3. Implement a Process that Helps You Become Experience-Led
For any company to transform itself at all, especially to become experience-led, it must align its practices to its culture and values so teams can embody them in its day-to-day approach to product or service development and evolution. If an organization has the necessary support and is working to implement the right culture, the following leading industry practices can help companies differentiate on the experience:
• Start by defining experience outcomes upfront, then features and technologies
• Fail Fast: Go Rapidly from Concept to Code
• Implement a Two-step Process: Plan then Execute
• Implement a Multidisciplinary Decision Making Framework
• Focus on the Total Customer Journey, Not Just a Single App
• Discover Emotional Drivers through Lean Ethnography
Defining Experience Outcomes First, Then Features and Technologies
Being experience-led means literally that you start with the experience. Companies that differentiate on the experience today do not start by defining feature sets. They first define a vision for the experience outcome they intend for their users and customers. Only then do they define features and technologies to support this vision.
This said, it is important to understand the process more deeply. Crafting an Experience Outcome does not mean that teams cannot improve the concept. Rather, they understand the ultimate experience they are shooting for. During iterations (sprints), the team might improve on the original experience outcome. But, they can never “dumb it down.” If a team defined an experience outcome as “enable users to tap their screen one time to listen to voice mail messages,” then they would never go back to the old method of dialing, entering a password, waiting 45 seconds, listening to messages in sequence, then interacting with each message. If they could improve on the vision of “visual voicemail,” they would identify those improvements during sprints.
Go Rapidly from Concept to Code
Teams must learn to fail fast, and this must become an accepted cultural norm. In the design field, that means going from concept to code rapidly and iterating on the early concept. Eric Ries suggests in The Lean Startup that companies succeeding in the Internet age are those that pivot the fastest to changing market demands. UX teams are no different. We have to research and build concepts fast, solicit feedback, and iterate, all within the Product Planning phase. The real objective is to fail as fast as we can, and then learn from our failures. Remember—failure is not bad. It’s good to stretch ourselves, to fail, and learn.
Engage a Process that Facilitates Great Design—Plan then Execute
In the Concept to Code model, companies know they are building the right solution, because they have verified it in their marketplace. As they evolve even farther, they move to an even more cutting-edge, but deeply practical model: The Double-Diamond Framework.
In experience-led companies, designers help visualize the end experience through prototypes with which the product team and users can interact. They then gather market-based feedback and user feedback (both performance-based and preference-based measures). Visionary companies and design leaders today do just that: They engage in a more detailed planning cycle before entering project execution—before the build cycle. While many companies have implemented planning before execution, the UK Design Council first codified this process as the Double-diamond approach, in a way that supports transformative experiences. In the following diagram, the first diamond represents planning phase, where teams define the right thing to build, and verify that. The second diamond is the Execution Phase, where teams build the right thing.
In the Definition phase, teams define strategy, including an experience outcome, engage in early design, craft prototypes, and evaluate their concepts in the market. Only after they have validated their concept do they move into Execution phase. It’s almost too simple really. In his book Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love, Marty Cagan, points out that before you decide to build a product, you need to create a prototype. Then, get it in front of customers, and see if it’s what they need and will buy. Based on customer feedback, the product team then iterates the solution and incorporates it into the final plan of what will get built. The Double Diamond approach ensures teams have inspiring products that customers love!
Institute Multidisciplinary Decision Making Frameworks—The Triad
Experience-led companies that exceed the financial performance of their competition also leverage UX at a strategic level. Marty Cagan also points out in Inspired that to build products customers love, Engineering, Product Management, and User Experience need to engage in a joint decision making framework. Other teams contribute at different points, but differentiating on the experience requires including only these three groups in decision making around product direction. Product managers must be held to the standards of the intended experience outcome, which must be a decision made at the outset of a product’s development. This requires the User Experience team to participate, to help advocate for the experience, and then to help visualize the aligned vision.
On the other hand, executives often say they want one person accountable for the product. This is fine. However, being experience-led means that once teams have defined an experience outcome, they stick with it. From a Product Management standpoint, they agree to only release those capabilities that meet the intended experience and push others out.
People frequently ask how Apple releases such great products. Let’s take an example: When the iPhone first released, SMS (texting) was not the great experience initially defined. So, they shipped the first iPhone without SMS, and added it later, once the capability met the experience outcome. Internally, some product managers said the iPhone would fail without SMS. They were wrong: Getting SMS right was critical. Customers loved the initial iPhone, and loved it when Apple added SMS in a way that delighted them.
In experience-led companies, UX has a strategic voice as part of the triad, just as engineering and product management do.
Focus on the Total Customer Journey, not Just a Single UI
Focusing on the total customer and user experience across the total customer journey is crucial to driving significant financial return. Typically though, in-house corporate UX teams are asked to just design a single application. In reality, the UI is just one touch point into the total experience a user or customer has with your company. The Total UX includes every touch point. It includes a user’s first introduction to the company through marketing materials or a friend, their first and subsequent visits to the corporate web site, evaluating or trying out the product or service, the purchase process, first-time use, ongoing use, service and support, the upgrade process, and so on. When UX teams focus on just one aspect of an application, and another team focuses on another part of the application, and yet another team focuses on the marketing, it often creates a confusing and inconsistent experience. Why would we want the marketing message to differ from the actual product? Why would we want to make it easy to use a product, but make it difficult to decide which product to purchase? If a customer solution comprises several components, why would we make some components easy, and not others?
Forrester conducted research in mid 2014 highlighting that customer journey maps are among the hottest new artifacts, and that a majority of CEOs find them extremely useful. Their main value comes from the fact that they help knock down silos across their companies. A Customer Journey Map highlights all the different touch points a user has with a brand, from acquisition through purchase, usage, and support. They enable executives to bring teams together who would typically never work together to jointly solve problems for the customer.
Discover Emotional Drivers through Lean Ethnography
Great design leaders recognize that they need user researchers who can draw on the framework of Lean processes and rapid contextual research to engage in Lean Ethnography. During the Planning phase, such researchers rapidly identify not just unmet user needs, but also find the key emotional connectors to a product or service. They ensure the product is intuitive, satisfying, and delightful, not unlike the Uber and Lyft examples earlier.