UX management

XIV.3 May + June 2007
Page: 25
Digital Citation

How to organizationally embed UX in your company

Janice Rohn

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Whether UX has been part of the company for 10 days or 10 years, UX managers should continually work on strategies and tactics to raise the awareness of UX and embed it across the company. Rarely is UX considered as crucial to the success of the company as development or marketing. Even in companies with more than 50 UX professionals, there are typically departments and people who are unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of UX. If you are fortunate enough to have an executive champion of UX, that person may not be in his or her role next week: In 2005 there were more than 16,600 C-level management changes, including more than 1,400 CEO displacements [2, 3].

UX managers can raise the awareness of UX through several strategies and tactics that have proven successful in not only educating stakeholders, but also in entrenching UX as a part of doing business. These strategies will help to maximize the likelihood that your UX team will grow during economic upturns and be retained during the inevitable downturns.

back to top  Supporting Business and Stakeholders' Goals

An irony of UX professionals is that they are often so focused on understanding their external customers, they do not spend the time necessary to focus on the internal customers: the stakeholders within the company. However, without buy-in and support from internal customers, the products and services will never reach external customers.

The first step to embedding UX is to understand the business, culture, and stakeholders within the company. UX must support business goals in addition to user goals. By understanding the business focus of the company—its value proposition, where it wants to be a market leader, and where it is neutralizing a competitor's lead—UX managers will have a better idea of how to focus their team's work. To ensure the UX team is supporting the business goals and also to gain credibility within the company, UX managers should continually demonstrate that they understand the business goals and how the work of their team supports those goals. If a business goal is to be a market leader in music-recording software, the UX manager should focus on early-phase activities, such as field studies of recording studios, to support innovation. If a business goal is to neutralize a competitor's lead in online bill payment, innovation is not necessary, but interaction and visual design should be applied to known requirements to create a competitive service.

Stakeholders are rewarded on a variety of measures, such as revenue, customer satisfaction, and site or product performance and availability. Most stakeholders will not recognize how UX can support their goals, so it is up to UX professionals to understand and translate UX activities to stakeholder goals. For example, if website performance is a goal for the VP of development, then the UX team should focus on and demonstrate how they can create page designs that are not only better for the user, but that also download faster due to a reduced number of objects and file size. By demonstrating that the stakeholders' goals are shared and supported by UX, the UX team can build support from the individuals across the company to deliver the best products and services to external customers.

back to top  Integrate with Formal and Informal Processes

Companies have a variety of formal processes—those processes that are documented and endorsed by the company—and informal processes—those that people practice, but aren't documented. An informal process may be used because there is no formal process, or it may be used because people explicitly or implicitly do not want to follow the formal documented process. These processes include anything that affects products and services, such as how requirements are gathered, documented, and prioritized; how features are prioritized; and how designs are implemented.

In order to work effectively, it is important for the UX manager to know and embed UX activities in both the formal and informal processes. Though there are situations in which the formal processes are rarely or never followed, it is important to discern how frequently they are followed and embed UX methods in them. Why should a UX manager spend time on a process that isn't consistently followed? If UX methods aren't in the process, anyone who has an objection to integrating UX can point to the documented process as a reason not to utilize UX. The UX manager should also work with others in charge of the processes, to updating them for greater efficiency and usefulness and using the update as an opportunity to integrate UX processes.

Also critical is for UX managers to ensure that UX methods are integrated into informal processes—what people actually do (which may or may not match the formal processes). To optimize success, the UX method should make it easier for people to do their job and help improve their performance. For example, if a UX team creates a set of templates and a component library for Development, the team will be able to deliver its work more quickly, with fewer interface bugs. A set of UX guidelines can be instructive but typically does not have the same impact as delivering online tools that ensure the guidelines are followed.

