Updated: Jan 13, 2022
A UX strategy is a long-term plan to align all customer touchpoints with the experience vision. They are generally composed of the following:
A clear qualitative and quantitative understanding of the current user experience.
A detailed vision for the user experience you want to create.
An idea of the commercial outcomes resulting from realising the vision, and the costs of doing it.
A prioritised roadmap of what needs to happen to get you from where you are to where you want to be.
A set of measurements to monitor progress and success.
A plan for developing the capabilities and culture of your organisation to do all of this.
It is a holistic business strategy and requires understanding, support and action right across the organisation.
So where was I to start at Aptitude Software? A company that builds enterprise software for the CFO. To this point in my career, I have worked in consumer facing roles where data and research is plentiful. Aptitude's portfolio of products is predominantly on premise. There are no analytics to guide my strategy. There is no user research to refer to.
Here's my first attempt, which will no doubt be modified significantly over the coming months and years as I understand more of the complexity of the business and the interdependencies that will no doubt impact my plans.
Aptitude UX Strategy 2020/2021
2020 marks a year of investment in user experience at Aptitude. As such we need a clear strategy against which to deliver our objectives and a considered approach to growing the UX discipline.
This strategy has 2 purposes:
To give a clear representation of what the UX team hope to contribute to the business.
To provide a workplan against which UX endeavours will be mapped and prioritised.
Understanding the current experience
A vision for the future experience
Outcomes resulting from realising the vision
Roadmap - developing our capabilities
How to monitor progress and measure success
Summary of recommendations
Understanding the current experience
UX as a discipline was introduced to Aptitude approximately 2 years ago and is currently resourced at 3 FTE (1 UX Designer, 1 UI Designer, 1 Head of UX).
There has been very little investment in user research. Therefore, we lack a library of insight to inform product development and innovation. While the Innovation Center has recently taken steps to improve our research insight this is currently undertaken by just 1 person who has many other responsibilities.
Competitor analysis is unsatisfactory because we are unable to access comparable services. We are limited to demos, screengrabs, reviews and hearsay, which say little about the user experience of competing services. There is no holistic view of the end to end user experience. That said, we have the following sources available to interrogate:
Call data from the 24/7 support line
Emails to the center of excellence
Client advisory board transcripts
Aptitude staff and partners
It is important to have a clear understanding of one’s current user experience before detailing a future vision. However, at Aptitude this is particularly challenging because we lack both qualitative and quantitative data. We are unable to interrogate user behaviour with analytical tools because historically our software has been installed on premise with the understanding that there would be little to no user interaction. This has changed considerably in recent years, seeing users demand more sophistication and intelligence from our services.
To get a more thorough view of our current user experience, and for means of benchmarking, the following is recommended:
Define the user needs and top tasks for each service
Document the personas for each service and for Aptitude software itself
Visualize the architecture of service interfaces (screens, hierarchy and navigation)
Visualize user workflows within each service
Undertake a heuristic evaluation of each service
Undertake an accessibility review of each service
Interrogate abovementioned data sources for existing insights
Map the end to end Aptitude user experience
Define individual product visions
A vision for the future experience
The Aptitude Experience:
The Aptitude experience instills confidence in the CFO
Users are empowered to transform their business
We design with inclusivity and accessibility at the heart
The experience is professional, yet personal
Onboarding is uncomplicated
The learning curve is minimal
We will not substitute complexity with simplicity
Good design will tame complexity
The Aptitude experience is collaborative and supportive
The Aptitude experience is consistent
The Aptitude experience is always one think ahead
Outcomes from realising the vision
Commercial results (long-term – beyond 2020):
Increased client satisfaction
More efficiency in the CFO
More confident finance teams
More intelligent insight
Better staff retention within finance teams
Reduced training time
Increased word of mouth about Aptitude Software
Internal results (short to mid-term – 2020 onwards):
Faster design cycles
Happier teams, improved staff retention
Clear research insights for future product development
More collaboration with development teams
Easier handoff between design and development
Word of mouth – UX professionals will want to work at Aptitude
Roadmap - developing our capabilities
The focus of 2020 will be to lay the foundations to build a strong and efficient UX team. In 2021 that team will scale.
