Growing UX Maturity In Organizations: Education And Training (Part 3)
This series of articles presents tactics UX practitioners can use to promote the growth of UX maturity in their organizations or product teams. In part 1, I covered the importance of finding and utilizing UX Champions and showing the ROI/value of UX. In part 2, I focused on knowledge sharing and mentorship. In this third, and last, part of the series, I’ll focus on the education of both UX staff and non-UX staff.
As I’ve referenced in the previous articles, Chapman and Plewes’ framework describes five steps or stages of organizational UX maturity that I’m referencing when I mention UX maturity stages within the tactics I present.
- Finding and utilizing UX Champions (Jump to part 1 →)
Beginning stages: the UX champion will plant seeds and open doors for growing UX in an organization.
- Demonstrating the ROI/value of UX (Jump to part 1 →)
Beginning stages justify more investment; later stages justify continued investment.
- Knowledge Sharing/Documenting what UX work has been done (Jump to part 2 →)
Less relevant/possible in the earliest stages of maturity when little UX is being done. Creates a foundation and then serves to maintain institutional knowledge even when individuals leave or change roles.
- Mentoring (Jump to part 2 →)
Middle and later stages of maturity. Grow individual skills in a two-way direction that also exposes more people to UX and improves the knowledge transfer of more senior UX, which should lead to a shared understanding of how UX looks and is implemented in the organization.
- Education of UX staff on UX tools and specific areas of UX expertise
All stages of maturity require the continued education of UX staff.
- Education of non-UX staff on UX principles and processes
All stages of maturity benefit from the education of non-UX staff.
Education Of The UX Practitioners
Education and continuing education are imperative to grow the UX maturity of individuals and your organization. You are less likely to find existing resources or budget for UX-focused education in Chapman and Plewes’ stages one and two. Fortunately, there are many low (under $ 100) or no-cost options for training that you and others in your organization can take advantage of if you don’t have a large budget.
You should advocate training for the UX practitioners and those who are entering UX roles, to help them increase their skills, as well as to equip them with the knowledge to educate others on the value and purpose of UX. We are all in positions where we find ourselves continually educating others in order to justify UX. We can’t forget our own needs when it comes to education and training to grow our skills.
I want to be clear that the connection between UX training of individuals and growing an organization’s UX maturity is less obvious. However, I believe a lack of training and education would inhibit further growth of UX maturity in an organization. UX practitioners need continual educational opportunities / training to grow their own personal skill set.
This translates into greater UX maturity when the training is done at scale and all UX practitioners are learning either new skills and tools or mastering the skills and tools they currently have. This becomes how the organization “does UX” when these types of training are consistent and given to all of the UX staff.
Here’s an example of how I see the education of UX practitioners playing out in maintaining or growing an organization’s UX maturity. Let’s say an organization in stage three — Adopting — of Chapman and Plewes model and looking to move into stage four — Realizing.
You won’t grow your team into UX leadership roles (required for stage four) without experience and training. You could hire someone from outside of the organization to play these roles, but that would suggest the stages do not organically lead from one to the next, that outside intervention is required in the form of hiring staff who have a pre-existing skill set. I think this is likely necessary to facilitate the jump from stage one to stage two, but after that point, there are many ways an organization can use existing resources to grow. This makes education critical.
You won’t be able to engage in effective UX prior to coding without well-honed skills. The process of discovery and design iteration that happens prior to coding (stage four) looks much different than when you initiate UX on a product that is already in code (Stages two and three). Staff need education on research and design techniques to effectively engage in these new opportunities for UX work.
I’ll cover this more in the next section, but you will also need your UX practitioners to provide educational opportunities for your non-UX staff if you wish to spread an understanding of UX throughout your organization. Your UX practitioners will need training on workshop facilitation and communication to effectively engage your organization and bring UX to the next level of maturity.
We have many options for training providers and formats, as UX has exploded over the last decade. Many companies exist solely to provide training to businesses on UX and design thinking practices. While I don’t advocate any specific provider, I do advocate looking at organizations and individuals who might fall into categories of underrepresented populations, including minority-owned businesses and women-run businesses. You can do the background work needed to ensure the training vendor of your choice supports the values your organization holds.
