How To Scale UX In Your Organization

When you have realized the strategic importance of the User Experience (UX) for your organization, the next challenge is scaling. You probably discovered the value of UX in a couple of innovation projects. Now you want to make it an integral part of your strategy, tactics and operations. In your organization and projects you have to deal with all kinds of stakeholders and the way to guide your organization to include UX is by setting up some management tools. You cannot control everything, the only thing you can do is set the boundaries, set the rules of the game. The players will have to play. Setting up the rules and communicating about them will have to create the right awareness, culture and mindset about UX. If you want to change the way projects are done, you will have to infuse the management tools in place with UX. When Rob Brown and Derek White talked about scaling design at BBVA at the 2017 Global Service Design Conference they said it like this:

“We will not start a project without the triangle in place. The triangle is design and data in one corner, the business owner has to be present, and technology and engineering.” — Rob Brown, BBVA

Make UX part of the strategy

What Rob Brown and Derek White did at BBVA is to make design part of the strategy of the company. They installed a very simple executive rule: if you don’t have design, business and technology on your team (the triangle), you will not get funding for your project. When it comes to UX, I would translate this measure into: if you don’t have a UX management plan in place, you don’t get funding. I will get to the contents of the UX management plan later. But this measure alone is not enough. Just like every project at BBVA will bring in the “excuse” designer to get funding, people will start to make copy-past-fake UX plans. A designer on paper on a team doesn’t work any more than a paper UX plan. The higher goal of the measure is to create a playing field that will enhance the chances of developing better products and services. So you need to add a couple of other measures to reach your goals. But one of the things you need is commitment from the highest level or your organization. If you don’t have it, part of the plan is working towards getting it by proving the value of UX to the organization with quick wins.

TODO: Executive order & means of enforcement

Create awareness

For this strategy to work, people have to believe in it. People need to be aware of the UX game your organization is in. You can communicate this by dictating an executive project rule, but this works best if you give this rule some context. You have to convince people that UX is the game your organization is in. You have to explain what that means. You have to show people how they can act on that. You have to show people what is happening in the world around them. You have to showcase successful projects. You have to do an internal UX roadshow, organize UX events, lectures etc..

In creating UX awareness you can show successful projects, but it also works to appeal to the human side of the work people are doing. Creating meaningful services for people and therefore doing meaningful work is becoming increasingly important in the modern workforce. If people can work on truly meaningful and relevant services for other people, engagement and motivation usually rises. UX is all about people and employees working in technical and business departments tend to forget about the human side of work. Reminding them of that and showing them how, can unlock the creativity and energy in people you need. Everything we make must have positive ripple effect on the world around us.

TODO: UX roadshow with attention to human side of work

Use the right tools

When people are convinced to start paying attention to the UX, they need tools to achieve the UX goals. The goal of tools is to put people in the right mindset, make them see the parts of the problem they need to work on, give them a language to talk about the right things and to people from other departments:

  • Customer Journey Maps are a great tool to instill the user’s perspective, let people see the bigger picture and mutual relations.
  • Stakeholder maps are good for making people see the connections to other people and their stakes.
  • If you want to step it up, you can do Design Sprints to get people in a pressure cooker for finding the right questions, uncovering answers and getting into the user-centric-prototyping mindset.
  • Prototyping is the best way to uncover insights, test ideas and engage project members and stakeholders.
  • You can use user feedback tools like Usabilla to collect input from users or send out Google Form questionnaires.
  • Interviewing and involving users in your project teams is also great if you can organize it.

These are all fairly simple tools anyone can learn in a short time. Even things like prototyping can be very easy with tools people already know like Powerpoint or pen and paper. One of the things I learned from doing Design Sprints is that people can pick up these tools and mindsets and create results fairly easy. The mind-shift is harder than the mastering of the tools, but if you use the right tools, they will help in establishing the right mindset. But you’ll have to combine it with creating awareness and education on the goals of the tools. You don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking if you just do a nice workshop with lots of post-its than you are being creative and user centered. Tools without the proper mindset and understanding of the goals, is just innovation theatre.

TODO: use right tools & teach goals and proper use

Create UX KPI’s

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. So if you want to improve the UX level of your products and services, you need to measure the UX level of your products and service. Typical simple project KPI’s like delivering on time and within budget, are easy to measure but don’t tell us anything about the value that is being created. You need to measure value. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to measure the value created by changing one variable on the bottom line of an organization. The bottom line is determined by a complex interaction of multiple variables. But you can measure the UX of your products and services.

Net Promoter Score

A high level UX KPI can be the Net Promotor Score (NPS). The NPS is calculated based on responses to a single question:

“How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?“

The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale. And UX is usually a large part of customer satisfaction. The NPS is the sum of a lot of aspects, but it’s a high level KPI that you want to improve with UX.

User Experience Questionnaire

To get more specific feedback on UX quality, you have to ask more specific UX questions. A good starting point can be the User Experience Questionnaire by UEQ. They offer a long and a short list of questions you can ask to assess the quality of your UX.

