UserZoom’s UX Research Maturity Model

Understanding the current and future state is critical for any organization, team, or individual that wants to reach the next level of success. In a UX context, this means reviewing the UX research (UXR) practice within an organization. Join us for a look at how this is measured.

When our customers need to accurately gauge their own progress, we use our UXR Maturity Model to provide a framework that illustrates where the organization is today (its maturity level) and which activities will be most effective, helping them elevate their UXR practice.

In this article, we’ll explore how and why the model was created and introduce some of its key components. 

In future articles, we will go deeper into the four different stages or levels of UXR maturity, how we measure it with our customers, and some examples of how it’s being used to further elevate the UXR practice within organizations, like setting specific goals or making a case for additional headcount.

Why understanding UXR maturity is important

With UXR maturity, many believe that if you choose your team carefully, and have the right expertise and setup, then with the added ingredient of time, the UXR practice will mature effectively.

But simply relying on time often puts us in a loop of just “doing” research, where our team is conducting research but we don’t have sight of the bigger picture:  How can we increase our impact across the organization? That’s why understanding where we’re at and where we want to go can help UXR practices to progress rather than stall. 

Origins of the UserZoom UXR Maturity Model

At UserZoom, I work in a UXR consultatory position with organizations of different sizes, set-ups, and industries all around the world. This exposure gives my team and me a “behind-the-scenes” view of how UXR functions are operating, and how they are evolving over time to meet the needs of their organization's digital product development.

Unfortunately, this journey to mature UXR isn’t easy or simple (if it was we would all be doing it, right?). Many organizations are unclear about how to progress or fail to take/don’t have the time to even contemplate and strategize different approaches. 

When we created the model, existing materials for progressing UXR maturity often provide very limited insight into what the journey looks like or what would help drive the change. We found that existing models often just touch upon UXR as a small component of UX and Design maturity—boiling research down to a single bullet point to explain what it may look like at different maturity stages. 

With this in mind, we set out to define a maturity model that would be focused specifically on the maturity of UXR. We used everything at our disposal - evaluating existing maturity models, analyzing customer data, conducting interviews with customers and other industry resources - to build out what the journey of maturing UXR looks like, no matter the size or industry the organization operates in. It was important that we used what existed already and built upon it to fill in existing gaps and iterate as we developed this model.

The model was built to:

  • Help show an organization’s current UXR maturity
  • Allow organizations to compare themselves to others
  • Enable organizations to think both strategically and tactically about how they can mature
  • Look at all components of a research practice, not just areas UserZoom can support in

Five key pillars of UX maturity

When measuring an organization’s UX maturity, we look at five key pillars:

Pillar 1: People

The first pillar of the model explores People. More specifically, looking at those who conduct and represent UXR in an organization and the environment in which they operate.

The specific areas, or indicators, we explore as part of the People pillar includes:

  • People who do research (PWDR): Who are the main “doers” of research in an organization?  What are their levels of UXR competency, and who do they interact with? 
  • Training and Development is focused on understanding how the organization supports individuals to become better at conducting and utilizing research in their roles.
  • Culture and Understanding look at the organization’s collective understanding of UXR, and how this view affects and influences the organization’s operations and decisions.
  • Leadership explores how UXR is represented at a leadership level within the organization and what career paths exist for UXRs.

Pillar 2: Execution

The second pillar is Execution: Centred on how research is being conducted by the organization. It’s important to go beyond the methodologies that are being used and explore the “how, why, when, and with whom” of research being conducted.

The indicators we explore as part of the Execution pillar include:

  • Methods Applied looks at what methods are available and used to understand the organization’s users.
  • Product Development Lifecycle (PDLC) is about understanding the points in the PDLC that research is incorporated. 
  • Cadence builds on the above and looks at the regularity in which the organization learns and gains insights from its users.
  • Participants are centered around the processes and practices for recruiting users as well as who those users are.

Pillar 3: Research Ops

The third pillar is Research Ops. Many of you may be familiar with the Research Ops community’s brilliant work on the UX Research Operations landscape map. A number of those aspects are part of this pillar and some are included in other pillars. 

For the purpose of our model, Research Ops looks at the level of standards, processes, and rigor that support the practice in an organization. 

The indicators we explore as part of the Research Ops pillar include: 

  • Planning covers how the organization prioritizes and maps its research agenda to the goals of the organization.
  • Best Practices looks at how UXR best practices are recorded, shared, and standardized across the organization.
  • UXR as a data source reviews the process of storing research data and findings, including how the findings can be accessed and shared across the organization.
  • Collaboration explores how the organization makes the research a collaborative activity, maximizing its impact and effectiveness.

Pillar 4: Impact

The fourth pillar is Impact. High-quality research is only as good as the value and action it drives. This pillar explores how influential UXR is across the organization in terms of the direction it provides and its perceived impact on the business.

The indicators we explore as part of the Impact pillar include:

  • Decision-making looks at how UX research is used when it comes to the direction of an organization’s products.
  • Shared Understanding explores if there is an understanding across the organization of its users and their experiences.
  • Measurement looks at what UX KPIs/Metrics exist and how UXR aids in measuring, socializing, and ultimately connecting these back to business goals.
  • Influence uncovers who in the organization is influenced by UX research (and to what degree).

Pillar 5: C-suite

The final pillar of the model is referred to as C-suite. It involves the relationship that UXR has with the most senior members of the organization. This is something that many organizations struggle to establish, but those that do, are often the most successful and influential of the UXR practices. 

The indicators we explore as part of the C-suite pillar include:

  • Buy-in looks at the importance placed, interest in, and understanding of the benefits of UXR at the most senior levels of the organization
  • Budget looks at the investment in UXR. Organizations that see the value of UXR and understand how it works dedicate budget to UXR practices and allow flexibility in budget to adjust to demand. 
  • Exposure and Influence revolve around how the senior levels of the organization are exposed to UXR, and how it influences and helps shape their decision-making.

At its core, UXR is about building and aligning overall business strategy to the wants and needs of the user. This is why UXR’s alignment to the vision and goals of their organization is an important indicator for this pillar.

Understanding your own UXR maturity

These pillars and their indicators allow UserZoom to give our customers a better understanding of where they are from a UXR maturity perspective, and provide guidance on how to move the needle within their organization.

In future articles, we’ll go deeper into each of the stages of UXR maturity in the context of each of the pillars, as well as the types of associated challenges that organizations often face when operating at these maturity stages. If you'd like to learn more or start exploring a maturity path for your own organization, get in touch.

Build the right thing, build it right

Make quick, customer-informed choices with the right research at every stage of product development