A methodology-driven approach to improving usability research and testing at your company

Most organizations recognize that placing a strong focus on customers is a competitive differentiator. However, understanding how to create a user-centric culture that can deliver this strategic goal can be quite challenging. Success cannot be achieved by simply hiring more UX professionals or carrying out more tests; rather, companies need to implement a more structured system in order to improve UX.

In this article we will look at the key factors involved in creating a successful customer-centric culture, showing how companies can follow a methodology-driven approach to develop their UX capabilities.

Start with the existing infrastructure

All businesses need some kind of UX strategy to define ‘the big picture’ for growth and development. The problem is that when companies only focus on strategy the entire process becomes too abstract, reducing the chances of success from the outset.

When creating a customer-centric culture, it’s more effective to devote initial efforts to analyzing how work is currently carried out within your particular organization. This can then be used as a base on which UX capabilities can be built.

The key thing to keep in mind is connecting what’s already in place within your organization. Every business will have its own unique way of doing things – whether it’s a project management methodology or a software development methodology, there will be some sort of framework in place to define how work gets done.

It is critical to define and implement UX practices in a way that will connect with the infrastructure that already exists. For example, if an organization works in an Agile methodology, it would make very little sense to ‘shoehorn’ in UX methods that would sit better with traditional project management styles. Instead, efforts should be made to mould UX activities around the Agile approach.

Define who does what

The next step in creating a customer-centric culture is to define the various roles that will be integral to the process. To assist with this, Jeff Horvath, President of Balanced Experience, suggests following the RACI model (Responsible, Accountable, Consult, Inform):

  • Who is responsible for each piece of UX work? – If we define the methods, and define how work needs to happen, who is responsible for undertaking the various parts?
  • Who is accountable for UX work? – Who actually makes the decisions?
  • Who do we consult? – Which team members provide input for a given project?
  • Who is kept informed on progress?

If these four elements can be defined for each UX project, then an organization is far better placed for putting together the right teams.

Staffing models

So, you’ve defined how your organization currently operates, how UX methods are to be worked in and what roles need to be involved. The next step is assembling an appropriate team or series of teams.

There are many different ways to draw up a staffing model, but generally speaking it’s good practice to create a central UX team who will be responsible for things like standards, honing methods, vendor relations and professional development. UX professionals can then be embedded into other sub-groups, such as a ‘project support team’, a ‘day-to-day support team’ or subject matter experts who report back to the central team. What makes sense for your organization will depend upon your business culture, but overall a common pattern is to have a strong central hub with members embedded throughout the company.

In reality, an organization is unlikely to have all the required UX professionals, so careful planning needs to go into sourcing the relevant man-power. Hiring a specific set of people is often a first point of action, but there is also the realistic expectation that non-UX employees will be required to carry out some UX activities. Here’s where training can play a key role. UX certification programs are readily available to enable staff to acquire certain UX skills and these can be further boosted through the implementation of a mentoring scheme.

Once you have the staff in place, it’s important to consider what tools are needed in order to carry out UX work. E.g. remote testing / data analytics / prototyping etc.

Reaching your customer-centric destination

After following the steps to create a user-centered business culture, many organizations can be left thinking “what now?” Every company has its own DNA, its own ways of thinking, its own people and personalities. Even with improved UX capabilities, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to change the DNA of your organization overnight. There are, however, a couple of steps you can take to open up the road to true customer-centricity:

  • Pilot your ideas. Don’t try to change the way your business operates in one go, instead test and hone projects to get people on-board.
  • Have a roll-out plan that begins with a showcase project.
  • Identify partner organizations that can work with you to test your ideas.
  • Find an executive sponsor who can help to support the vision and reinforce the value of UX capabilities.

Conclusion

UX is something that organizations recognize as a critical capability and is often seen as a strategic differentiator. Strategy is all very well, but if organizations stay at a strategic level there’s a risk that they will lose patience and fail to see a plan through to completion. This is why a methodology-driven approach, which starts with the definition of existing work patterns, often provides a more realistic (and sustainable) option.

Some organizations jump straight into hiring UX professionals, and while this is important, it is a stage that should come further down the line. It’s more important to define the work, define who is responsible, then concentrate on finding the right people and equipping them with the skills and tools needed.