communication tools (such as Meet-Me Number) have really
  helped our team conduct virtual meetings on a just-in-time
  basis in addition to regularly scheduled face-to face
  meetings. This is crucial since we don’t sit at the same
  site; our CCD team is spread out over the West Coast. Now
  that we can have virtual meetings we can jointly create new
  tools, maintain team infrastructure, and provide moral
  support. This increased level of contact adds to our positive
  team dynamic, cohesiveness, and overall effectiveness.

4:30 p.m.


Flying home after a long but productive day


This downtime enables me to reflect on the day’s progress
  and think about future challenges. It’s sometimes hard to
  juggle so many projects that have different timelines,
  constraints and expectations. But I can’t imagine a more
  challenging and rewarding position.

7:00 p.m.

House of Wong (near my office)

Strategy dinner with one of my consultants to talk
  about the plans for some field research.


This field research is to study a work practice in which
  Sue is an expert. Since Sue has become well versed in our CCD
  philosophy through prior work with me, her fresh insights in
  this specific topic area spark new ideas for me on improving
  how I partner with my client. Using outside consultants helps
  me to expand my sphere of influence by bringing in specific
  subject matter expertise or by being an extra pair of hands
  and eyes for me when I’m stretched too thin.


I like working with Sue; we have done many projects
  together and she helps to reinforce "our" ways of
  doing things when she partners with our clients. She is
  experienced enough that she requires very little direction
  from me to keep the ball moving.


Having opportunities like this meeting to catch up on the
  project helps keep her activities tied to the larger

10:00 p.m.

Drifting off

Realization that right now in Japan they are to sleep
  doing their first unsupervised UI inspection. I wonder how
  it’s going…

©1999 ACM  1072-5220/99/0700  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 1999 ACM, Inc.


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