By understanding existing corporate processes, both formal and informal, and educating stakeholders on how UX integrates with these processes and helps them achieve their goals, UX can become a core component of the business.

back to top  Cultivate Customers to Be UX Champions

Positive customer references of both external and internal customers are one of the most powerful means of increasing the influence of UX within companies. External customers, not UX managers, are much more influential over executives who are compelled to action once they learn that one of the reasons for a product purchase was its ease of use. Similarly, when an internal project manager tells other project managers how user research and participatory design helped to reduce their project's requirements phase and the occurrence of missed requirements, the project managers are much more convinced than if a UX professional presents the same data.

Building relationships with external customers is valuable for many reasons. When UX teams have direct relationships with customers, they can gather accurate requirements and feedback more quickly. If an organization gives its customers opportunities to provide input and presents evidence that it's focusing on their needs through UX activities, customers will be more likely to form a loyal relationship with the company.

UX-release roadmaps (Figure 1) can be an invaluable way to build a relationship with a business customer: These roadmaps can identify the UX features and enhancements in future releases, along with providing assurance that known issues are being addressed.

By cultivating opportunities for both external and internal customers to cite the benefits of UX, while also tracking how the UX activities contribute to revenue through increased customer purchases, satisfaction, and loyalty, UX managers can better foster the institutionalization of UX.

back to top  Organizational Models Maximize Effectiveness

Seasoned UX managers know that a significant percentage of work time will be spent by their team not on their craft—whether research, design, or management—but on educating and influencing others. To work effectively, UX managers need to create an organizational model that enables the team to maximize the time spent on their craft and minimize the time required to influence others to implement their solutions for the company's products and services.

UX managers can increase their team's efficacy through several strategies to create an optimal organizational model. Some of these strategies are easier to implement when negotiating to accept a high-level UX position, such as director or VP of UX. Some can be implemented during times of change, such as reorganizations. And some can be implemented at any time. Three of the most important factors for how the organizational model affects UX are: the organizational position (the reporting level and department), the team reporting structure (centralized versus decentralized), and the funding model (how UX is funded).

Organizational position. The organizational position of UX in the company, both reporting level and department, is one of the most important factors in determining how effective and influential UX will be. This organizational positioning is a truer indicator of how much value the company executives place on user experience than any well-intentioned statements of how important user experience is to the company.

Marketing and development typically report to the same high level within organizations, whether directly to the CEO, president, or other top executive. Unfortunately, UX generally does not report to the same level, which means that it does not have an equal level of exposure and influence. Many companies say that user experience is of utmost importance to them, and yet have UX departments deeply buried within the organization with insufficient resources. If you are able to position the UX team to report to the same high level during your job-acceptance negotiation or during reorganization, you should congratulate yourself for optimally positioning your team.

If you are like most UX managers and report to a lower level compared with marketing and development, the key to maximizing efficiency is to report to the department with the most control and influence. Most companies are either predominantly driven by either marketing or development—it is rare to have both departments exert equal influence. Some departments, including QA and technical publications, rarely have significant influence on the design of products and services, so UX should typically not report to these departments. In some companies, product marketing creates detailed requirements and specifications that drive the products and services—if this is the case in your company, it is more effective to position your UX team in this department so that the user requirements and design solutions can be integrated into the specifications. In other companies, the product ideas and designs emanate from development—there may be documents written by product managers, but these documents are only loosely followed or treated as a first draft, with the products from development being the "final specifications." If this is the case in your company, it is more effective to position your UX team within the development team, so that UX is involved as the design decisions are made.

Regardless of where the UX team reports, it is important to maximize the influence across the organization by embedding UX activities and processes throughout the product life cycle. During the ideation and requirements phases, user requirements should be documented and prioritized along with the business and product requirements. During the design phase, development should be involved with UX to assess the designs for ease of implementation in order to ensure that the designs are not ignored later for being "too difficult to implement."

