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Weeknote 4: Microsteps and UX maturity

It’s been a strangely quiet yet busy week. Most of my team are on annual leave, and so too are many other colleagues around the business. As a result, my diary has been lighter, and I’ve had time to refocus my energy. I’ve metaphorically and physically cleared my desk. My mind followed thereafter. It’s amazing what a difference a reset can make.

I started reading a book this week called “Your time to thrive” By Marina Khidekel and Arianna Huffington. The book promises to give me tactics to end burnout, increase my wellbeing and unlock my full potential with the new science of “microsteps”. The goal of the book is to end the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success. In fact, we can only be at peak performance if we nurture our wellbeing. If we work late, pull all-nighters and never switch off then we’re contributing quantity rather than quality to the business, and all to the detriment of our own health.

Microsteps are designed to help us build healthy habits to improve our wellbeing. A microstep is something so small that we can’t fail to do it. The concept is layered onto something called ‘habit stacking’. It’s scientifically proven you can create a healthy new habit by stacking it onto an existing one.

So, how do they work? Imagine your goal is to improve your physical health, but you struggle to find time to go to the gym. First, you’d look at your current routine. You might note that you clean your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day. So you’d stack a microstep onto this routine: You might decide to do squats while cleaning your teeth. Just imagine how great your butt would look in a month! I really like the concept of stacking to develop new positive habits. I’m going to try it.

I’ve spent time this week focused on how to increase UX maturity at Aptitude. One of my core purposes is to move us up the maturity scale, which will ultimately manifest as value to our clients and prospects. It’s been great to get my head above water this week and think in more detail about this.

UX maturity measures an organisation’s desire and ability to successfully deliver user-centred design. It encompasses the quality and consistency of research and design processes, resources, tools, and operations, as well as the organisation’s propensity to support and strengthen UX now and in the future, through its leadership, workforce, and culture.

The UX-maturity model provides a framework to assess each organisation’s UX-related strengths and weaknesses. We can use that assessment to determine which of the 6 stages an organisation currently occupies.

There are 6 stages of UX maturity:

  1. Absent: UX is ignored or nonexistent.

  2. Limited: UX work is rare, done haphazardly, and lacking importance.

  3. Emergent: The UX work is functional and promising but done inconsistently and inefficiently.

  4. Structured: The organisation has a semi systematic UX-related methodology that is widespread, but with varying degrees of effectiveness and efficiency.

  5. Integrated: UX work is comprehensive, effective, and pervasive.

  6. User-driven: Dedication to UX at all levels leads to deep insights and exceptional user-centred–design outcomes.

Where do I believe we sit on this scale? If we’re talking about Project Alpha, I’d say we’re at stage 3-4. If we look more broadly, where Alpha is just a small percentage of the portfolio, I’d say we're straddling stages 1 and 2. This is nothing to do with the quality of work produced but instead reflects on the value we can add across the entire portfolio with minimal resource. The value of UX will never manifest where resource is spread thinly. And it is hard to justify an investment if the value is not obvious, which makes it easy to conclude, "oh that didn’t work for us, UX didn't really improve anything". When UX is deployed properly, the value is substantial.

Improving UX maturity requires growth and evolution across several different factors, including:

  • Strategy: UX leadership, planning, and resource prioritisation

  • Culture: UX knowledge and cultivating UX careers and practitioners’ growth

  • Process: the systematic use of UX research and design methods

  • Outcomes: intentionally defining and measuring the results produced by UX work

None of these factors stand alone; rather, they reinforce and enable each other. Knowledge of UX processes does not create a great UX team if UX work is not prioritised by the organisation’s leadership; likewise, belief in the value of UX only becomes actionable when there are methodologies in place to ‘practice what you preach.’ Organisations must progress in all these dimensions in order to reach high levels of UX maturity and realise the full value of user-centred design.

There’s a lot to plan and balance, especially given the small size of our team. We need to deliver work, but we also need to focus on building consistency, methodologies and of course, professional growth. One thing I’d like to do next week is map out each factor above alongside the work we have already done, and the work that we still need to do. I’d like to see which factor has been the most challenging to address, and how we might build in some new tactics to change that. Hopefully, I’ll have something to share on that next week.

I spent 2 days on training this week. Part 2 of the ‘Delivering through others’ course. I’ll not go into too much detail now but wanted to call out that it’s a really great program. The more you put in the more you get out. It’s got me thinking a lot about the approach I might take when it comes to onboarding a graduate to my team later this summer. I’d like to capture some thoughts on this next week.

My mantra this week is clean desk = clean mind. Clean teeth = tight butt.

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