You will need to consider the critical factors of format, cost and time when choosing a training or educational format. The following table presents some of the common ways UX practitioners expand their knowledge, along with my thoughts on these critical factors.
|Type||Cost [Low < $ 100, High > 1000]||Time||Benefit||Considerations|
|Conferences||Low to High depending on format, registration fees, and if travel expenses involved.||Budget 2 to 3 days for actual conference.||Practitioners from a variety of organizations converge to share thoughts. Broad topics covered. Socializing is usually encouraged.||Currently most/all conferences are virtual. Conferences in the future might become more hybrid, offering both in-person and online streaming options.|
|Workshops||Higher cost for outside facilitation and material.||Depends on depth of training — from 4 hours to multiple days.||Workshops allow groups to work together and gain experience applying the concepts learned through activities and discussion facilitated by a professional workshop facilitator.||A daylong workshop might mean pulling your entire team from their work for the day. Many workshops can be done virtually, however some are still best done in-person depending on the topic, activities, and your practitioners preferences for learning. Look for reviews of a workshop and facilitator before investing in a workshop.|
|Online training||None to Medium.||As short as an hour or as long as days depending on topic or depth.||Can often be done live or on-demand. Broad selection of topics and often lower costs.||Attendees might become distracted during longer training sessions. Many people are already spend too much time in front of our computers and would prefer other methods of learning and interacting with others. Consider online reviews and word of mouth recommendations, as there is a risk of lower quality training due to a low barrier to entry into delivering online learning.|
|Live in-person||Highest — you will pay the cost of the instruction and for the instructors to travel to your site, or your practitioners to travel to the training.||Trainings can last hours or days. You will need to factor in time and value if you are sending people to training, you will likely save more time and money bringing the training to your site.||Many people appreciate hands on in-person training. Activities are more engaging and participants don’t have to be in front of a computer.||Most live events have ceased for safety reasons (COVID 19 vaccines have begun distribution as of the writing of this article, but are still not widely available to general populations). You need a site that will facilitate a proper experience. These trainings tend to take longer, so participants will need advanced notice to have their calendars clear.|
We have many additional resources available to learn about UX and hone our craft. You can find people writing, speaking, and sharing about UX and UX-related topics in every corner of the Internet, online chat groups, and meetup groups. I suggest being broad in your consumption of authors and resources to avoid becoming dogmatic to one set of principles. As a relatively young field, we have many people who have surfaced as experts. However, we are all learning as we go and sharing our experiences. Nothing I say, or anyone else says, is 100% applicable to every UXer in every situation, no matter what we’d like you to believe.
Examples Of Topics And Trainings For UX Practitioners
You have a wide variety of choices when it comes to topics for your UX practitioners to seek further education. I recommend some of the following topics, however, you know your team best and should customize to where you want your UX practitioners to grow.
- UX Research
Everyone on the UX team should have a foundational knowledge on conducting ethical UX research. We use research as the cornerstone to building an experience. We need to understand this in order to push our organizations to the point in stage four where the timing of UX is prior to coding. UX practitioners need enough knowledge of research to identify the opportunity (at the beginning) to advocate for research, and to bring in someone who has a UX research skillset.
UX practitioners should understand and have comfort with common research methods, specifically interviewing, observation, and usability testing. I’m not suggesting we should stop there, however, if you aren’t a UX researcher, but are a UX practitioner, having an awareness of these methods, what the data you collect will look like, and how to use this data to inform design is mandatory.
For organizations in the early stages of UX maturity, you are unlikely to have UX research as a specific role, but as you grow it would be wise to have UX researchers give courses to others, both practitioners and non-UX staff.
- Facilitating workshops
Planning and facilitating workshops is a staple tool in the UX practitioner’s toolbox. These might be design thinking, service design blueprinting, or a deep dive into prioritizing features based on user needs, business requirements, and the reality of the technology you will use to build your solutions.
Facilitation is a skill we can learn and refine. The better facilitator the better the outcomes. You’ll see in the next section, I advocate using your UXers to facilitate some of the educational opportunities you provide non-UX staff.
Your UX team will have tools of choice, and perhaps your organization will require strict adherence to certain tools/vendors. Your designers need depth with design and prototyping tools, while your PMs will need deep knowledge of agile and issue tracking software, and your developers will need to code in the front or backend languages that support your products. You might find it beneficial for all UXers to have an awareness of the tools other team members use. Additionally, a knowledge common productivity tool benefits everyone, including applications used for:
- Screen sharing,
- Presentation creation,
- Qualitative data analysis,
- Quantitative data analysis,
- Survey creation and deployment.