Ensure the UX team have the right support and tools to deliver and grow
Define ways of working and governance for the UX team
Develop a research and feedback strategy
Develop a research repository
Plan for scalable, efficient, consistent design
Provide UX education to the wider business
Design the design team
1. Ensure the UX team have the right support and tools to deliver and grow
Having the right tools is more complex than just providing suitable hardware and software. It is about creating and engendering the most supportive environment in which our UX specialists can flourish. We must look to our development team for inspiration: They have had significant investment (not simply financial) to ensure they are set for high performance and professional fulfilment. Bleeding edge technologies, communities of practice and exceptional leaders make Aptitude an appealing place to work.
The vision of the development team is one that the UX team should aspire to: They speak boldly in response to industry 4.0 – about scalability, optimisation, moving from individual to centralised environments, about working more collaboratively and transparently.
UX can, and should, speak to all these things too.
Aptitude aspires to design services for an increasing workforce of digital natives. We know it makes good business sense to meet their expectations. Similarly, designers have hardware and software expectations. A serious design team expects to work on Macs. Attracting the best design talent will be difficult if we do not provide Macs. Retaining top design talent will be difficult if we require them to work on PC's. It is likely no surprise that industry standard software, Sketch and Principle, work only on Mac. Of course, we could provide similar build PC’s and similar PC compatible software, but the team will never feel the sense of investment they deserve, or indeed be able to perform to the level they (and we) aspire to.
A successful user experience team is afforded the mental space to theorise. With the right tools to do the heavy lifting, time is made available for the more challenging aspect of our roles – problem solving.
The design team should be working on Macs (on Mac OS)
Purchase licenses for design software such as Sketch and Principle
Investigate research tools to increase efficiency (such as remote user testing/survey tools)
Investigate suitable repository for research insights (more detail to follow)
Investigate design system tools (more detail to follow)
2. Define ways of working and governance for the UX team
Currently there are no defined ways of working for the team. This can lead to confusion, duplication of effort, and worst of all burnout. As a small team, we need to work smarter not harder.
Introduce a ‘creative brief’ for incoming work requests
Work with scrum masters to set up the appropriate UX boards in Jira
Create prioritised backlogs
Visualise the quantity of work
Identify global and product specific workload
All experience design to be signed off by UX Strategist prior to release
Establish experience design principles
Explore ways to embed UX into development lifecycle
Explore ways to embed UX into R&D
3. Develop a research and feedback strategy
Investment in research in 2020 will be manifested in the setup of the right tools.
We should hire a user researcher in 2020. If this is not possible then designers will need to step into research roles temporarily in order to gather much needed insights.
With the limited resource available in 2020, it would be prudent to focus research efforts on AAH and digital finance as our main areas of potential growth and product innovation.
A research team needs frequent and timely feedback for analysis and synthesisation. This will predominantly be quantitative and will be brought to life alongside qualitative research. As such a comprehensive feedback strategy should be defined to plan what types of feedback are required, at what frequency, and where the data should be collated.
In 2021, design and research should split into separate disciplines with appropriate hiring into each discipline.
Research is our most powerful tool – it means we can truly be one think ahead. It empowers us to be a leader not a follower. As such, investment in the discipline of user research is highly recommended.
Articulate a clear feedback strategy
Implement software tracking on our services
Build a feedback mechanism into our interface
Frequent client surveys
Frequent client visits / interviews / remote user testing
Horizon scanning (how do we gather intelligence from the market and prospects)
Split design and research into separate disciplines (2021)
4. Develop a research repository
The user needs for a research repository are as follows:
I need to efficiently organise, search and reuse my past research insights
I need to respond to business insight requests quickly
I need to be able to find patterns across multiple studies
I need to be able to share data and key insights across the organisation
I need my research team to work quickly and efficiently
I need to be able to find insights quickly so that I can get back to more complex tasks
I need to reduce wasted effort on conducting research that has already been done
Aptitude will only be one think ahead if everybody has access to research insights. As such, it is imperative that we build a research repository. The data structure must be carefully planned for scalability and accessibility.
