This article describes stage 4 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-4 organizations recognize the value of UX and have one or more established UX teams. Leadership usually supports UX and sometimes even incorporates it into high-level strategies and initiatives.
Design is widely understood across the organization and there is an established, iterative human-centered–design process. User research is conducted throughout the entire product lifecycle.
The operations side of UX is strong and a variety of research and design methods are used. UX staff are comfortable and confident in their work; other areas of the business — such as development, product, and marketing — are involved in some aspects of the design process.
The positives often outweigh the weaknesses at this stage, but there are still some obstacles to overcome. These include convincing the few remaining unsupportive leaders, assigning responsibilities across specialized UX roles as teams scale, incorporating UX into company metrics, and excessively allocating UX resources to a few big customers instead of all teams.
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-4 organization.
Strategy at Stage 4
Organizations at stage 4 have strong user-centered ideas included in their vision, but that vision is not fully understood or used as a motivator across the organization. Some of the research that is done is strategic and related to the company’s vision, but most research is done in response to requests.
Teams have a shared method for prioritizing UX work across projects, but determining which projects to work on is mostly driven by business metrics rather than users’ needs or motivations. Development processes and schedules make UX work possible and not overly difficult. Early research is becoming prominent and planning includes time for UX work throughout the project lifecycle. A design system has been started and may even be gaining traction with development and the business.
Stage-4 organizations have budget for UX and there may be even extra to invest in UX-growth opportunities, such as expanding the UX team or attending UX trainings. The UX budget is allocated with at least some awareness of how it will be used.
Culture at Stage 4
At this stage, there is an organization-wide understanding of UX. UX is relatively respected by other departments and peers. UX collaborates with other disciplines and UX work has high, widespread influence and impact across teams and projects.
The organization generally accepts the need for UX, but some leaders are still resistant. There are still some areas of the business with little or no UX support.
At stage 4, organizations usually start to hire for specialized UX roles to replace the catch-all roles seen in lower-maturity stages; these roles are specific to each team’s needs. Some human-resources elements — such as job profiles and career paths — exist for UX, but they don’t cover all roles and growth is not widely tracked or measured.
Some (but not all) teams at the organization desire and plan to repeat, grow, and improve UX work.
Process at Stage 4
Organizations at stage 4 use a documented UX-design process that involves a variety of design and research methods. The organizations may struggle with choosing the right methods and using them appropriately. Most teams are doing discovery research of some kind, but successful discoveries are rare.
Teams collaborate in design workshops and by participating in research. Team-wide personas exist, but may be based on assumptions instead of data or may be poorly socialized across the organization. Most teams communicate frequently in Agile ceremonies, such as standups and retrospectives.
Outcomes at Stage 4
People in stage-4 organizations understand the idea of quality in design and research and there is a process in place for tracking it. Metrics for success are driven by user-centered goals and include aspects as diverse as accessibility and usability. However, some teams may not employ these user-centered goals regularly to drive projects.
Variations Within Stage 4
Example 1: An enterprise organization with many teams building out a singular product
In this organization, everyone works toward building one product. Teams are focused on different product aspects — such as filtering, search, or news feed. Each team follows the same research and design processes when it builds new features and the organization rallies around a vision that is centered on its users.
There is a separate design-system team in charge of making sure that the design is applied correctly by development teams. While product teams find success in following the established design process, the design-system team struggles to adapt this process to fit its specific needs. The process is widely understood by the organization, but only works with certain teams.
Example 2: A decentralized UX team spread across different areas of the business
This organization has several UX-team members that report directly to a product team. Each product team represents a different area of the business. UX is involved in the same meetings, activities, and conversations as the rest of the product team and are visible to influential stakeholders.
However, it can be difficult for UX professionals across the organization to regularly come together and communicate. This lack of alignment and collaboration leads to duplicative work and some UI inconsistencies.
Example 3: A consulting firm that follows a specific discovery process
This company starts new projects frequently and always kicks them off with a discovery phase. There are specific activities (such as user interviews, diary studies, and field studies) that the crossdisciplinary team carries out to learn more about a new client’s needs.
This process works well for uncovering most client needs, but can fall short if the client works in a unique industry or doesn’t have access to users. The consulting firm has trouble adapting its specific discovery process to unique scenarios.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being at Stage 4
The advantage of being at stage 4 is that teams aim to produce high-quality work and many of them are successful. Even though there are pockets of the organization that struggle with UX aspects in their work, there is an established process in place that does work across most of the business.
The disadvantage of stage 4 is that it may be difficult to climb to stage 5. The organization may be content because it does good enough UX work and may not invest into doing it better.
Companies at stage 4 have established teams that consistently put out great work, but struggle with fine-tuning the process to better fit their needs. Stage 4 is as far as many companies will ever go in their UX-maturity journey.
How to Level Up to Stage 5
To progress to stage 5, focus on scaling your UX practice in healthy ways. Since most but not all teams have adopted the right UX methods and practices, you’ll want to figure out how to reach the teams that struggle and determine why they struggle.
Ask a series of questions to figure out your next steps:
- Does the overall process need to change?
- Are there aspects of the process that aren’t applicable to some teams?
- What do these struggling teams have in common?
- How could we make this process be more flexible and adaptable?
Then, consider efforts such as:
- Building and socializing an organization-wide vision that includes user-centered ideas
- Connecting your research and design efforts back to the overall vision
- Identifying and managing efforts across all UX teams to avoid duplicative work
- Encouraging others in the organization to learn about UX
- Adapting the UX process to fit the specific needs of the organization and of the individual teams
- Understanding which methods and activities to use for unique scenarios
The important thing to remember at this stage is that UX is well-respected in the organization. That’s a great thing! Moving up to the next stage requires small improvements rather than a complete overhaul.
Additional Resources for Stage 4 Organizations
- Design Tradeoffs and UX Decision Frameworks
- Discoveries: Building the Right Thing
- Designing Complex Apps for Specialized Domains
- Measuring UX and ROI
- Becoming a UX Strategist
Articles & Videos
- Crafting Product-Specific Design Principles to Support Better Decision Making
- Six Pillars Supporting Better and Easier UX
- Complex Apps 101
- Complex Application Design: A 5-Layer Framework
- DesignOps Maturity: Low in Most Organizations
- How to Write a Mission Statement for a UX Team: A Case Study in Design Operations
- How Well Discovery Phases Are Performed in UX Projects
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