Communication, leadership, creativity, and many other topics that fall into the categories of soft skills are critical to developing UX practitioners to their fullest potential. A firm grasp on a diverse set of soft skills will help your UX practitioners communicate the purpose and value of UX effectively, collaborate meaningfully with other non UXers, problem solve efficiently, and grow the respect for UX throughout your organization.
You should push for your UX practitioners to engage in training related to soft skills at least a couple of times a year, as there are vast options for topics and types of training. Additionally, many soft skills can be learned through example and implementation on the job. You might focus on setting soft skills goals as part of any mentorship program your organization develops (also check the previous article).
- UX leadership
You should look to grow your UX team into leaders — this goes beyond managing other UX staff, to how do they advocate UX and grow UX throughout the organization? Christopher Murphy provides some insight into the path of becoming a UX leader. You might follow the advice provided there to identify specific topics to include as part of UX leadership training.
At a minimum, your UX leadership training should focus on how UX team members can represent UX in multidisciplinary settings, particularly where decisions around technology and transformation are being made. I’ve found these situations are most important for UX to have a strong voice, as the focus on technology and what it enables can quickly distract the team from ensuring proper attention to the experience itself.
UX strategy plays a key role in building UX leadership. We need to understand how the components all fit together, why, and what this means for the future. Great UX leaders are able to communicate and navigate the application of business needs and UX design. You will grow your UX team’s leadership skills when they acquire additional strategy skills and the ability to convey the value proposition of UX beyond the walls of the UX team’s conference room.
I’ve presented a few of the many options you have for exploring training for UX team members. You should push for a budget to provide material in the form of books and tools, as well as courses to grow quickly and empower your staff. You should also combine as much as you can into any type of mentorship program you have, knowing that often people learn best when able to apply what they are learning in real life.
Having mentors encourage mentees to take what they have learned and incorporate it into their day-to-day work can increase the effectiveness of any training provided to UX team members.
Education Of The Non-UX Members Of The Organization
We create a larger pool of UX advocates when we provide opportunities for non-UX team members to learn more. We can do this through design thinking workshops, case studies, and showcases highlighting UX work and accomplishments, and how UX is applied to products and the product creation lifecycle. I advocate having your UX practitioners create and deliver at least some of this training. This allows the broader audience of attendees from across your organization to learn who practices UX and interact with these UXers in a meaningful context.
From the perspective of growing UX maturity, you won’t experience much success beyond Chapman and Plewes’ Stage two if key members of your organization aren’t educated on UX-related topics. Product owners and project leaders will need an understanding of UX and how UX processes work best. If you want to shift from having a reactive UX response to products already underway. Education and training of non-UX members within an organization can open the door to allow UX growth.
Training On UX Processes
I’ve found myself working on a number of large digital projects using an agile framework. Often, there is training upfront to introduce team members to the concept of agile and provide a grounding in the specific methodology. We should consider providing similar training to our colleagues around UX processes.
You don’t need to build up UX experts, but training can focus on how people might identify opportunities to work with the UX team, what UX processes look like at various stages of product development, how UX works with other disciplines across a product (e.g. change management, product development, UX working in sync).
You can take advantage of kicking off a new project with a team, or you can have one-off training with relevant members of your organization and ask them to think about future opportunities for bringing UX into the fold. You will need to consider the following key areas for any UX training you provide to your organization:
Who to invite
If working with products and product teams — POs, Devs, PMs, Directors; if working with projects like large digital transformation efforts, you’d want to include — project leader, project manager along with the others previously listed. You should strategically consider the composition of each training. If you are focusing on a single product, who are key stakeholders in need of receiving the message.
If it is more general training, should you focus on having certain roles in each session and make it multiple sessions, or is it more conductive to have diverse roles working together to see how UX applies across roles? You should have enough awareness of your organization’s dynamics to determine how to structure the participants you invite to any training as best suited to meet your goals (see outcomes below).
Activities or topics
How will you make UX concrete? You will need to create a curriculum for your training that reflects your goals and outcomes. You might want to have a high-level overview of UX spelling out the design thinking process (Figure X) and what each step would look like related to a specific product relevant to your organization and then do a deep dive into one of the steps, or do a deep dive on what specific UX roles and tasks look like.
