Balancing UX Strategy with Lean and Agile | Roles in UX Strategy | UX Versus CX Strategy

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A column by Janet M. Six
July 22, 2013

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss balancing UX strategy with Lean UX and agile development, describe roles in UX strategy, and compare user experience strategy with customer experience strategy.

Every month in Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a variety of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

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The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Senior Director, User Experience and Design at Apttus; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
  • Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
  • Yury Vetrov—Head of UX at Mail.Ru

Balancing UX Strategy with Lean and Agile

Q: How do you balance the need for a user experience strategy with Lean UX and agile development?—from a UXmatters reader

“No matter what design or development process your team chooses to employ, UX strategy plays an integral role, especially when user experience is critical to a product’s success,” responds Pabini. “Whether you’re doing Lean UX or agile development, you need to establish a vision for a product user experience. UX strategy is inherent in Lean UX.

  • The first step in a Lean process is stating a hypothesis—or declaring your assumptions.
  • The second step is creating a minimum viable product (MVP), so you can test your hypothesis.
  • The third step is conducting an experiment to either validate or disprove your hypothesis.
  • The fourth step is obtaining feedback from users through UX research.
  • Then, you either iterate on these steps or pivot—that is, start all over again with a new hypothesis.

“All of this occurs in service of defining and continually refining your vision, or UX strategy.”

“By asking for ‘balance,’ the question implies that there is a tension between UX strategy and agile or Lean UX approaches,” observes Adrian. “It’s an implication that I reject.

“For example, Lean UX approaches are effective in helping to define an organization’s UX strategy. The focus on validating the results of research and design helps to convince the business of the value of UX practices—and by forcing value to be made explicit, aligns everybody on the same value.

“Agile and Lean do not negate the need for strategy. Neither are they opposed to it. What they do give you are valuable tools that help you to determine whether your strategy is actually working—and pointers on how to correct it if it isn’t.”

For more on agile UX, see these editions of Ask UXmatters: “Agile User Experience Design,” which includes a discussion on the need for a clear product vision, and “Integrating UX into Agile Development.”

Take a Flexible Approach to Keep Your UX Strategy Relevant

“Our company’s key products are on the Web, and agile development is a great fit great for our organization,” answers Yury. “The UX team has adopted agile. Were doing weekly sprints and using agile methods of planning and execution. We strongly believe that the best specification of a product is the shipped product itself. So we’re trying to cut as many deliverables and process steps as possible, while still delivering clear requirements to our developers and great user experiences to our users.

“I like the ideas in ‘When to Apply UX Effort in Agile,’ by nForm’s Andrew Wright. We can view user experience not as a specified step-by-step process, but as a set of services that we can deliver to our product team.

“If we see the role of User Experience in the product development process not as a rigid production line, but as a set of tools that we can apply during a product’s development lifecycle, we can be really flexible—and truly agile. You can add value to the product at any time, whether you’re adding a big feature, making routine changes to polish a user interface, or building something new from scratch. What helps you to conduct a successful UX strategy? Always staying relevant to current business problems and goals.”

Roles in UX Strategy

Q: What roles are involved in user experience strategy in your organization?—from a UXmatters reader

“We assign our most experienced individuals to strategy discussions,” replies Leo. “They are experienced not only in design and user engagement, but in business and technology as well. Meaning that our strategists are broken-comb people—not just T-shaped or pi-shaped people. They are folks who have experience in a variety of contexts, who can speak the language of business as well as design.”

The Power of Collaborative Teams

“Defining a product vision and defining a UX strategy are closely related activities. Both should be a collaborative, team effort,” advises Pabini. “Ideally, collaborative envisioning should involve key stakeholders, all members of a product team, and in some cases, customers whose needs are driving the vision. While a Product Owner or Product Manager owns the final decisions regarding product strategy, through the creative foment of collaboration, a team is more likely to innovative and can coalesce around a viable vision more quickly. In the same way, while a UX Strategist or UX Lead owns decision-making regarding UX strategy, taking a collaborative approach to ideation ensures both that there is a wealth of ideas on which to draw and that the UX strategy is feasible.

“For more about the power of collaborative teams, I invite you to read my UXmatters article ‘Sharing Ownership of UX,’ as well as the edition of Ask UXmatters on ‘Teamwork and Collaboration Across Departments,’ both of which provide helpful advice on working collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams.”

“In our company, strategic decisions about specific products and the whole product portfolio come from top management and product managers,” says Yury. “They’re carefully monitoring the marketplace and seeking new business possibilities, new ways to grow our user base, and new growth areas for our current businesses. They find the right audience for our products and learn what their problems are, so we can solve those problems and profit from doing so.

