The QuestionsLate last year, the Leadership Team at Red Gate embarked on a process of fleshing out Red Gate’s long-term vision and objectives; the company has been steadily expanding, and so they agreed that we couldn’t just assume that everyone was on the same page and had the same understanding of our goals anymore. Inspired by their example, our UX team’s fearless leader, Marine, thought it would be an appropriate time for us to do some similar thinking about how well user experience is integrated into Red Gate and its goals, and what we’d like to aspire to for the future.
We found Rich Buttiglieri’s model of UX Maturity particularly helpful as a way to give us a way to grade ourselves. In a nutshell, it places UX Maturity on a 6-point scale: “0,” the lowest, means UX is wholly unrecognised in the company, while “5,” the highest, indicates that the organisation is UX-driven and UX is a core part of company strategy. The 4 shades of grey in between represent varying degrees of company investment that you can read about in more detail on this deck (if you’re looking for the shortest explanation, skip to slide 7).
The ResultsMarine asked each member of the UX and Leadership teams to rank Red Gate’s valuation of user experience on the scale and submit our rankings to her. When the results were in, senior managers had put Red Gate firmly at 4, which Buttiglieri describes as “well integrated with overall product development cycle,” while most UX team members had ranked us somewhere between 3 and 4, which is described as having a well defined UX process, but not as systematic as it could/should be.
My own initial assessment had been to place us between 3 and 4, but on reflection I found such a high level of agreement to be somewhat suspicious (what can I say, I’m a contrarian). I decided to dig deeper by copying the bullet points from Buttiglieri’s Stage 4 slide onto a spreadsheet and colour-coding them:
- green if I thought we’d achieved this consistently over the past 6 months company-wide.
- orange if we achieved them inconsistently
- red if we had never achieved them
I came to two conclusions. First, and most importantly, my colouring skills were in fine nick. Second: in reality, or at least my subjective judgement thereof, we were closer to a 2/2.5 than a 4. It was at this point that I emailed my thoughts to the rest of the UX team and received Pete’s shocking +1 in reply. This was followed by more discussion largely in support of my view—including by the Leadership Team, who later on with Marine’s facilitation revised their own assessment to “almost 3.”
So What Happened?Red Gate is known, both in and outside the company, as caring tremendously about great design. The concept of “Ingeniusly Simple Software” is central to everything we do. So why, then, did we end up rating ourselves so badly on a scale designed to show how much a company cares about good design and user experience?
Here’s what I think happened, and what anyone should take into account when trying to use this or any other UX maturity model to measure how UX is valued and implemented within an organisation:
- A “model” of any sort is unlikely to map directly and perfectly onto your circumstances; there will be biases, generalisations and missing contexts. Within Red Gate, for example, there is high cultural buy-in for the value of UX. From CEO to devs, everyone strongly believes that having a UX designer on a project makes a remarkable difference to the final product quality. This sort of UX empathy wasn’t an explicit bullet point on this model, which I think led us to feel that it was impossible for us to otherwise be so low on the scale. Recommendation: Whenever you pick a model, remember that it’s gleaned from someone else’s research across a range of different organisations. As such, it is a sort of “average” – sometimes you’ll be below that average and sometimes above. Try to be critical of the model as well as yourself!
- Over the past few years we’ve migrated to a model where one or two UX designers are embedded in a project team. I strongly suspect that if we measured our UX maturity on a per-project basis we would have a much wider distribution of results, as well as higher ratings for the individual teams. Recommendations: When measuring UX Maturity, be clear upfront whether you’re measuring the organisation holistically or the quality of individual designers and projects.
- Don’t underestimate how hard it is for you to be honestly critical of your own work/team/product/company. Recommendation: Don’t confuse being happy with your job with having little to no room for improvement.
- Be very wary of “groupthink”. Recommendation: The main symptom of groupthink is a quick and painless consensus. If you see this happening, play devil’s advocate (constructively!) to see if any alternate viewpoints come up.
What’s Next?We agreed that this model isn’t a perfect fit for how UX fits into Red Gate; the fact that the cultural atmosphere isn’t a part of the evaluation, as well as the fact that we’re trying to apply a universal rating to several sets of project teams rather than a single UX team, leaves us with a score that on paper at least looks alarming! The other benchmarks, however, are still useful ways of measuring our progress as we develop, and so we feel that continuing to include our rating is a valuable part of the conversation around Red Gate’s UX. Both the UX Team and the Leadership Team have made a deliberate and committed decision that as a company, we want to have Buttiglieri’s Stage 4 as a medium-term goal, and we’re currently working on what that will actually look like for us as a company and concrete steps to get there.
Do you think you can help us? We’re currently hiring both a User Experience Designer and a Visual UI Designer, and if you’d like to play a part in taking us to the next level of UX maturity, we’d love to hear from you!
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