UX Maturity: How to Grow User Research in your Organization

Nikki Anderson
May 1, 2019 · 6 min read
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ResearchOps Berlin @ FlixBus

Our second ResearchOps Berlin Meetup, hosted by FlixBus, was an insightful presentation on how to assess your organization’s level of maturity, and how to help your organization foster and grow a user research practice. We then followed-up with group discussions on the challenges we face in organizations, when they are not quite as “UX research mature” as we could hope.

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On April 8th, we were fortunate enough to hold our second ResearchOps Berlin meeting. FlixBus was our wonderful host, and also delivered an actionable presentation on how they have managed to foster and grow user research at FlixBus. We found this talk to be extremely inspiring as many user researchers face this very challenge: how do we best approach growing our user research practice at an organization? The follow-up discussion made it very clear that there are patterns in the problems we all face.

Luky, Pietro and Carolina took the time to bring us through the story about the maturation of user research at FlixBus. It all started when Luky, previously a UX designer, was asked by colleagues to make a pop-up look nice. For all UX’ers reading this, I know you may have just cringed. Luky quickly realized her colleagues were completely focused on the solution, as opposed to the problem: pop-ups are annoying! This was two years ago: there was no dedicated UX researcher or research processes, and decisions were made based on a gut feeling. They decided things had to change.

UX Maturity Models

After understanding the need for user research at FlixBus, the team decided to use a UX Maturity model in order to assess the current state of user research, and how to get to the next levels.

How do we know what stage an organization is in with understanding and implementing user research techniques and processes? This is where UX Maturity models come into play. They are a framework that enable organizations to categorize the quality and effectiveness of their user research processes and practice. Generally, the more UX research mature a company is, the more likely that are to fight for including user research in their business.

During the presentation, the FlixBus team gave us a peak into how they define and assess UX maturity through a maturity model adapted from GetYourGuide to help us visualize the different steps.

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Most maturity models, one of the most famous is from Nasdaq, have a similar pattern consisting of five or six levels of UX maturity, the lowest in which UX is absent, the highest in which the organization has developed a research-centric culture. As organizations mature, they are better equipped, and more likely, to make use of user research, and incorporate it into business strategy.

  1. Absence/Unawareness of UX Research
    The organization is basically unaware of user research, and the value of conducting research. There is an absence of processes and movement in user research
  2. UX Research Awareness — Ad Hoc Research
    There is an awareness of user research, but it is commonly misunderstood as a tool to validate changes, or to “make something look pretty.” Oftentimes, there will be ad hoc research requests that come very late in the pipeline
  3. Adoption of UX research into projects
    This is where UX research comes into projects earlier than in stage two, and starts to become part of whatever development cycle the team is using
  4. Maturing of UX research into an organizational focus
    User research becomes part of the organizational process, and has its own place in the organization. Teams and stakeholders are bought in, and ensure research is done, when necessary
  5. Integrated UX research across strategy
    Instead of simply informing minor aesthetic changes, or being used to validate changes, user research is able to inform product strategy, as well as other strategies across the organization (ex: marketing, brand, etc.)
  6. Complete UX research culture
    Where every user researcher wants their organization to be: the entire company is research-centric and driven by a need to understand users. UX is an integral part of the organization’s thinking process at every level

In addition to the UX maturity model, the FlixBus team shared how, exactly, they have been able to increase the UX research maturity over the past few years. They explained some tips and tricks all of us can employ in our organizations.

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In order to create awareness of user research, they started with a few different methods. These internal methods, such as testing with employees, allowed them to feel more comfortable and confident when speaking with customers. It also allowed them to gather some buy-in and excitement around user research before jumping right into research interview sessions.

  1. Unmoderated remote studies with employees
  2. Moderated onsite studies with employees
  3. Moderated onsite studies with customers

Once they completed these usability tests, the team needed to understand how to best share user research across FlixBus. They created strategies on how to best share the research to the company, which allowed them to level-up in terms of maturity and getting the organization to be more aware of user research and the value it provides to the company.

  1. Attended meet-ups and conferences in order to get to know other researchers, and understand how other organizations incorporate user research.
  2. Held internal knowledge sharing and user research workshops, in order to, both, educate and share the findings from their research sessions.
  3. Created a blogpost on how testing with employees can be a great starting point to incorporating user research into your organization.
  4. Shared a UX research findings template, so others could easily do research and share their findings to the organization.
  5. Showed videos of usability sessions to create a shared understanding of where customers tended to struggle.
  6. Produced an affinity map with the research findings from the various studies, in order to make the results easier to synthesize and digest. This also gave them actionable next steps forward on how to implement the user research findings.
  7. Incorporated design sprints to include user research into the overall process.

Luckily, at FlixBus, with these methods, the demand for user research continues to increase!

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The FlixBus team found themselves in a position, I believe, all user researchers find cause for celebration: people learned about user research, found the value and were excited to conduct more! In this case, the team had to figure out how to scale user research in order to handle all the incoming research requests.

  1. Using the right tools, such as a remote testing tool that allows for mixed-methods (FlixBus uses Usertesting.com)
  2. Hiring more UX people, such as researchers
  3. Aligning with Product Owners to understand their roadmap, and properly prioritize research projects
  4. Continuing to share findings to generate discussions on slack channels
  5. Training other employees (product owners, designers, developers, etc.) to do user research
  6. Testing problems instead of solutions
  7. Using methodologies at higher maturity levels, such as field studies and guerrilla research or UX Croissant: where they test new features/ideas internally with employees in a speed-dating style user lab

We finished the meetup with a great group discuss on all the different areas we struggle in, when it comes to leveling up UX research maturity. Some of the most common problems were:

  • How to get continuous buy-in from stakeholders
  • How to make researchers feel valuable so they don’t leave the organization
  • How to hire UX researchers (especially those who will be working solo)
  • How to get feedback on a product concept/idea that is not currently in development (or live)

Overall, we all struggle with similar issues, and FlixBus was able to give us some actionable tips of how to, first, assess UX research maturity, and how to (slowly) get to the next level.

If you are interested in more in-depth information, we recommend checking out the presentation on SlideShare and also the video on Youtube. Also, keep checking our ResearchOps Berlin Meetup page for our next events!

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Talking about how to operationalise research

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