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Aligning UX Strategy with Business Goals

By Sarah Bloomer, Lori Landesman, and Susan Wolfe

User experience (UX) design is becoming a business differentiator. Effective user experiences must address company goals. We must identify how user experience can help make companies successful with an effective strategy that is aligned with business strategy. Our approach offers a concrete way to create and discuss UX strategy.

Recipe for a UX Strategy

A UX strategy includes the why, what, how, who, and when of the project—the details that will provide its structure and demonstrate its progress and evolution.

Why
Business goal(s)
What
UX Vision
How Success metric
Who Cross-functional team members
When

Schedule for:
- Communications among team members
- Presentations/updates to stakeholders
- When milestones will be reached

Why: Business Goals

Imagine a telco called MockTel. Marvin is a businessman with a landline and cell phone. He purchased his cell phone on the Mocktel website and uses the website to check his phone usage. He calls customer service each time he travels overseas. His experience involves four interfaces: the website that sells the phones, his cell phone interface, the billing interface, and the customer service system (through a representative).

User experience designers make this experience seamless by considering the user interfaces (UIs), the context of use, and what makes the company successful. We succeed when the user experience is aligned with business goals.

First, identify business goals; then identify usability goals that allow us to develop the UX vision and strategy. Business goals describe company objectives and direction; most focus on making or saving money. Tactical goals address day-to-day work, strategic goals focus on fighting the competition, and corporate goals define the business of the company.

Next, develop tentative usability goals.

Find goals by:

While shared usability and UX goals streamline the UX team’s approach to design, a set of “corporate UX goals” can provide a common focus across multiple projects—applications, websites, and even process design.

Sometimes business goals appear too high-level to be useful. User-centered research and analysis helps drill down into the goals, uncovering and clarifying any issues.

There are many ways to develop UX goals based on business goals. The Hiser Element methodology in (ital)The Hiser Element Toolkit uses a simple matrix: you capture issues during research and analysis. For example, are there technical or usage constraints, or a strong competitor? Perhaps there are existing business objectives (sub-goals or tactics) for addressing the business goal. Often, business objectives are tactics set by groups such as marketing or customer service.

Once you understand issues and business objectives, you derive usability and design goals. In the following example, the business goal is to increase the sale of business cell phones.

The Hiser Element Usability Matrix

Business Goals

Issues

Business Objectives

UX Goals

Increase sales of business cell phones

Business people use PDAs

Older business people are technology averse

Business travelers need multiple ways to interact with their colleagues

Target PDA users

Easy to use for a broad range of business travelers

Distinguish business use from personal use

Make as easy to use as PDA most popular with business people

Easy to enter text and write emails

The Experience Matrix in Karen Donoghue’s Built for Use provides even greater detail (see table below). This useful table breaks business goals into experience and design goals with success metrics.

Business Drivers and Success Metrics

Tasks

Product Features that Support Business

Experience Require-ments

Best Practices

User Interface

Metrics

Testing Plan and Acceptance Criteria

Increase Trading activity among high-value customers segment

Metric :
1. Increase in trading for segment

Create Portfolio
1. Create New
2. Search for a security

3. Add the security
4. Repeat step 2

1. Portfolio

2. Search
3. Add

Rapid ability to add a security

Easy, fast, and applicable search

Ease in looking up forgotten ticker symbols

Yahoo! Finance

Midnight Trader

Trade button prominent and pervasive in user experience

Simple, clean design that is fast-loading

Two clicks to add security

Successful completion at first-use case

Feature used at each user session

Leads to a trade on the security

Quality Assurance (QA) will test each feature, and usability team twill validate

Check usage logs every three days for behavior patterns

What: UX Vision

A strategy requires a vision. A UX vision describes concepts, goals, and ideas. For MockTel, our UX vision would be a consistent user experience across all channels. For a more constrained project, the UX vision might be “fast access to desired information.”

We traditionally focus on users and the applications we design. Developing a user experience vision requires a broader view that includes business goals. What is the overall experience and how can it be designed into all facets of customer interaction? Don’t think about implementation or UI details at this point, just the overarching goal that you can convey in a sentence or two.

Next, develop a strategy to implement the vision. The strategy is a roadmap that describes both the what and the how. It filters the high level vision through constraints and business drivers. What is possible? What are the priorities, resources, deadlines and budget? Who needs to be involved, and when?

How: Success Metrics

Success metrics determine whether you have met your goals. Some metrics assess the success of a product, others the success of the project. Usability metrics usually support product metrics. The number of clicks to complete a task, for example, may promote efficiency and a better user experience. The business value may be broader; the customer completes an application; service representatives meet their call targets.

In the Experience Matrix example, the success metric is to increase trading among high-value customers. Metrics for the user interface have also been set including “two clicks to add security” and “successful completion of first-use case”. These support the business metric to increase trading, just as the UX goals are derived from, and support, the business goals. This alignment clearly indicates how UX adds value.

Benchmarking

Many success metrics are meaningful only when evaluated against an existing measure. Today’s measure can test tomorrow’s improvements. When to check your measures is determined by the metric itself. Some measures can be conducted in a usability test, while others must be measured once the application is in use, or over an extended period of use.

