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How to introduce UX maturity at a startup

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

At a startup, you’re always rushing to produce deliverables. Sometimes, the team starts running before it even grasps the idea of walking. That’s what happened before I joined Mothership -- the team did not conduct necessary user research and jumped right into product design.

The unfortunate oversight of user research resulted in missed key product requirements, which caused the launch date to delay. There was not enough visibility and communication within teams which caused friction between the design and engineering team as features kept piling up.

As a senior designer I recognized that Mothership lacked UX maturity. Without an established user research process, and a rushed timeline, things were overlooked and there was no alignment in the product direction. These are the initiative which were not conducted enough:

  • Clarifying business success metric

  • Quantitative research

  • Usability test with actual users

  • Stakeholder and user interviews

  • Stakeholder alignment meetings

The team was at its first stage of UX Maturity defined by Neilson Norman Group’s UX maturity model. It is crucial for every company to recognize the importance of customer-centric design, where the user’s needs are met with the least friction possible. Most importantly, the key

9 steps to level up the UX maturity

As a problem solver, I saw an opportunity to mentor upwards and restructure the process. I introduced the team to a more user-centric, researched based approach to design.

  1. Let your team know that you need to reserve time to research Address your team about the importance of user research and add it to the timeline so the expectation is clearly set within the team. When I joined Mothership, we didn’t have a PM so I acted as a pseudo Product Manager and incorporated new product development processes. By establishing a clear visual timeline and responsibility of each role, we were able to establish a mutual agreement on the importance of user research.

  2. Take time to interview your internal stakeholder In order to provide the most value to our customers, we must learn from the experts. I started off by setting 1:1 with the Director of Sales, Operation, Customer Support, Finance, the CTO, and the CEO.

  3. Identify key business success metric Talk to the data person at your company. Data is your friend. Do your best at taking a stab at defining the success metric and align with your team. Look at the current product and identify what are potentially blocking the product to be more successful.

  4. Get facetime with your user, it’s okay to be a little nosy One of the first hurdles that every designer has to face at a startup is how to recruit users who are willing to participate in user interviews. First I sent out an email with a survey to 100+ users. I intentionally picked folks who are highly engaged in the app vs who are not. 10+ people responded and then I had the support team call them one by one and ask if they were open to hop on a call with me.

  5. Share a 5 mins content reel of the interview with your team Your team loves watching real customer talk. Especially the CEO and the engineering team. Sharing insights is the best way to promote the value of user research to your organization. The tool I loved using is called Descript. It transcribes the video for you and you can create a content reel by editing the text.

  6. Go extra mile with the competitive analysis Analyzing competitors poses a problem when it comes to non-consumer products as we do not have access to their apps. Therefore I decided to analyze their youtube marketing videos that show a glimpse of their platforms. I ended up taking 100+ screenshots from all the youtube videos!

  7. Design with data Any available data you have, go and get it. At Mothership we had Fullstory, Mixpanel, Looker, and Google Analytics. There is a lot you can learn by just watching a few clips from Fullstory. One insight I got from Fullstory which directly influenced our product was when I discovered that 46% of our users were using the mobile view for one particular screen which we didn’t originally design in a responsive way. Designing with Data by Rochell King, is a great read.

  8. Extract problem statements from all the research After all the quantitative and qualitative research, we defined the core problem statements. This helped us scope our work for the MVP.

  9. Don’t be afraid to ask for extra funding for new tools When the team is small, a lot of work falls on each individual. Therefore, any ways you can optimize the user research workflow, the better. To ensure our designers meet the timeline, I personally asked the VP of Product to give us access to This way, our team can run un-moderated tests and reduce the burden of recruiting interview participants.

How did the team change after you implemented a new UX process?

The user research results gave our team confidence and alignment. With mutual understanding of user problems, we were able to co-create new features with our user’s needs in mind. With this structure in mind and a mutual understanding of the UX research’s importance, the UX maturity of Mothership has grown from level 1 to level 5, structure -- a big leap forward!

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