Thursday, June 10, 2010

Experiencing Coaching an User Experience Graduate


The moment I was asked to coach an User Experience graduate from the Hogeschool Rotterdam, I was enthusiastic. In my professional career I’ve been coaching several students and to me this has always been very inspiring. When you are working in the area of User Experience for quite some years like me, working together with students provides me with new viewpoints and insights. These new insights stimulate me to look differently to my own assignments and that is very refreshing.

Feeling of insufficiency...

This time there was one difference with all the other student projects I’d coached before. This specific graduation assignment was defined by my UX colleague at Vennster without my consolidation, because I was involved in other assignments at that time. Thereby this graduation project consisted of a topic of which I had very little knowledge. This definitely was a hurdle to take, especially at the start of the project. Regarding the content I wasn’t able to give the graduate much of advice. That felt as a shortcoming on my behalf.

Fortunately Vennster employs more professionals, who were able to help the graduate with his topic. By asking relevant and provocative questions, we tried to stimulate him to focus his research and come up with refreshing insights and conclusions.

Tip: As a graduation coach you don’t need to know all about the subject. In the end the graduate will be more experienced on the topic than you are anyway. However with your knowledge and experience, you can still stimulate the graduate to explore all far corners of the subject by asking the right questions.

No sense of urgency...

It’s in a sponsor’s interest to keep the graduate on the right track regarding the planning and deliverables within a graduation project which should come to an end within a specific amount of months. Some graduates might find this quite a difficult task to accomplish, possibly because their school assignments mostly have predefined milestones and shorter time spans. Therefore I requested him to set up a planning. Being his sponsor from Vennster, I wanted him to think about what he expected to deliver to me. I also asked him when he would deliver. Due to my experience in coaching other graduation projects, I noticed that for graduates, content often is more important than planning. In a business however as well content as planning are both of equal importances. If the agreed content isn’t delivered in time, it might not be useful/relevant/valid anymore.

Tip: As a graduation coach you need to stimulate (help) the graduate to set up a planning including deliverables and liaisons. The planning should be fine-tuned during the graduation process and deadlines should be kept.


I expected/asked the graduate to keep me informed about his way of working and his progress. Most of the working hours we were sitting in the same office, so I expected communication would not be a problem.

During their education UX students appear to learn a lot about gathering content and applying design methods. However they seem to have hardly any experience in dealing with a sponsor and the related communication expectations.

Despite of, maybe even due to, all my experience with experienced professionals, I didn’t realize that. I waited in vain until the graduate would keep me posted about the outcomes and hands-on deliverables. I repeatedly asked for information, but it didn’t help. Like this, I didn’t get any information. Instead, I should have planned a regular meeting, at least once every two weeks.

Fortunately, social media can be of great help. I started to follow my graduate on Twitter. I tried to figure out what the problem was. I gave tips and tricks to support his way of working. I gave him deadlines. I felt I wasn’t able to coach him properly. I had become a policewoman.

Tip: In case of a graduation project it sometimes is better to assign the coaching and the sponsoring task to two different people within the guiding company. Then the coaching professional can focus on coaching, while the sponsor plays the role of the ordering customer.


Together with my UX colleague Nils Vergeer within Vennster, we each took on one task. This worked great. Nils told the graduate what he as a sponsor expected him to deliver at what time and told him what would happen if he didn’t. In the meantime I could go on supporting the graduation process and supply him with tips and tricks on how to deliver in time.

Tip: As a sponsor you have to be clear in expressing your professional expectations according to deliverables and planning.


This worked remarkably well. The graduate found his way and graduated in time by presenting a great report on the subject, supported by a tool he designed to support UX-designers and software developers working closely together.