For example, MockTel wants to reduce support costs while improving the customer experience. They launch a project to reduce employee training costs on internally developed software. Current training time and time to proficiency is easily benchmarked. In this scenario, the UX team includes instructional designers, trainers, and UX practitioners. They devise a vision and strategy for improving the training, with shared goals and metrics. UX focuses on design improvements while the instructional designers and trainers explore improved training. Some research can be carried out together, some separately.

Success metrics might be:

  1. Reduce training time from five weeks to two weeks.
  2. Decrease time to proficiency from two months to one month.

Metric one can be designed into the new user interface and measured in part during design, but Metric two can only be measured over time after roll-out. There may be softer metrics as well, such as increased customer satisfaction.

Success metrics and the UX goals inform each other. Success metrics may help conceptualize design solutions while enabling management to see the relevance of your vision. The Hiser Element Usability Matrix is easily expanded to include success metrics.

Business Goals

Issues

Business Objectives

UX Goals

Success Metrics

Reduce training costs of customer service reps (CSRs)

CSRs are often in their first job

Multiple apps with different UIs

High turnover

 

Improve customer satisfaction by helping novice CSRs sound expert

Provide just-in-time help

 

Make UI’s consistent with each other

Match the workflow required by sales

Provide customer centric information

Provide visible prompts for infrequently used functions

Reduce training time from 5 weeks to 2 weeks

Increase time to proficiency from 2 months to 1 month

 

Who: The Cross-Functional Team

Delivering on a UX vision requires more than one person or UCD team. Whether a vision involves one product or a suite of products, services, and interactions, a cross-functional team must be involved to handle all aspects of the strategy. Developers, documentation writers, quality engineers, graphic designers, project managers, program managers, and marketing people are likely members. Include the whole team in your UX strategy regardless of how minimal the role. Consider not only who must be involved, but who should be involved, and how to include them productively. Jared Spool, for example, has pointed out that legal language often appears on websites and software. Although that language becomes part of the user interface, representatives from the legal department are often excluded from UX discussions.

When: Communicating Your Strategy

Choosing the right time to discuss and demonstrate the value of the team’s work is vital. As your vision and strategy evolve, use communication opportunities to capture feedback and build acceptance.

The communication most likely to be neglected is that with the cross-functional project team. Capturing each member’s progress and concerns is vital; each team member needs to hear what’s going on and to be heard. If team members and stakeholders are not aware of and committed to the timeline for milestones and deliverables, there’s little chance of implementing the strategy successfully. Consequently, publicize deadlines for project milestones and communication goals.

Similarly, vision and strategy are useless if not accepted and funded by management. Therefore we must demonstrate that user experience has generated income or reduced costs.

Goals, Vision, Strategy

Although words like “vision,” “strategy,” and “goals” are used often, they frequently seem indistinguishable and hard to describe. It’s difficult to find a practical application for them in day-to-day UX work. Our concept of how these ideas relate to, but differ from, each other looks like this:

Goals, vision and strategy are nested, with UX goals derived from business goals and measured against success metrics.

Each element requires input from multiple people and gains value and relevance as it evolves, with more input from team members, stakeholders, and the users whose experience the elements serve.

Summary

Letting business goals drive UX strategy makes our work more usable for executives who assess the value of numerous projects. UX practitioners are skilled at understanding users of the products we design and their context of use. Thinking of the UX vision and strategy as products we’re designing for consumption by executives can help us apply skills we already have.

Documenting a strategy with the why, what, how, who, and when of a project provides a useful reference for prioritizing UX activities. Deriving UX goals and vision from business goals reminds us of what’s important to the company as well to users, and how we can contribute. Taking a business view of user experience activities allows us to “sit at the executive table” and demonstrate the broad value of our activities. By communicating this value to the appropriate decision makers, we gain the opportunity to build the user experiences we’ve dreamed about.

 

Sarah Bloomer co-founded The Hiser Group, and helped establish the field of user-centered design there. A senior interaction designer for The MathWorks before starting Sarah Bloomer & Co,,,her tutorial, (ital)Successful Strategies for Selling Usability into Organizations, became a CHI classic. She led the conceptualization and development of The Hiser Element™ toolkit. Sarah holds an MS from New York University in interactive software design, a BA from Smith College, and served as masters supervisor at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Lori Landesman is a product designer and architect for user interfaces in the Software Group at IBM. Over the past ten years, she has worked at The Mathworks, User Interface Engineering, and Netscape Communications, managing teams of usability specialists, designers, and instructors. Lori holds an MBA from Northeastern University, an MA in instructional technology from Columbia University and a BA in math and English from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Susan J. Wolfe has spent over twenty years evangelizing the value of usability and user centered design. She recently joined Adobe Systems, as Australia practice leader for Adobe Consulting. Previously, as managing director of The Hiser Group and as director, client services for Different Solutions, Susan collaborated with commercial, corporate, and government clients. She frequently delivers workshops and conference presentations worldwide.

 

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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.
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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 2, 2007.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/user_experience/past_issues/2007-2.html.

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