You should include plenty of activities that have participants working tougher and applying what they are learning to make sense of how UX can apply to what they do at your organization.
You need to explicitly state your desired outcome. Are you trying to grow UX presence within a certain product? If so, are you making the application of UX concrete to this product? Have you invited the key stakeholders from the product team?
Are you trying to grow UX across the organization? If so, you need to frame UX so that it is clearly relevant to multiple roles and products, or you might consider separate training sessions. Are you looking to create UX advocates from the people attending the training? If so, how are you empowering them to become this?
Workshops Informing UX
We frequently invite stakeholders to workshops helping to inform UX. You can use these sessions to further grow the maturity of your organization through the impact you have with the project, product, and organizational leadership. You should be strategic about who you invite to these sessions. You might consider inviting leadership to observe a session for another product in order to show how these processes play out in real life.
If you are trying to move your organization towards implementing UX prior to coding, you will need to show the value of having these types of workshops. Workshops are a powerful tool for facilitating the understanding and growth of UX. Rather than educating participants, you have them contribute to the UX process. Your UX practitioners should facilitate these sessions.
Some examples of relevant UX workshops include:
These workshops are invaluable for getting everyone on the same page. You should invite the entire product team to these sessions. The purpose of discovery is to learn about understanding the needs of users, the current state of product or project, define goals, identify potential pain points and user journeys.
You have an opportunity to present/review any user research or if research hasn’t started, these sessions will feed into your research plan. You might invite other stakeholders to these sessions, including end-users for at least part of the session. Workshop activities can include idea generation activities, consensus-building activities, and affinity mapping of the ideas or pain points generated.
Service design blueprinting sessions
Service design blueprinting is an increasingly popular way to bring together diverse members of your organization to take a closer look at how services are delivered to the consumers of those services. It’s beyond the scope of this article to deep dive into service design, however, there is general consensus the overlap between UX and service design is negligible. Dotted Line provides a good guide on facilitating a service blueprinting workshop.
Ideation is the generation of ideas — critical to the UX process, and any processes aligned with design thinking. We need a lot of diverse ideas if we are claiming to look for unique solutions to challenging problems. I find these workshops enjoyable and can be carried out in as little as a couple of hours, valuable for when you are trying to find time with a group of busy people.
Again, you should invite participants who are directly involved with the product or service, and stakeholders who are influential in the broader organization. You will likely have UX research to help inform the session, so having an intimate knowledge of the product isn’t required of participants. In fact, ideas from outside perspectives might help to freshen the usual group of participants’ ways of thinking. UX Collective provides a number of ideation activities I’ve used in running successful ideation sessions.
Feature prioritizations sessions
You’ve collected user data, business requirements, and the effort of technology to implement your product’s features. Now you can start prioritizing what gets designed and developed, and when. You have an opportunity to work with a variety of disciplines in pulling off this type of workshop, including all members of the product team, relevant members of the business unit, technologists, and perhaps leadership.
I would caution that involving senior leadership could lead to that person/people dictating the priority, due to the perceived (and real) power attached to their roles. You would want to manage this in advance and during the workshop. UX for the Masses shares fun ways to gamify the tasks of feature prioritization.
I’ve provided a list of suggestions for workshop topics, however, this isn’t an extensive list. I’d argue you need to have many of these types of sessions in order to achieve or reflect certain levels of UX maturity beyond Stage two, and that these workshops serve as ways to socialize and grow UX beyond the individual UXers you have facilitating the workshops.
Case Study: UX Research And Design Thinking Workshops For Non-UX Staff At An International Financial Institution
I’ve had many successful training sessions to help promote the growth of UX. I’ve also learned a lot from my mistakes. Let’s go a little deeper with a case study that will highlight some lessons I learned by providing training on UX research and delivering design thinking workshops, with an international financial institution with over 70,000 employees and numerous digital products used internally and by customers.
I like UX research as an entry topic because it promotes empathy with users, has methods many people are familiar with, and doesn’t require learning new tools such as Sketch or Adobe products for the training to be successful with individuals having low to no experience.
