The stages of UX maturity

How do you measure the maturity of UX in your organisation? This is a question I have often considered whilst developing a UX function. What are the signs that show we are moving forward? Nielsen’s stages of corporate UX maturity provide the original framework and are still relevant. More recently Jared Spool has some great observations about what takes organisations beyond the UX tipping point. Here is another take:

The first step is admitting you have a problem

In Nielsen’s 8 levels of corporate UX maturity, stage 1 is characterised as Hostility Toward Usability. Now it’s unlikely that many companies could take this attitude and survive today, but there are still organisations where UX is not fully understood or valued. In order to build a UX function, there needs to be a fundamental acknowledgement that you want to deliver a better experience for your users. This will deliver a commercial and competitive advantage, and it is the right thing to do.

Show me the money

A crucial turning point is when the powers that be recognise and value UX enough to invest in resources, equipment and training. I still hear from designers in the wider community the old chestnut ‘I wanted to do user research but we had no budget’. This tells me that the project is not utilising all aspects of the UX process and the design decisions have not been tested. Once you secure the budget to conduct regular user research and you have at least one UX person or you are training someone in UX, you’ve shown the investment that comes with a degree of UX maturity.

Collaboration and integration

Evangelising UX can be a long process! After initial investment, one or more people will typically start spreading the word about UX. This can take the form of events, talks, representation in meetings with stakeholders etc. Often by this point there is a UX team of sorts, but it can be isolated. This will typically mean UX work gets done on some projects but not others. There will be wins but the process is inconsistent. You need to sit with key stakeholders and find new ways of understanding their objectives. If things go well, the UX team start to embed themselves in other teams, working alongside Product Managers and Developers. Collaborative UX is another key milestone. As Nielsen says ‘To progress beyond…you must convince all managers and team members that user experience is part of their jobs and that user research results help them do better and more satisfying work’.

UX-topia?

Does an organisation ever become fully user-driven? I’m not sure but there is a tipping point where all of the above becomes easier. A great sign is senior level UX appointments, giving users and design a seat at the table of critical business decisions. There will be regular recruitment and an established framework for careers in UX. But UX is also a team sport and projects will be typically highly collaborative, with user research, prototyping and testing happening regularly.

As Spool points out, it’s entirely possible and likely to find teams in the same organisation at different stages of maturity. Sometimes teams have worked with a particularly strong UX advocate who has embedded values that steer the product development and they may be more mature. Others may have experienced some commercial success despite usability issues in products, and they may not yet have realised the potential of a embedded UX process. The task of a UX leader then is to adapt the approach to each team, understanding that one size rarely fits all.

How mature is UX within your organisation?