UX-Maturity Stage 2: Limited

This article describes stage 2 in the six-stage NN/g UX-maturity model. Get an idea of your organization’s UX maturity by taking a short quiz (10 minutes or less).

Stage-2 organizations approach UX erratically. Small, highly inconsistent efforts are made by a few people, but there is no organization-wide understanding of (or respect for) UX.

When these sporadic attempts at UX are made in a stage-2 organization, it is typically because one UX-aware person or team pushes for them. While those few people may understand and appreciate UX, they struggle to spread that knowledge to others in the organization.

UX falls low among the list of organizational priorities, if it’s even included there. There’s no official recognition of user experience as a discipline and there are no UX-dedicated roles, processes, or budget.

UX-Maturity Stage 2: UX is limited, haphazard, and aspirational.

UX-Maturity Stage 2: UX is limited, haphazard, and aspirational.

UX maturity is composed of four factors: strategy, culture, process, and outcomes. The following sections describe how these four factors typically look in a stage-2 organization.

Strategy at Stage 2

Stage-2 organizations might reference users in their vision, but users are not their primary focus. User needs and behaviors are not core to the vision. When prioritizing work, stakeholder or client requests dictate what gets done.

Budgets and schedules may occasionally include UX activities, but only with the leftover resources from other priorities. UX work is not routinely or appropriately funded.

Culture at Stage 2

Typically, stage-2 organizations do have some vague awareness of what UX is — most employees have at least heard of it. However, that understanding is often incorrect, inconsistent, or limited across the organization. For example, most employees might believe that UX work “just makes things pretty.” The organization lacks understanding of the multifaceted benefits of a user-centered design process.

Process at Stage 2

At this stage, organizations still have a lot to learn about using UX methods correctly. For example, an informal checklist or heuristic evaluation might be used in place of true user research. A focus group may be used instead of usability testing. Those few people trying to conduct research often lack design or research experience — particularly research-facilitation experience — and studies result in poor or inaccurate results. These organizations have few or no shared tools or design systems. Design inconsistencies are rampant across the company.

Outcomes at Stage 2

While some organizations might get some UX work done, it often isn’t high-quality (due to inexperience or severely inadequate resources). Politics may get in the way of achieving successful results. If any quantitative metrics are collected, they are typically misused. The use of vanity metrics from analytics is a common problem at this stage — they make people feel like they’re getting “user data,” even if that data isn’t actionable or useful.

What limited-maturity organizations have in common is little (but existent) interest in or effort towards UX. While they all share similar challenges, different organizations can manifest that interest in slightly different ways.

Example 1: A leader as a change agent

In a large company, a person in a leadership role sees the value in UX and is trying to pull the organization into higher UX-maturity stages. Because of her position, she’s able to exert influence on other leaders and effect change more quickly than someone without a leadership position could. However, the process is like turning a big ship — it happens slowly, and with a lot of effort. 

Because she’s the only person strongly advocating change, the company runs a big risk. If she later decides to leave the company, the movement toward UX will fall apart.

Example 2: Checking off boxes

The organization is vaguely aware of UX and design practices. Across the organization, people feel like they should be doing more. However, they have a shallow understanding of UX and how to do it. To this company, UX is just a checkbox item to complete. Some employees even see UX as a “one-and-done” activity — they say things like, “We already did user research on this product, so now we don’t need to do any more.”

As a result, the organization tends to gravitate towards “easy” UX methods — heuristic evaluations, remote unmoderated usability testing, and analytics — leaving room for blind spots and misunderstandings. 

Example 3: One department leading the way

One department in a large company is interested in UX and excited by its potential benefits. Team members are actively trying to learn more about how to use research methods correctly. They’re experimenting with ways to make their processes user-focused.

However, these efforts are completely siloed within this department. While that team pushes forward, the rest of the organization is still sitting at stage 1 with no understanding or UX work.

The advantage of being at stage 2 is that you’re taking steps forward. There’s a big difference between an organization doing no UX work (stage 1) and an organization doing some. Take comfort in the knowledge that you’re making progress towards higher stages, even if it feels like you’re slowly walking uphill through thick mud.

The disadvantage of stage 2 is that it can feel like a long and slow fight — particularly in large organizations. In big companies that have been around for decades, people are often entrenched in their ways of working. It can be very difficult to disrupt those patterns and achieve a culture shift. 

In those situations, stage 2 can last for years. See the following section for ideas for speeding things up.

To move up from stage 2 to stage 3, focus on two key maturity factors: culture and process.

Improving Culture

A big challenge in stage 2 is the fundamental lack of understanding across the organization. To make people care enough about UX to actually learn about it, you have to tell them why they should care. Think about the individual motivations of stakeholders and leaders. For example, if a VP is highly concerned with cost cutting, he might pay attention if he sees how better UX could reduce calls to customer support.

Since you have limited resources, prioritize your efforts. Think about which UX projects could have the biggest impact on what stakeholders value. One or two high-visibility projects can act as case studies highlighting what UX can offer.

If you are (or someone else is) currently the only person advocating for UX change, that’s a big problem. First, it’s hard to be the only one dragging an organization towards better UX. Also, it’s a high risk for the company — if that one person leaves, so does the momentum. In such cases, it’s important to recruit more UX advocates and champions. UX champions in leadership roles are ideal, since they often have reach or influence. However, even people without leadership roles can achieve change, as long as they’re determined and strategic in their efforts. 

Improving Process

The second major factor that stage-2 organizations need to prioritize is process — the methods for doing UX work. Invest time in learning how to do design and research activities correctly. That way, even if UX work isn’t done frequently, it can be done effectively. (See the list below for many free articles and videos to help with this effort.)

If your team is relying on a few “easy” UX methods, experiment with expanding your UX toolkit. Try out a new mapping method in a stakeholder workshop. If your team always does heuristic evaluations, try a usability test. If your team always conducts remote unmoderated testing, try a remote moderated study. Look for ways to challenge yourself and your team to improve your skills.

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