The client had low levels of UX maturity — Chapman and Plewes Stage two at the most. A new executive had brought us in based on their experience working with our UX team at a previous employer. We were asked to help spread the word of UX and to provide product teams with concrete examples of how UX might play a role in their product design. We decided to hold two separate two-day-long (2 workshops, 16 hours each) workshops with 10 to 12 participants in each workshop.
We were working closely with a UX Champion who was trying to grow UX throughout the organization. Our champion had connections across products that were used internally and undergoing a large transformation onto new technology, which we thought was ripe for focusing on the user experience of these products. Our champion identified key members of each product team to invite and give further exposure to UX research and how they might apply UX research to their products. Participants ended up being a mix of:
- Product owners,
- Project managers,
- Lead developers.
Note: There were no design roles on these products — developers were responsible for design which was an additional challenge we were attempting to address.
We had a good amount of time for the workshops. Our topics reflected what we wanted to get out of the workshops (see outcomes below): why do we do research, when, what type, what do you get from it, how to engage UX research with your team — teaches people about the timing and why it is important/valuable before coding. One benefit of having the champion recruit our participants was that we knew what products they were representing, and were able to incorporate relevant examples and scenarios into our topics and activities.
More specific components (but not all) of our agenda looked something like this, with a healthy number of breaks and non-lecture style games and activities interwoven:
- Design thinking overview and the role of research in creating empathy.
- UX Research Methods — generative and evaluative methods brief overview of some common methods in each category.
- How do these methods inform design.
- Deep dive on the method of interview — including lots of concrete examples of what user interviews might look like on the various products represented in the session.
- Hands-on activity — interview each other using a set script focusing on the use of digital productivity tools at work.
- Brief interview data analysis activity.
- How the interview data shape UX Design.
- Deep dive on usability testing.
- Usability testing with each other using publicly accessible and predetermined websites.
- Brief usability testing data analysis activity.
- How does usability testing data shape UX design.
- Participant reflection.
- Writing a realistic research plan for your product.
The key outcome, though not explicitly stated to participants, was to open up opportunities for UX research to gain traction on some (any) of the products represented among the participants. Our agenda reflected the need to make research real and accessible to the participants. Our champion wanted to have the participants care for and take ownership over accounting for UX on their products, under the theory that UX research would have the lowest initial barrier to entry for some of the products.
Additional outcomes we identified were for participants to understand the various types of UX research methods and when they might be used, how research informs design, and to understand where UX research opportunities might exist on their products.
We weren’t perfect, but we did accomplish our desired outcomes for these workshops. I think it’s important to highlight that we provided a post-workshop evaluation and received high marks as presenters and on the structure and topics of the workshop. I’m funny and personable in real life, even if it doesn’t come across in my articles.
We were invited to a number of meetings related to the products represented in the workshops. Many of these meetings weren’t relevant or didn’t come with realistic expectations within the framework of the budget we were working with for the main client (our Champion). I think there was still value in these discussions given that UX was introduced to the broader team during these conversations, and a realistic assessment of how a product might best incorporate UX needs to include what resources are required.
We did complete research projects on two of the products our workshop participants represented. One project involved interviewing end-users to identify potential features to add to upcoming releases — the first-time voices of the end-users had been included in creating the backlog. The other project was usability testing and identifying areas for improving the experience of an existing product. Both of these opportunities were directly attributed to the workshop and reflected the methods we dove deeper into during the workshop.
Design thinking/ideation workshop
We held a separate set of workshops, for the same client, focused on educating participants on a framework for design thinking, and providing hands-on examples of ideation activities. We hosted two separate three-hour workshops. Our purpose for these workshops was to reach a broader audience of decision-makers and hopefully influence the direction of UX throughout the organization.
Design thinking is helpful for setting a framework to why we do UX, and ideation activities help to solidify some of the important ways stakeholders can help contribute to the UX process. We can show how we do our work through this type of workshop.
Again we relied on our internal Champion to help identify participants to invite. We invited some of the same product owners from the UX research sessions, but also expanded out to some of the upper management who oversaw budgets for various product lines (e.g. internal HR tools, Account opening/onboarding products).
We wanted to involve people who would not typically engage in UX processes in the hopes they would learn some of the value of UX and enjoy contributing to the sessions. We also wanted to show how the participants might bring in UX practitioners to conduct similar workshops focused on a specific product with participants from the product as part of growing UX.
