Aligning UX Decisions in the Enterprise

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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Your enterprise product is traveling toward an exciting destination in the distance. You’ve mapped the course, hired the best crew, and prepped all the legs of the trip to your target port.

As you set off, the crew is optimistic about the voyage ahead, and everyone is moving in the same direction. But over time, things begin to change. A few crew members leave your ship to work on another one. The Captain and First Officer take a shortcut to get ahead of a competitor’s fleet, only to run into unexpected storms. Then, your ship needs repairs, so you make a detour for maintenance and improvements.

Before long, these minor changes snowball, and you discover your ship is quite far off course. Your ship will now arrive far away from it’s intended destination. The story of this ship relates to your product’s journey and destination. How do you keep everyone on track throughout the journey so you can accomplish your mission and deliver the products your customers need?

This is the question that many product owners and business leaders face every day.

Situations that Send the Design Process Astray

It’s hard enough to balance business goals, user needs, development requirements, and more in a small business. The obstacles become even more complex as your company grows. In our work at Drawbackwards, we usually find these challenges with aligning UX decisions stem from a few core issues.

Your C-suite doesn’t have enough product experience.

Many startups have technical co-founders or design experts as executives. As the company grows, they often bring in more managers to supplement the team or even replace product leaders completely. Focusing more on scaling the business may help with growth, but diluting product experts’ influence or moving away from a user-centric, design thinking process often leads to bad UX decisions that negatively impact users — and ultimately, the success of your company.

The competition clouds your judgment.

As competitors start nipping at your heels, it’s tempting to copy what others are doing to keep up or get ahead.

But unless you take a deep look at why you want to make certain changes and whether they align with your overall design philosophy, those decisions may just be shiny objects that distract your team from their real priorities and hold you back from reaching your goals.

You don’t have enough real user feedback.

Organizations come up with endless excuses not to seek out user feedback:

“It’s too expensive.”

“It takes too much time.”

“We don’t need it. We know what we’re doing.”

“We’ve already invested a ton of time and money in this direction. It wouldn’t make sense to go back now.”

Although research may seem expensive and time-consuming, it’s always going to be a lot less expensive and time-consuming than making a decision based off assumptions and later finding out you made a huge mistake.

As Erica Hall explains, “Research is necessary for a successful design project because it gives you a shared basis for decision-making, grounded in evidence rather than in sheer authority or tenacity. And this saves time and money.”

Nordstrom and Macy’s vs. Sears: A Tale of Three Retailers

Your business plan and team may be solid. Your dev requirements and design process may be crystal clear. Your product may solve a huge need in the marketplace.

But failing to align all of these individual pieces leads to creating products that users don’t actually want or need. The result? Dismal sales. Poor customer feedback. Dwindling revenue. And eventually, obsolescence.

Consider retail giants like Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Sears. With new technology transforming the way people shop, retailers are being forced to adapt, prioritize design, and align their organizations, or risk becoming another victim of the digital revolution.

Nordstrom and Macy’s have stayed relevant by expanding their e-commerce technology and meeting consumers where they’re already shopping. For example, customers can now shop both retailers’ collections directly on Instagram. Plus, Nordstrom shoppers can use the company’s app to scan an item in their print catalog and go directly to the product page on their website.

Macy’s also created an Idea Lab in San Francisco, where a small group of employees receives product suggestions from consumers, quickly brainstorms a solution, and develops a rapid prototype. It’s clear that both retailers’ teams are all rowing in the same direction to keep up with consumer demand and create products their customers can’t live without.

Meanwhile, Sears has failed to align their teams and innovate, causing them to lose customers and fall into a “perpetual state of decline.” The company has reported billions of dollars in losses for the past few years, and many analysts expect it to go bankrupt by 2020 at the latest.

Do you want your product to follow in Nordstrom’s or Sears’ footsteps?

How to Align UX Decisions in the Enterprise

To become the Nordstrom or Macy’s of your industry, try these three steps to start building UX momentum and consensus in your organization.

Focus on the user first.

It’s crucial to provide your team with business objectives and development requirements to guide their decisions and give them goals to work toward. Those are fundamental ingredients to product success. But user needs should always take priority. After all, there’s no way to design user experiences without a user-centered approach.

Not sure which features to add? Think about what users need most.

Evaluating whether to adopt a new design trend? Consider if it will help users reach their goals and enhance their experience, or just distract them.
Wondering if a certain design direction will be effective? Test it with real people.
Only when your design process puts users first can your team rally around a common focus that moves both your product and company to success.

Get crafty.

Small budgets and short timelines are real constraints, but going for the cheapest, shortest, most efficient solution is the enemy of innovation. If resources are tight, don’t get defeated. Get creative.

If you want to do more user research on a project, experiment with methods that focus on quality over quantity (like one-on-one user interviews), or explore new ways to use the data your company is already collecting (like customer support inquiries).

If you’re trying to work around departmental resource constraints, consider spinning off a separate Research & Development Team, who can dedicate separate buckets of time and budget to innovation. Just be sure that this team doesn’t become siloed from the rest of the company. Their work needs to be guided by the greater vision and user research, and their findings should be shared with other teams to maximize usefulness.

Try design thinking exercises and workshops.

Exercises and workshops are some of the most effective tools for building consensus and alignment because they get people involved, uncover insights that may not come out in everyday conversation, and make stakeholders feel more invested in product success.

Some of our team’s favorite exercises include:

  • Journey mapping: Map out each step of the user’s journey and how they interact with your product over time and across channels. This is an amazing exercise for identifying and prioritizing opportunities for improvement.
  • Empathy mapping: Design thinking starts with empathy. Empathy maps help teams better understand their users by brainstorming user feelings, influences, tasks, pain points, and goals. Repeat this exercise for a typical user in each of your customer segments, then refer to the empathy maps as a resource for user-focused decision making and identifying jobs to be done.
  • Pair sketching: Pair sketching brings together at least two stakeholders (designer + another designer, developer, user, subject matter expert, client, or other stakeholder) to join forces on a product sketch. This collaborative design approach makes it easy to share knowledge and iterate quickly to find the best solution.

The Fastest Path to Product Success

No matter what size your business is or what industry you operate in, profit and customer satisfaction are always top priorities. That’s why business goals and user needs are the core of UX design, and why alignment is so important.

If you focus too much on the business side, your products may not sell. If you focus solely on users, you risk pandering to their ever-changing needs and making decisions that are popular, but unprofitable.

But when both sides are aligned, your “ship” travels on a strategic path that arrives at the right destination and delivers products people love.