Reporting structure. Whether the UX team is centralized (with all UX resources reporting solid-line up to a single UX VP or director) or decentralized (with multiple separate UX teams reporting to different lines of business) is another important factor in determining how effective and influential UX will be. For most companies, the most effective structure is a centralized UX team [4, 1]. In larger companies with multiple lines of business, centralized teams can matrix resources to the different lines of business. Matrix team members are allocated to the lines of business with a dotted-line reporting structure. The matrix teams should be colocated with those lines of business to gain the necessary domain knowledge to be effective. Further, matrix teams are part of the daily decision making for their line of business. Centralized UX teams provide team members with better training (both support for participating in conferences and classes and cross-training with other members of the group), development, and career growth. Centralized teams also provide superior quality, consistency, and efficiency: Design patterns and solutions are shared, team members work closely with one another to ensure consistency and resources, such as usability labs, are shared and utilized more effectively. As a result, centralized UX teams produce higher-quality work more efficiently and attract and retain top talent.

In contrast, decentralized UX teams often have compensation, performance reviews, and resource allocation determined by a non-UX management team, which prevents UX team members from being able to strongly represent the users' needs when they conflict with the interests of the management team. Decentralized teams also work less efficiently and consistently-similar design challenges encountered by the teams are solved independently, typically with different solutions. Some companies try to address the disadvantages of decentralized teams by creating a UX standards team whose charter is to work with the individual UX teams across the company. This approach is also suboptimal: The standards team is often not sufficiently knowledgeable about the different UX teams' domains, and the standards are not consistently applied. Decentralized teams are found in companies that have not learned how to matrix effectively, and that tends to apply not only to their UX initiative.

Funding model. The funding model—how UX is funded—is also one of the most important factors in determining how effective and influential UX will be. The optimal funding model has two key factors: no financial deterrent to working with UX, and simplicity. For these reasons, the optimal funding model is a single source, and the second-best model is a source funded by a set amount or overhead percentage from each of the lines of business, regardless of how much they use UX resources. If there is any real or perceived financial deterrent to using UX resources, such as a chargeback for services or resources, project teams are less likely to include UX, even though the involvement of UX would most likely result in a more efficient project life cycle and more successful products and services. The other important factor is simplicity. If UX and project teams have to spend time tracking chargeback numbers, rather than allocating either a dedicated set of UX resources or allocating resources based on the project needs, teams will waste time on unnecessary administrative overhead.

back to top  Optimal Organizational Model

UX teams have many challenges. Most companies do not yet think of mandating UX for building products and services yet could not conceive of how they would operate without development and marketing. To help overcome this perspective, UX leaders must work to create an organizational model that supports the integration of UX. To maximize effectiveness, UX should have a high-level leader (director or above) who reports to the same level as the heads of marketing and development. The team should be centralized, with solid-line reporting to the head of UX, and dotted-line reporting to and colocation within the various lines of business. The centralized UX team should have a single funding source or a set percentage from each line of business. Any time and effort spent to optimize the UX organizational model will be well worth the investment, resulting in higher productivity, morale, and better products and services.

back to top  References

1. Bodine, K., 2006. The People Who Make Great Web Sites. September 13. Forrester Best Practices.

2. Institutional Shareholder Services 2006. A Record Year for CEO Ousters. October 20. http://blog.issproxy.com/2006/10/a_record_year_for_ceo_ousterss.html

3. Liberum Research 2006. http://liberum.twst.com/

4. Rosenbaum, S., Rohn, J.A., Humburg, J., 2000. A Toolkit for Strategic Usability: Results from Workshops, Panels, and Surveys. CHI Proceedings (The Hague, The Netherlands).

back to top  Author

Janice Anne Rohn

About the Author

Janice Anne Rohn is vice president of consumer experience at YELLOWPAGES.COM, a subsidiary of AT&T, where she is in charge of the consumer experience, including user experience, features, wireless and cross-platform, and search. Janice previously built and managed UX teams at World Savings Bank, Siebel Systems and Sun Microsystems. She has also worked at PeopleSoft, Apple and Stanford University. During her career, Janice has increased the effectiveness of UX in a variety of organizations, hired more than 80 UX professionals, and designed and built more than 15 usability labs. She was president and a founding board member of the Usability Professionals' Association (UPA) and was the usability chair for two CHI conferences.

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1. User Experience Roadmap: E-commerce Checkout Application

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