This article describes stage 5 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 fewer).
Stage 5 is a great place to be in terms of UX maturity. Organizations at stage 5 have successful and sustainable UX practices. Most teams at stage-5 organizations are performing efficiently and effectively and have a strong focus on users. There is often innovation in UX methods and processes and, sometimes, there is even contribution to UX as a field. When UX is integrated, there is high awareness and buy-in for UX-focused activities and processes. People across the organization understand users and focus on them to deliver products and services that meet their needs. Stage 5 is the highest stage of UX Maturity that most organizations will ever reach, though our model includes one more rarely attained stage above it.
Stage 5 encompasses stage 7 of our previous model. Most companies are at a stage below 5 and achieving this stage is a good UX-maturity goal.
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-5 organization.
Strategy at Stage 5
Organizations at stage 5 have a vision that includes user-centered ideas and that is deliberately socialized across the organization. Metrics for success are based on business goals and often (but not always) driven by user-centered goals. The organization has a process in place for tracking UX quality. Schedules and development processes account for research and iterative design, as well as for other good UX practices. There is an adequate or even substantial budget for UX work and resources, including people. There is a plan to invest in future UX initiatives.
Culture at Stage 5
Everybody in stage-5 organizations understands, appreciates, and has a desire to learn more about UX. A widespread respect for UX brings proactive support and involvement from all or most teams and department leaders and championing for the user by many people. UX leaders work in conjunction with other leaders. Stage-5 organizations apply good UX practices not only to their digital and physical interfaces, but also their internal systems and processes. Job profiles and career paths are comprehensive for UX roles and necessary and varied UX skills are covered on all projects. There is a spirit of adaptability and persistent flexibility around UX work; teams scale and improve UX processes to adjust to their changing needs.
Process at Stage 5
UX processes at stage-5 organizations include established or innovative methods related to research, design, and content. These methods are used appropriately, effectively, and throughout the entire product lifecycle. Operations and robust frameworks and tools (like design systems) are used across products, improved upon, and managed by a dedicated team. These established frameworks increase design and research predictability and free practitioners to think strategically. All teams have access to and are encouraged to partake in using effective tools, training, information, and resources.
UX routinely collaborates with many other disciplines at stage-5 organizations and teams understand how and when various methods of research and design should be used to achieve research goals. Discoveries are done at the beginning of projects and iterative design throughout is the norm.
Outcomes at Stage 5
The outcomes at stage-5 organizations include high-quality designs and content, as well as sound research practices rooted in meeting real user needs. UX performance-related measures are present in all employees’ goals and objectives. Additionally, metrics at stage-5 organizations are highly successful for measuring UX effectiveness, encompass a variety of user-journey aspects, are based on the organizations' vision, are employed by all teams, and are regularly monitored and updated.
Variations Within Stage 5
What makes stage 5 special is the overarching infrastructure supporting UX philosophies and activities, as well as employees’ ability to do the work well and create high-quality final designs. Organizations at stage 5 will all have advanced UX methods, processes, leaders, and individuals, but they might implement them differently and may be stronger in some areas than in others. For example, they maybe have strong UX leaders and a great design system, but also some business metrics that are not totally aligned with UX philosophies.
Many organizations at stage 5 are software companies. Others, like ecommerce, financial, or pharmaceutical companies, have a need to create great user experiences given their domain and their customers’ demand for ease of use.
The following sections describe examples of organizations at stage 5 UX maturity.
Example 1: A medium-sized technology company with UX-focused people and advanced hiring practices
This organization has a CEO who believes in UX, as well as a strong UX leader, many people with UX skills, and a human-resources group that aims at hiring capable people for UX roles and people interested in UX for other roles. In this organization, people — the leadership and individuals — drive UX. As UX infiltrates so many technology organizations, end users and employees expect good UX, so they will likely put pressure on the organization to maintain a high level of maturity.
While influential people are a great strength at this organization, the high level of UX maturity may not be sustained if the hiring practices change or the high-level leaders leave the organization.
Example 2: An older, large financial institution that focuses on UX metrics
This organization focuses on metrics. It creates, socializes, tracks, and updates metrics to assess and improve UX quality and customer experiences. In order to meet goals, it has strong design-ops and research-ops practices and a design system managed by a respected team. The organization aims at consistency and reuse of tools.
At this organization, even if influential, UX-focused people leave the organization, the infrastructure is in place for teams to continue good UX work. But since the organization’s finance domain is not traditionally UX-focused, UX and the in-place infrastructure may be challenged if there isn’t a strong group of champions.
Example 3: A small software startup following a UX-development process
This small startup organization strictly follows a UX-driven development method (such as lean UX). It includes UX from the start and throughout the development process on every project.
As long as all teams continue to follow the UX-development method, the organization can continue to operate at a high level. But as soon as any teams deviate, it could slip the maturity of the organization.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being at Stage 5
There are many advantages for organizations at stage 5. Research and design operations, including design systems, help decision making, improve productivity, and increase consistency and quality of the design output. People in UX roles are freed to think strategically; as a result, design and job satisfaction and employee retention are improved. People across the organization are privy to the organization’s vision and feel like part of one team. They understand research insights and are empowered to use them in their everyday work to enhance their own satisfaction and that of customers. Clear, defined, shared processes increase employees’ understanding of what’s expected of them and give them confidence in their work; these processes also help the organization’s leadership understand what is planned, completed, and why.
There are not very many disadvantages of operating at stage 5, but there is an important one. While user-centered design is respected, understood, and supported, factors other than user-centeredness are truly driving the business. In other words, the business leadership may choose to take users into account in the vision and metrics, but the business itself and other factors are the true initiators.
How to Level Up to Stage 6
Stage 5 is a perfectly great stage at which to operate long term. You may aim for stage 6, sure! But it will likely be difficult to get there because that desire to reach it must initiate at the highest levels at the organization, as well as from throughout the entire organization.
Stage 5 differs from stage 6 in 2 main ways:
- Stage 5 promotes user-centered activities in service of business metrics, while stage 6 promotes UX in service of users first.
- Stage 5 can be sustained, but stage 6 is a lot more unstable: organizations reach it but usually cannot remain there in the long term.
Additional Resources for Stage 5 Organizations
- CX Transformation and Journey Management
- The UX VP/Director
- Becoming a UX Strategist
- DesignOps: Scaling UX Design and User Research
- ResearchOps: Operationalizing and Socializing User Research
- Service Blueprinting
Articles & Videos:
- Six Pillars Supporting Better and Easier UX (Video)
- Budgeting for Design Changes (Video)
- Typical Designer–to–Developer and Researcher–to–Designer Ratios (Article)
- UX Team Structure and Reporting (Video)
- Research Repositories for Tracking UX Research and Growing Your ResearchOps (Article)
- Separate UX Backlogs in Agile (Video)
- Design Systems 101 (Article)
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