The short version of the User Experience Questionnaire by UEQ

This tool can be a start to formulate your own UX questions. The most important thing is that you start asking these kinds of questions. Asking the questions and measuring the results creates awareness and data. It’s not exact science, but the results are an indication of the UX levels.

The UX ladder

In a previous essay I introduced the UX ladder to frame the thinking about the different levels of UX one can achieve. Each level of the UX ladder comes with specific questions:

  • Functional level: is it (technically) possible for a user to complete the task that was described in the user story?
  • Usability level: is it clear to the user how he can complete his task?
  • Comfort level: is it easy to complete the task?
  • Delight level: is it enjoyable to complete the task / use the service?
  • Meaning level: does the service make the user’s life better?

Question maturity

You can ask questions like this on task, epic, page or service level. You can do it for specific parts (user stories) or for the application as a whole. The most important thing is to start asking these type of questions. That is where it starts. In the questioning you can also have different levels:

  • Awareness: are you aware that UX is a thing of importance?
  • Action: are you asking UX questions?
  • Data collection: are you collecting quantitative data with your questions?
  • Follow up: are you asking follow-up questions to drill down to the root causes for discontent?
  • Feedback loops: are you communicating the results of your questions back to users to keep them engaged?

User research levels

You can ask questions in a lot of settings. Organization of user research can take on may forms that are all useful in specific contexts / phases:

  • 1-on-1 interviews with users: ask users questions about the jobs to be done and experiences of the systems. These interviews can be more free-form.
  • Panel sessions: organize a larger group of users to give feedback. These interviews / workshops need a bit more preparation. You need to think up specific questions in advance. If you do this in a structured way, you can collect quantitative data and if you drill down on specific questions qualitative insights. I like to use an app like Soapbox to engage a larger group of users and collect data.
  • Questionnaires: for larger groups of users, you can also send out questionnaires or have a user feedback tool to poll users. The advantage here is that you can reach larger groups of users, the downside is that it is harder to ask follow-up questions. Reaching out to a larger group can be a great way to create a community of engaged users that you can contact for panel sessions or 1-on-1 interviews.
  • Beta tests: if you have a working beta version of your service, you can invite people for a beta test. They can use the service and answer some questions about it afterward.

KPI’s and OKR’s

Measuring UX levels is the way to improve UX levels. If you have determined the UX level ambition for a project, you can determine a list of questions and the score that you want to achieve. You can measure the UX level with questions. But in the end the improved UX levels must lead to concrete measurable results. Measurable things can be customer response times, conversion rates, user satisfaction rates etc. But be aware of the fact that isolating KPI’s can be dangerous. Focussing too much on KPI’s can lead to unwanted strategies that are only aimed at the KPI’s and not the higher goals that they aim to achieve. You need to keep a broader view. Maybe Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) are more flexible and keep the eye on the ball of the goals you are trying to achieve. They also facilitate broader discussion. Combining UX questionnaires and KPI’s / OKR’s might provide the best results.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker

TODO: set goals, ask questions, collect data & measure impact

Contents of the UX management plan

One of the strategic management tools you can use is demand a UX management plan for each project. In this plan a project team should answer questions about the UX level they want to achieve and what activities they are going to do to achieve that level. The goal is to make UX a part of projects and to discuss the UX ambition for projects up front, during and after projects.

A UX management plan should include:

  • Clear statement of the level of UX ambition you are aiming for (UX ladder).
  • Plan on how to involve users: describe the ways you are going to validate choices with users (1-on-1, panels, questionnaires, beta tests).
  • How you include UX criteria in the Definition Of Done (DOD) of every user story.
  • How you put UX questions in the test scripts.
  • Benchmark the UX to industry standards and best practices.
  • How you will evaluate UX scores in retrospectives.
  • How you will involve business: keep the business case agile and part of the sprint planning process.
  • A 0-measurement.
  • How you will clearly state UX ambition at the project kickoff.

I am not a big fan of making elaborate planning documents, but these are the questions that need to be answered and documented. The goal is communication: create a framework to talk about UX levels, tools and ambitions. Quality criteria will have to be developed in order to prevent this from becoming a paper exercise.

TODO: demand UX management plan for projects

Organize knowledge sharing

If the UX word starts to spread, it’s a good idea to organize the knowledge sharing around this topic. If your organization is organized in an Agile/Scrum manner like for instance the model that was popularized by Spotify, you have chapters and guilds. That are groups of people from the organization that organize knowledge and skill sharing around topics or areas of expertise. If you don’t have a structure like this, it’s a good idea to start some form of chapter/guild structure to organize activities around the topic of UX. Sharing experiences, teaching each other skills, measuring progress on the UX agenda, developing a UX plan are valuable ways to make sure everybody is learning, sharing and spreading the UX word. These chapters can be around UX as an umbrella term or around specific tools like for instance the customer journey mapping tool.