We modeled the workshop off of the Stanford d school design thinking process. You can find more information about this and a number of activities you can incorporate on the d school website. Our workshop agenda looked like this:
- Overview of design thinking — walk through each step in the process, with examples.
- How design thinking might apply the products represented by the workshop participants.
- Small group activity (groups of 3-4 participants): identify a challenge common to the product or organization and ideate on solutions using common workshop ideation methods.
- Full group reconvene and share challenges and solutions.
- Wrap up with a discussion on how participants might apply design thinking and ideation to their products or business unit challenges.
Our desired outcomes for this set of workshops were to continue growing awareness of UX among the organization’s leadership, provide concrete examples of design thinking and UX processes and how these might apply to the products participants represented, and to excite the group about the possibility of incorporating more UX focus into their products. We were also hopeful that participants would want to work with us to create a strategy for implementing UX processes within their products and teams and promote the growth of UX within the organization.
We had less success with this workshop in achieving the stated outcomes. We were not invited to conduct similar workshops with any of the products represented. However, we learned lessons that we’ve incorporated into future workshops and had more success.
The biggest lesson we learned was our pool of participants was too broad in terms of the products or business units they represented. This caused difficulty for participants to come to a consensus on the topic of focus in the small group activity. Participants had their own products or issues in mind, some of which were difficult for other participants to either understand or feel were worth prioritizing over their own issues.
Some of the small groups spent a lot of time determining which product or problem to ideate around. Some participants felt their colleagues weren’t listening to their concerns. In hindsight, and in future workshops, our solution is to propose the problem for these broader focused groups to ideat on. We had done this for our UX research workshop, identifying some common trouble areas for participants to focus on for the activities, but we assumed incorrectly allowing participants in these design thinking workshops to ideate on solutions to internal issues would generate buy-in and make the design thinking process more meaningful.
Longer-Term Outcome — Growth in UX Maturity
As consultants, we played a key role in educating and demonstrating how UX can play a role in some of the client’s key products. The client did successfully grow UX to an in-house offering. I can’t say that our effort was the only reason UX took hold and grew, however, I can say that the workshops, combined with the two tactics covered in article one were powerful tools for advancing UX at this organization.
We worked with this client over five years ago, and have engaged with them on additional work since this initial time. They have grown from what I would have said as a Stage 1 or Stage 2 maturity to being solidly in Stage 4 for most of the products within the organization.
As UX practitioners, it is frustrating to work in or with organizations that don’t understand what we do, how we do it, or possibly don’t value what we do. We are able to positively impact the UX maturity of the organizations we work for, even as practitioners. I’ve covered six specific ways you and your UX colleagues can help to push for growth in UX maturity in your organization through this three-part series.
Part 1 focused on finding UX champions and showing the ROI/value of UX. You can use these tactics to grow UX at any stage of maturity, but are particularly applicable to lower maturity organizations. These tactics don’t require a large investment of resources. Organizations with lower UX maturity often are at lower levels because there isn’t a UX champion with a strategic plan and haven’t realized the value of UX because they haven’t been doing it long enough, or at all. You might find traction quickly using these tactics with an organization with low UX Maturity.
Part 2 focused on knowledge sharing and documenting UX work and mentoring UX staff. These tactics are more likely to be successfully used in organizations of mid-levels of UX maturity (Chapman and Plewes stages 3 or 4). An organization will not continue successfully growing in maturity beyond stage 3 if knowledge sharing and documenting what’s been accomplished is not put into place. Likewise, mentoring allows an organization to maintain and grow the culture of UX, using the resource of people who have been practicing UX at the organization serving as models to those who are beginning their UX journeys.
This third article has focused on the education of both UX and non-UX staff. These tactics are possible to implement at any stage of maturity, but become much more robust in stages 3 and beyond. Your organization will need to train UXers in order to grow their own UX maturity, and the organization can’t grow in UX maturity if this education is done in a silo where only UXers are exposed to the techniques required for successful, more mature UX in an organization.
You can use the tactics covered in this series alone or in combinations based on the specific circumstances of your organization. You might also find other tactics that work better for your organization. I believe we should proactively share what has worked and what hasn’t worked, as a way to create a foundation of knowledge for moving UX forward in large organizations. You can document what you’ve attempted to do to grow UX and share with the rest of us on blogs, at conferences, via webinars, or right here in the comment section of this article.