5. Plan for scalable, consistent, efficient design
A design system is a centralised environment. It is a collection of reusable components, guided by clear standards, that can be assembled to build any number of applications. It's a modular resource that can often automate a lot of frontend coding. The modular, object-oriented nature of a design system speaks to the modular nature of development and should greatly improve alignment.
Historically ‘pattern libraries’ would typically live in a PDF or a wiki, which meant that they were static and difficult to keep up to date. The aspiration for designers and developers today is a more dynamic or “living” pattern library that contains the design patterns, as well as the live code used to build them. A living style guide or pattern library is more than a reference document — it’s the actual working patterns used to create an interface for a digital product.
Design systems can boost productivity. Making small changes should not be time consuming or multiple times across multiple products. Designers shouldn’t spend their time copying pixels and reinventing solutions to the same problems, they should be investing their time in understanding and solving real user needs. Design systems are proven to be cost effective solutions, preventing duplication of effort and enabling consistent design to be applied.
Building a design system is a significant undertaking, which requires a dedicated team to build and maintain. Such a team would likely include a UX designer, a UI designer and a frontend developer. The selected tools must align with our current angular framework.
Scalable design means we can be driven to deliver. Efficient design means leaner handoffs between design and development. Consistent design means a better experience for our users. A ‘design system’ speaks to all of these.
Without a shared language, a group of people can’t create effectively together — each person will have a different mental model of what they’re trying to achieve. Planning our approach to a design system in 2020 will lay the foundations for a shared visual language necessary for a growing team.
6. Provide UX education to the wider business
While many improvements will focus on the experience of the software it is vital that we understand our end to end user experience and how we can continually improve it. This will mean focusing on areas of user interaction and handoff.
Do we understand how a client feels as they move between commercial and delivery? If we can articulate the experience, we can improve it.
It is essential that we build a clear view of each user touchpoint and handoff; from the moment a client discovers Aptitude, to the moment their staff interact with our software.
The experience should be seamless.
Design is everyone’s job. It takes a commitment from everybody in the company. Everyone is doing what they do best, and what they’re trained to do. What’s missing is a shared focus on User Experience.
Work with teams in the wider business to understand the user needs at each stage of the journey
Review all user touchpoints with relevant teams
Map end to end journey with pain points and share with the wider business
Provide regular UX presentations to the wider business to aid understanding
Hold lunch and learn sessions
Create backlog of suggested improvements
7. Design the Design Team
Having built the foundations for a scalable team in 2020, Aptitude will be in a sound place to increase resource.
The location of the team in the org design can be an ongoing discussion that requires no immediate decision.
With clarity we can say that The Innovation Center in Wroclaw is the right physical location for the team.
Recommendations: 2020 – 4 additional roles:
3 UX designers (+2 additional resource)
2 UI designer (+1 additional resource)
1 User researcher (+1 additional resource)
1 Head of UX
6 UX designers
4 UI designers
3 User researchers
1 Head of UX
How to monitor and measure progress
In 2020 this strategy aims to deliver:
Increased UX team satisfaction
More consistency across the portfolio
The development of a research repository
More collaboration between UX and R&D
A clear UX roadmap and backlog
A considered plan to build a design system
UX artefacts for current products (personas, workflows, evaluations, screen diagrams etc)
An end to end journey map of the current Aptitude experience
Clear business understanding of the value of UX
As we lay the foundations for an empowered, efficient design team our measurement of success will be based on the setup of internal systems and the definition of new ways of working.
Business as usual will continue, and our services will continue to incrementally improve. However, in the background the team will prepare to scale.
A roadmap and backlog will be shared with the wider business followed by quarterly progress updates.
Let's see how it goes!