“Once the business has determined its product vision, it’s time for our UX team to step in—including UX designers, visual designers, and researchers. We work closely with executives and product management on a product’s feature set and user interface. We research the product’s target audience, their needs, habits, and expectations. We show how the product will work and look and fight to deliver a great user experience. We follow a typical UX design process like those you’ve heard about hundreds of times. But where’s the strategy part?

“I believe that a key part of UX strategy is the ability to drive product changes from the bottom up,” continues Yury. “This happens when your knowledge about users, their needs, and their behavior patterns, expectations, and habits gives you valuable insights on how to make the product more successful for your business. UX designers and researchers own this deep knowledge, giving us the chance to provide value to the business, to be recognized for the value that we provide, and to get involved in product decisions.

“So, in our company, every role is more or less involved in UX strategy—including executives, product managers, UX designers, visual designers, researchers, analysts, and technical leads. I’ll borrow a slogan from a previous UXmatters column on this topic—work with stakeholders, not for stakeholders.”

“One problem is that knowledge of UX strategy is often implicit and personal—and owned by specific UX people as a part of their professional competence,” admits Yury. “But to make UX strategy work, you should make it visible to everyone on the team.

“We’re building a UX knowledge base right now to enable us to share the knowledge that is key to devising a successful UX strategy. I was totally amazed by the talk Aarron Walter gave on “Big Data UX,” at the UXLx conference. His team at MailChimp is gathering every possible bit of data relating to UX—including user feedback and surveys, market and user research, Web analytics, industry trends, and much more—into a single publicly available database. And they can search the database for patterns and insights at any time, without having to spend several hours using different tools to dig through documents and put together a report. That’s the perfect way to make this knowledge explicit.

“Another important requirement of UX strategy is that it should influence product development priorities. Your UX strategy should show not only the direction in which the product should evolve, but also persuade management that this should happen faster. To do this, you need to show the value of making changes to the product. A good way to do this is with metrics.” Yury recommends his UXmatters article “How to Calculate the ROI of UX Using Metrics.”

UX Strategy Versus CX Strategy

Q: How does user experience strategy compare with customer experience strategy and design thinking?—from a UXmatters reader

“Customer experience (CX) strategy and UX strategy share many goals and approaches,” answers Pabini. “Both must align with an organization’s business strategy, or vision. But the scope of CX strategy is broader than that of UX strategy, encompassing all interactions that a customer has with an organization across all touchpoints. CX strategy considers such matters as cross-channel experiences that involve both digital experiences across multiple devices and real-world customer experiences. UX strategy focuses on digital product experiences.

“Regrettably, within large corporations, responsibility for CX strategy often rests with an organization that is completely separate from that responsible for UX strategy. For an organization to provide a coherent and consistent customer experience, CX strategy and UX strategy should be closely coupled and look at customer experience holistically.”

“At Mail.Ru, we make only Web and mobile products, so in our case, the customer = the user, and we have fewer channels to work with,” replies Yury. “But ideas and methods from service design are still useful to us. We use customer journey maps to model perfect experiences, then try to get closer and closer to this vision with every product iteration. We are constantly rethinking these journeys to determine whether we can do more for our users.

“We have about 40 products in our portfolio, and most of them include features on mobile or tablet Web sites and apps. Because people often use several of these services, there is another dimension to the customer experience—seamless transitions between various products. That’s a more complicated design problem, and even the world’s largest technology companies are struggling with it. For example, see Manu’s famous Microsoft org-chart infographic in Seth Godin’s ‘Getting Serious about Your Org Chart.’ And check out the discussion of Google’s instant messaging unification troubles in ‘Exclusive: Inside Hangouts, Google’s Big Fix for Its Messaging Mess.’ Because of the technology, vision, and political issues that are involved, dealing with product portfolios is one of the most challenging tasks for UX strategists, so we’ll definitely see more articles and talks on this topic.

Design Thinking

“Design thinking benefits people in all roles that engage in creative problem solving, including UX Strategists and CX Strategists,” says Pabini. “We covered the topic of design thinking in depth in another edition of Ask UXmatters, titled “Design Thinking.”

“Design thinking is one of our favorite topics at Mail.Ru,” enthuses Yury. “Two years ago, we had a wonderful workshop by Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn from Stanford’s d.School. The best part of it was that not just designers, but also executives and product managers participated. It helped us to show them what designers do and how we work, so we became a better product team after that. Here are several concepts and methods that I especially love from that workshop:

  • The problem that you’re trying to solve may be wrong. Often, you have only assumptions about a product until it ships. So you should be ready to test them early and often and change the product if your hypothesis turns out to be wrong. Just launching a product or feature is not enough. It needs to fill a real need to make it a success. This is one of the core concepts of Lean UX.
  • Explore a solution space fully. Don’t fixate on the first solution that you like. Almost any problem has more than one possible design solution. You need to be aware of all possible solutions and compare their pros and cons to find the best solution.” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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