Organizations and their products and services have a user experience regardless if the organization is consciously managing it. User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with an organization, its services, and its products. Good user experience delights customers—it increases adoption, retention, loyalty, and, ultimately, revenue. Poor user experience detracts customers, drives them to the competition, and, eventually, is no longer a viable source of revenue.
As organizations become more aware of their user experience and develop processes to architect, manage, and measure it, they gain numerous benefits. Over the years, I have observed different organizations progress from no user experience awareness to a level of user experience awareness that became one of their core distinctions. Much of my observation came from first-hand experience as the facilitator of this change, including numerous discussions with peers in other organizations whose user experience dedication evolved over time. The culmination of my observations is what led me to develop the User Experience Maturity Model that I first presented at the Managing Innovation Conference in 2007. The model was inspired by the Capability Maturity Model Integration and the Nielsen’s Alertbox article on Corporate Usability Maturity (www.useit.com/alertbox).
I found that user experience management varies from organizations that are just becoming aware to the concepts of user experience to organizations where user experience is one of their core distinctions, if not the core distinction. The User Experience Maturity Model is a framework that describes an organization’s maturity along this continuum. It defines where your organization is and provides instructions to reach the next level. The model also provides a benchmark for your organization and relative comparison to other organizations.
In this model, there are five levels defined along the continuum of user experience maturity, starting at the initial level of no user experience management to customer-focused organization. Organizations progress through a sequence of stages as their user experience management processes evolve and mature. You can match your organization with the following descriptions to see what your next stage will likely be.
This diagram was designed to help guide in selecting user experience process improvement strategies.
Level 0: Initial Stage
We don’t know what we don’t know. Initially, your organization may not even be aware of the concept of user experience. Someone shares this knowledge and a grassroots effort begins. Usually it begins as an ad hoc effort on a small project. If the effort is successful and the benefits are recognized, an organization may likely invest in user experience and advance to the next stage.
Ad hoc efforts may include a simple heuristic review to determine areas for improvement. Once these areas are identified, an organization can choose to implement the easiest, most cost-effective improvements first, therefore immediately showing the benefits of investing in these efforts. Sometimes, it is as easy as bringing in an expert to suggest simple changes to a process or design that can yield big returns and increase efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction.
At this initial stage, it is typically undocumented and driven in a reactive manner by users’ dissatisfaction. Not all stakeholders or participants may know that the effort is taking place. As a result, the new effort is likely to depend heavily on the knowledge and efforts of relatively few people or small groups. An ad hoc effort with no approved budget may capture simple areas of improvement, or “low-hanging” fruit, which often leads to the addition of a professional in a UX discipline.
Level 1: Professional Discipline
Once user experience is adopted as a professional discipline, some user experience processes are repeatable with consistent results. For example, the organization may have adopted developing wireframes as a part of the elaboration phase, found that it reduced cycle time in requirement analysis with development, and integrated this activity into the process. Or perhaps the organization found that conducting a usability evaluation identified simple changes that increased end-user effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction, which ultimately increased adoption and retention (and revenue). The newly introduced user experience activities to the processes may not repeat for all the projects in the organization at this stage, but advocates may use some basic activities to track cost and benefits to start capturing return on investment.
At this stage, the minimum user experience process discipline is in place to repeat earlier successes on projects with similar applications and scope. The organization’s project status may now include user experience deliverables to management like completion of major user experience tasks and activities at major milestones.
Consistent, positive results from integrated user experience activities may promote a dedicated budget and the forming of a user experience group that develops consistent processes that lead to the next level.
Level 2: Managed Standard and Consistent Process
When user experience is managed, documented standards and process oversight are developed. These standards and oversight are used to establish consistent performance across projects which lead to the application of standards within similar guidelines. If necessary, some of these standards can be tailored.
Upper management may implement these user experience standards for the organization’s set of standard processes, and ensure that these objectives are appropriately addressed. The user experience roles, activities, and artifacts may be integrated into some of the organization’s processes. Resources and tasks may also be added to template project plans.
Measured results may prove a reduction in the cost of cycle time associated with definition, development, and testing, along with training and support and/or an increase in customer satisfaction, retention, and adoption that captures the attention of executive management. The organization may decide that user experience must now be considered in the overall corporate strategy and integrated into the core competence, which leads to the next level of user experience corporate maturity.
Level 3: Integrated User Experience and Predictable Process
When an organization integrates user experience into its corporate strategy, it can, using metrics, effectively control customer user experience with the organization and its products and services. In particular, the organization can identify ways to adjust and adapt the process to particular projects and tailor it to fit the needs of the target market, segmentation, and customer type.
Quantitative quality user experience goals tend to be set as part of the organization’s overall corporate balanced scorecard. Using quantitative, statistical techniques, process performance is measured and monitored, and becomes predictable and controllable. For example, as part of the organization’s financial perspective to increase revenue, increasing customer satisfaction in the customer perspective by measuring the product’s usability score in the process perspective would be part of the user experience corporate balance scorecard.
If a focus on user experience becomes a core distinction for an organization, they may enter the highest level of corporate user experience maturity.
Level 4: Customer-Driven Corporation
If one of the primary focuses of the organization is to continually improve the user experience process performance, the organization has become customer-driven in a controlled and measured way. Quantitative user experience process improvement objectives for the organization are established. These objectives become core to the organization and are annually reviewed and revised to reflect changing market and business objectives.
The user experience process improvements are measured and evaluated against the quantitative corporate process improvement objectives including financial, customer, process, and human capital perspectives. This may include user experience professionals’ involvement in corporate strategies, such as participating in discovering and defining new market segments, or participating in third-party vendor selection in terms of the overall corporate user experience integration.
All organizations and their products and services have a user experience. Organizations that manage and measure their user experience process gain the revenue benefits from satisfied customers. I suggest you use this model to define where your organization’s user experience maturity is, benchmark against your competitors, and reach the next level.