Achieving UX maturity

by Andrew Japp on 24 March 2016

UX maturity?

We're a big proponent of the User Experience (UX) discipline as being a key to business success. By understanding what your customers' expectations are, we can collaboratively deliver more effective services to them, digitally or otherwise.

We also think it's safe to say that most businesses aren't fully customer-centric, though not from lack of trying. Because of that, we decided to ask ourselves the obvious two questions:

  • What's the best way to get your business focusing more on UX?
  • Who is best placed to push UX in their organisation?

In our discussions, we got to one unanimous conclusion: UX needs to be implemented and grown organically, bottom-up and not top-down.

Even if a CEO supports UX and tries to push it in an organisation, they'll likely run into difficulties in trying to change the organisation's culture, systems, and processes. Instead, building up UX capabilities and understanding over time from a tactical to strategic level is a more effective approach to achieve business objectives.

Before I go into more detail, I do want to note that we aren't the first to talk about the concept of implementing UX into an organisation (also referred to as assessing an organisation's level of UX maturity ). However, I don't think it's useful to many organisations to see UX discussed in abstract terms; phrases like 'Embed UX into all your processes' are too broad to really be helpful. Because of that, we set out to try and define stages of UX maturity in more practical terms, and to consider how the gaps between stages can be crossed by a business over time.


Who's best placed to push UX in their organisation?

Stage 0: It's just not really happening

At this stage, UX is barely in the picture. There may be a few advocates, but most of the company's processes don't take it into account.

It's likely that a core digital or website team serves to implement the initiatives of other functions, who conflict in their priorities and don't share enough information with each other. The customer will come second to the organisation's internal politics and silos.

However, there is room for UX to grow. Often times the first advocate for UX will be in the digital team, and they'll be in a position to push for implementation of some UX tools and techniques for small-scale tactical projects e.g. conducting usability testing on a website page, or a single customer journey. The benefits of using UX methodology or a UX agency will help bring the organisation onto the path towards the next stage of UX integration.

One simplistic analogy to consider here is to think of the advocate as a supermarket assistant. They may be responsible for stacking shelves and dealing with customers at the till, but they won't have control over product selection, marketing campaigns, or store design (to name just a few areas).

Nevertheless, at a tactical level there are a number of things that a store assistant can influence, such as where and how products are displayed, and they can help customers find things more easily but that is disruptive to their core task.

Stage 1: Outsourcing UX

Potentially after some successful small-scale implementation of UX methodology, the digital team may recognise that UX is a new discipline that needs to be taken into consideration. We've often seen with our clients that UX will be owned within the digital or website team. The team can ensure that initiatives that come through to them from other functions, can be looked at through a UX lens.

Generally however, the digital team will not have in-depth UX knowledge, and will outsource the work to a UX agency (like us!). While they have a basic understanding of UX, the expertise required to conduct UX design effectively isn't available yet.

To continue the supermarket analogy, the level of UX integration and control here could be compared to a store manager. Once again, they may not have control over many of the larger initiatives pushed through to them (marketing campaigns, product selection, etc.), but they can consider their customers' experience within their store, and can make changes to help improve how products are promoted, or how the store is set up.

Stage 2: UX as a core part of the digital team

Although an agency may have delivered many projects up to this stage, over time the business is likely to learn more and more about how to design their services with customer needs at the forefront. Eventually, the digital team will likely be pushing UX as a company-wide initiative, although they will continue to maintain implementation responsibility.

They will actively work with other functions to make sure UX is implemented on all digital channels, and they can work as advocates within the business to encourage customer-focused thinking. However, they will still only be one function among many, and will only have influence over initiatives driven through their channels. Internal politics will continue to be an obstacle.

I would consider this stage to be between the tactical and strategic levels. An apt analogy would be the position of a regional manager for the aforementioned supermarket chain. They'll have some strategic input for their region such as store locations, and will also be able to make further tactical changes. However, they won't have full control over the brand, and will still need to implement top-down initiatives.

Stage 3: Omnichannel UX

Eventually, we would see the ideal next stage involving UX integration across the organisation. Instead of customer-focus being something limited to digital teams and channels, it would be seen as a key issue across different teams, including product/service teams, marketing, operations, and sales. By implementing initiatives across different functions, the organisation can ensure that it meets customer expectations more effectively.

Alternatively, UX could be a single team within the business, normally associated with digital or possibly an off shoot of customer experience/services. In this set up work is filtered through the team but their impact is modest as they don't drive the decisions but respond to the requirements of other decision makers.

As far as the analogy goes, you could see this as the regional manager gaining the support of more central functions of the business, such as marketing or product in focusing exclusively on the customer.

Stage 4: A truly customer-centric organisation

At this final stage, the customer and their experience form the core of every level of activity, including business strategy at the company's leadership level. This means that the company's C-suite staff will consider UX a key priority, rather than simply paying lip service to more nebulous concepts such as 'innovation' and 'digital channels'. Because of the popularity of these buzzwords at the senior level, many companies may think they have reached this stage, when they are in fact only around Stages 1 or 2.

To conclude our analogy, think of this as all levels of the company understanding the importance of UX for the business' success, from the shop assistant right up to the CEO. Everything is focussed on the needs of the customer, making their life easy and fostering a great relationship with the supermarket, from understanding the proposition of the supermarket, great pre-sales experience, finding the products, engagement with the staff, using the checkout, and a post-sales after service.

We at Webcredible are in the process of rolling this out across our clients making sure they are supported through their business as they implement UX. It is a part of digital transformation but it is a fundamental that needs to be considered regardless of where the business in in it organisational transition.

P.S. please excuse the supermarket analogy, no supermarket staff were harmed in the writing of this blog.

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