Making User Experience Part of Business Strategy | Understanding a Product’s Target Culture

Ask UXmatters

Get expert answers

A column by Janet M. Six
December 8, 2014

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts discusses two topics:

  • how to integrate user experience into an organization’s product and business strategy
  • how to best understand the culture of an organization for which you are providing design solutions

In exploring potential means of integrating user experience into an organization’s product strategy and overall business strategy, our expert panel discusses such approaches as presumptive design and the Jobs to Be Done model. On the related topic of best design practices for a particular culture, the Expert Panel considers observation and anthropology.

Champion Advertisement
Continue Reading…

Every month in my column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts provides answers to our readers’ questions about a broad range 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].

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

  • Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; Past President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
  • Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
  • Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
  • Cory Lebson—Principal UX Consultant at Lebsontech; President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA)

Making User Experience Part of Business Strategy

Q: What is the best way to define a product vision, determine the business goals for a product, integrate User Experience into an organization’s overall business strategy, and define a product’s requirements?—from a UXmatters reader

“These are huge topics—way too big to cover in depth here—but I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction” responds Pabini. “I recommend that every UX professional study product management. This will help you to be a more effective and valuable member of your product team. The best two books that I’ve read on product strategy are:

  • Product Strategy for High-Technology Companies: Accelerating Your Business to Web Speed, by Michael E. McGrath—This book provides a very good grounding in various approaches to and aspects of product strategy and will answer many of your questions.
  • What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services, by Anthony Ulwick—This is an important book, and Ulwick’s approach is very compatible with the philosophy of user-centered design.

In his book, Ulwick begins by defining three tenets of outcome-driven innovation:

  • “Customers buy products and services to help them get jobs done.”
  • “Customers use a set of metrics—performance measures—to judge how well a job is getting done and how a product performs.”
  • “These customer metrics make possible the systematic and predictable creation of breakthrough products and services.”

Ulwick’s book outlines eight stages of outcome-driven innovation:

  • “Formulate an innovation strategy.”
  • “Capture customer inputs.”
  • “Identify areas of opportunity.”
  • “Segment the market.”
  • “Target opportunities for growth.”
  • “Assess messaging and branding.”
  • “Prioritize projects in the development pipeline.”
  • “Devise breakthrough ideas.”

“Now, regarding integrating User Experience into product strategy, the role of User Experience is changing. What used to be clear lines between the responsibilities of Product Managers and UX professionals are now blurring,” states Pabini. “In my UXmatters article, ‘Sharing Ownership of UX,’ which I wrote in 2007, I defined clear boundaries between the roles of Product Managers, who are primarily responsible for product vision, and UX Designers and Engineers, who are primarily responsible for executing that vision. While what I described in that article was a very collaborative process, in which all core team members could contribute to the making of any decision, certain decisions ultimately rested with particular roles.

“However, as more companies do generative user research—whether as part of Lean UX or taking more traditional approaches—user researchers are increasingly providing valuable findings about user needs that provide input to the process of envisioning products. This information has become very important in defining product requirements.

“Envisioning, ideation, strategy, planning, and requirements definition are all part of the Discovery Phase of product design. My UXmatters article ‘Design Is a Process, Not a Methodology’ discusses Discovery Phase activities in depth and covers:

  1. Learning about your users
  2. Modeling your users
  3. Analyzing your users’ tasks
  4. Eliciting and defining clear product requirements

“In an earlier edition of Ask UXmatters titled ‘Are Rapid Prototyping, Lean UX, and Agile Development Good for User Experience?’ I wrote about defining product requirements as user stories,” continues Pabini. “User stories are a very concise and effective means of defining product requirements, especially in agile development environments. To learn about writing user stories, I recommend that you read Mike Cohn’s User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development. Cohn’s books are the only books about agile development that I’ve read that even mention user experience.

“A product or service will deliver on only a handful of business goals: to increase the effectiveness of some existing function; to increase revenues; or to reduce costs,” answers Steve. “Each of those goals will have an impact on profitability—either directly or indirectly—which in turn funds future ventures. Which business goals a product serves should be fairly obvious and with clarity should come a very convenient lens through which to define the requirements for a product or service.”

Presumptive Design

“I have been promoting a process that I’ve dubbed presumptive design,” says Leo. “You can learn about it in my five-minute Ignite talk. In presumptive design, internal stakeholders participate in a generative research and participatory design process to elicit assumptions about their future product vision. The participants in this creation session must include product teams, stakeholders in business and finance, and any others who you must bring on board for the product’s success. This first part of the process is not unlike many other visioning processes.