TODO: organize UX chapters

Diagram by Agile Scrum Group

Determining the right UX level for projects

Out of the box UX

Not every project can or should aim for the highest UX level. Attaining a high UX level places high demands on skills, platforms, organization and budget. Out of the box solutions can be cheaper, but will have fewer possibilities to customize the UX to the specific needs of your users, and therefore fewer possibilities to create a competitive advantage. On the other hand, a lot of out of the box solution providers are investing in UX, so getting up to the UX level of an out of the box solution might be hard.

Seeing the whole system

UX is an investment that has to yield returns. Not every area of your organization will have equal opportunities for UX to bring in large returns, to add value. But in order to raise the overall UX level of the products and services of an organization, every project should aim for a the highest adequate UX level. There is a base level. Every project should take the needs of the user into consideration, even when selecting out of the box tools. Every project member should see the service through the eyes of the user. Consumer-facing services typically have a high UX bar, but employee-facing tools and services are not far behind. It’s all about determining the mission-critical services of your organization and deciding whether to invest in the UX of those services. You need to understand where the most profit can be made from enhancing the UX. One of the ways you can get a picture of the UX of your company by making a high-level Customer Journey Map. At some point, improving the UX is no longer profitable. In other areas a small improvement of the UX can lead to huge profits. If you understand the system and find leverage points, your UX investment yields the biggest returns.

The ecosystem

When considering the UX ambition for a project, one should take the developments in the outside world, the ecosystem around you, into consideration. Not meeting the UX standards of the services in your ecosystem can have negative effects on engagement, productivity, and the functioning of parts of your organization. Your organization doesn’t operate in a vacuum, to determine the adequate level of UX, you have to study your environment. In this day and age, competition can come from unexpected corners, so look outside your bubble for UX inspiration.

Custom and UX

Good UX doesn’t necessarily mean building all systems custom. Today there are a lot of ready made modules and services available that you can use to build up your services. Modern companies like Uber and AirBnb make use of a stack of out of the box cloud-based modules and services that they connect with custom modules.

TODO: Determine the right UX level for each project/service/product

What happens is …

In DevOps, the development process is somewhat of a black box to Operations and Design. Even if you have some knowledge of development and different platforms, there are intricate details and visions that differ from platform to platform and from development team to development team. If you have in-house development teams, you can start to align them with operations. But when you work with external development teams, this is much harder. Keeping the black box closed can also provide external (and internal) teams a power position that they don’t like to give up. IT developers are also bound by corporate visions on and experience with certain ways of working. Different platforms also have biases towards ways of working baked into them. A lot of things are possible in multiple platforms but some things are easier to achieve in certain platforms than others. Because developers speak and think differently from operations people, communication is always an issue. All these things create the walls of the black box of development. Most, not all, developers don’t have UX high on their list of priorities. And even if they have, they tend to have different standards. This all makes attaining an adequate UX level hard work.

In order to make sure everybody is going in the right directions, you need to use the feedback loops that are built into Agile processes. Through the design, you can communicate the desired results. During development, the IT team will communicate the feasibility of the design choices. And then the business team can modify the design to create a viable solution. Every sprint this process repeats itself.

To prevent the black box of IT Development to tip the power in their favor and make the desired UX level suffers, you can introduce the measures outline above. What happens when you introduce the measures outlined above (measurement) is that you introduce two additional feedback loops. If the UX levels and what that means in quantifiable terms is part of the conversation, the DOD requirements etc., IT Development has to plan for the questions on UX that will get asked in the sprint demos. The desired effect is that the IT teams will start to work differently if they know what questions will be asked. The UX levels will be up for discussion based on progressive insights from the development and these discussions are aimed at creating a common understanding of the big picture the project is trying to achieve. It creates an extra moment and the right mindset to talk about UX levels because the requirements are formalized just like any other requirement.

UX tipping point

There is an interesting concept called UX Tipping Point coined by Jared Spool. The concept states that the end game for UX should not be having great design teams and leaders embedded in the company, but rather infusing the practice of design across the whole organization: the point in which every member of the company, no matter the role, makes well-informed design decisions. When it comes to UX, everyone is a designer. Every decision people make in all kinds of departments impact the UX. To implement UX at scale, some form of formalization has to be in place.

UX as competitive advantage

Innovation used to be driven by technology, but in the 21st century, design has to be added to create impactful innovations. Technology should be aligned to user needs and be as usable as possible to reach as many people as possible. Business is changing and design is playing an increasingly important role. It’s no longer the company with the best technology that wins, but the company with the best UX. The job of the UX designer is to find the synergy between user needs, technological possibilities and business opportunities. But the UX designer can’t do this alone, everyone needs to be in on it.

Diagram by Rund Al Dwaik

The whole scaling plan would look something like this:

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.



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Dennis Hambeukers

Dennis Hambeukers

Strategist and project manager @ Zuiderlicht / Design Leadership Forum Member @InVision / Design Thinker / State Secretary of Integration @ Ministry of Design