Sometimes life is beautiful. Managers smile on your requests. Co-workers are eager to adopt your suggestions. Product managers love the idea of taking you to visit their best customers.

Mostly, life isn’t like that.

Sometimes you say to your manager, “Let’s gather customer data for this product!” and he or she says, “Why would we do that? We have a deadline to meet.”

You say to your co-workers, “let’s go gather customer data!” and they say, “We have too much on our plate, and besides we’re not trained for it. It’s not our job.”

You say to your product manager, “Let us go find out about the customers,” and he or she says, “Don’t waste your time. I’ll tell you anything you need to know.”

It’s at times like these that you need guerilla CD.

Introducing a new way of working into an organization is easy when you have organizational support for it. (Actually, it’s not-but that’s the topic of another article.) When you don’t have this support, you need a way to move forward on your own.

Here are some suggestions:

The ‘Oh, we’re just friends’ method:

Don’t think of Contextual Design as a big, complicated process that requires a lot of organizational support. Remember the essence is in the inquiry method: Go where the users are; watch them work; talk to them about what it means.

Do that one-on-one. Do you know someone in the industry your product supports? Spend an afternoon with them. Can you get hold of people in Professional Services or field support? Let them tell you stories. Then ask if you can accompany them to the field.

Are you designing a piece of a product? Make an opportunity to see the task you are supporting performed. Design your solution, mock it up, and take it to one of your buddies in the field.

Look for opportunities to gather data everywhere. Doing a data-access tool? Go to the library and watch people use online catalogs. Designing a mobile device? Follow your mother-in-law around and pay attention to what she carries with her.

‘I’m just doing my job’ method:

The essence of guerilla CD is to do the work ‘under the radar’-so quietly that no one wakes up to the fact that you’re doing something different. It may be that you want everyone else to wake up to how much they’re missing. But that attitude won’t get you anywhere, so pack it away for the time being.

Instead, incorporate the special work you want to do into your normal process. Use all your company’s standard names for the process steps-just modify the activities a little.

During requirements definition, plan some customer contact. Turn those contacts into face-to-face discussions. Turn those into invitations to observe key work tasks.

During design, make sure the customer data is used in the design. Sketch new designs in paper. Iterate the paper in one-on-one interviews with customers. Gather your team in discussions of the findings.

During field test, make sure customer visits are part of the defined process. Then use the visits to drive the field test-choose particularly interesting customers to focus on and spend time observing them use your system

Never let on that any of this is process change. It’s not, right? You’re just doing your job.

‘Chinese water torture’ method:

What are you going to do with all this customer data you’ve been collecting one-on-one, under the radar?

One effective way to use the data is simply to tell people about it-not in a big presentation, but in little nuggets, every chance you get, a few drops at a time.

“Did you know the reason customers like the data dump feature is because it’s the simplest way to get a report showing how they’re doing?” “The micropanel is a cool feature but no one knows how to bring it up.” “Users don’t have too few error reports. They have too many.”

Pretty soon, you’ll have people asking you how you know all these things. And then they’ll be asking you if they can go on customer visits with you. That’s the time you can start to assemble informal interpretation sessions so everyone can interpret the data first-hand.

These are all actions you can take on your own, without major corporate commitment or approval. They’re just part of how you do your job. Do this consistently, and pretty soon they really will be part of how you do your job-“Well, of course we should do some customer visits. We did on the last project. Oh, you didn’t know about that?” Show the benefit of the data in making decisions and people will want more of it.

Fly low. Move lightly. Don’t make loud noises. Work with the existing process. These are the guerilla’s watchwords.

Good luck.