“Where presumptive design goes a step further is in then involving the targets of that vision, or external stakeholders, in a series of engagement sessions, in which they immerse themselves in the vision by using a mockup or junk prototype. The purpose of these sessions is not to refine the vision directly, but instead to generate provocative conversations about the internal stakeholders’ assumptions that were the genesis of the mockup. The immediate feedback that external stakeholders provide holds a mirror up to the internal team. The team then incorporates this feedback into a revised vision that has substantially greater nuance, sophistication, and most important from a business perspective, reduced risk, which is a fundamental concern inherent in any future-leaning endeavor.

“This approach is also useful in understanding the culture of a business, which is this column’s second topic of discussion.”

Jobs to Be Done Approach

“It’s difficult to determine what the best solution is without knowing the nuances of the team, project, and organization,” replies Jordan. “I prefer the Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) approach to product design, but that doesn’t mean it’s best for every project, every organization, or every team. That said, the first step in product design involves defining the product vision through business-model analysis, which examines the details and structure of the organization’s business model to determine how a new product could or should fit within that model. I’ve had success using the Business Model Canvas as a visual way of developing a product vision from a business-model analysis. Once you’ve defined a general product vision, you can use the JTBD method to define goals and requirements. There are tons of forums, blogs, groups, books, and articles that enable anyone to dive as deep into the JTBD method as they want, but here’s a short summary of how I use it.

“I start by translating the product vision into jobs that the product could help users do. I then define the competition based on the job, as opposed to the product. For instance, when Maytag thinks of its competition, it may look at Kenmore, Electrolux, Samsung, Whirlpool, and GE. However, when we examine a job to be done first—for example, getting clothes clean—alternative sources of competition emerge: using a dry cleaners, using a laundromat, and using mom’s washing machine are all competitors for getting clothes clean.

“Once you have defined the competition properly, you can start figuring out the product requirements. An ethnographic approach typically leads to the most insightful results, but talking with actual users is a must. The JTBD method considers the job—in our example, getting clothes clean—and finds users who have recently hired or fired a product that does that job to participate in an ethnographic study. For instance, Maytag might talk with someone who had recently fired a dry cleaners or just started using a new laundromat. The goal of the study should be to define the reasons a person hired or fired the product or service. Once you understand these reasons, you can prioritize them and translate them into feature sets. You can then prototype each feature and test it with actual users. Typically, you’ll produce several iterations of any product design before launching the product in a wide release.

“Again, this is not necessarily the best way, but it’s worked well for me. Any complicated process such as product design should involve a team of professionals who are capable of keeping the project pointed in the right direction. Any product-design process should consider who’s on the team, the stakeholders, and the culture of the organization developing the product before selecting the best solution for them.”

Understanding the Culture for Which You Are Providing a Design Solution

Q: What are some ways of better understanding a culture for which you’re designing a product or service?—from a UXmatters reader

“You can either observe people using a competitive product or service or an earlier version of your own product or service, or you can create a prototype and observe people using it,” responds Jordan. “Your goal shouldn’t be to understand the culture, but to understand the anxieties and motivations of the people actually using the product or service. Internationalization and cultural research are often the basis of large ethnographic studies that companies conduct prior to product design to determine product viability. Anthropology and digital anthropology are fields that focus on investigating cultures that develop in the real world and online, respectively.”

“One of the best ways to truly understand a culture for which you are designing a product or service is to do some type of anthropologically flavored user research,” advises Cory. “In business, opportunities for true anthropological research are limited—though I wish there were more opportunities! However, there are plenty of research approaches that are useful in user experience. There may be ways to observe users as they interact with each other and with certain artifacts—perhaps those that have a battery or plug or those that do not.

“When there is sufficient time and budget—and if you can actually be a participant within a particular culture without its tainting your findings—there may be opportunities to be a participant-observer and really learn about those who are going to use a product. When time and budget are more limited, as is often the case, you can employ more traditional, moderated user research approaches such as focus-group discussions or user interviews. What I often find when doing this kind of research is that what seems like a single culture to a client actually turns out to be a culture that is stratified in ways that would impact the creation of the product’s user interface. For example, there might be divisions by age, familiarity with technology, or understanding of a language.” 

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

Other Columns by Janet M. Six

Other Articles on Business Strategy

New on UXmatters