The One Question About UX Projects that Scares Product Managers

Before starting a UI improvement project, find out if user experience is really your top priority buy asking this one important question.

Often we hear from software company CEOs and product managers intent on making user experience a top priority. They’re always really excited by the idea of improving their UX and we completely understand. In fact, we get excited too – user experience is what we do.

Our first step is starting a conversation with them to map out the possibilities and process for improving their product:

  • First person user research – we watch people use the product to see how they struggle, but also to figure out which features they want

  • User flows

  • Wireframe prototypes that we can take back into testing

  • Visual design treatments

  • HTML and javascript prototypes

It’s always a great conversation. They’re pumped and ready to get rolling. This new UI will disrupt their markets. It’s going to kill. We can’t wait to hit the ground running, getting our hands dirty in flows, pixels, and wireframes. But then there’s that one question that has to be asked...

Asking The Critical Question

Before we start, we ask a single, simple question that more often than not determines the success of all our efforts: “Will you set aside all of the features in your next release to focus only on the UI?” Silence. Hand waving. Uncertainty. This is the test of a company’s commitment to UI change.

Every CEO or product manager wants their software to look better, but few realize how hard it is to take an existing product and invest the development effort to actually make it better.

Client Example: The Abandoned UI Project

Our client, an enterprise software company, recognized the need for user interface improvements and looked to us to help them make the right changes. We conducted in-depth user research and a heuristic analysis of their product to determine where there were issues in their current UI. The senior leadership and development teams set aside a full day to review the findings with us and through user videos, we clearly showed where the organization of the website was lacking. We presented very practical, tangible next steps to radically improve the product and user experience.

However, the changes were never implemented. Before partnering with us, the company had scheduled two product releases over the next 12 months and filled them with features promised to their biggest clients. There wasn’t time for anything but a light visual update.

A Pathway for UI Improvements

Improving user experience requires serious commitment and it is more costly to do successfully than most companies grasp. When faced with situations in which a features release schedule is already set in stone, there is a viable solution.

The most important goal is developing an accurate understanding of effort across all teams. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Conduct a heuristic evaluation of the product or website to develop a baseline understanding of the UI issues.

  • Present evaluation findings to all teams – product, sales, marketing, development, and executive leadership – at one time. Let the teams ask lots of questions and contribute their concerns.

  • Facilitate workshops with each team to prioritize needs and develop possible solutions through whiteboard collaboration.

  • The critical step – all teams must engage, share perspectives, and discuss both the value and challenges of proposed solutions. Without shared ownership and a true dialogue, user experience projects will fail.

To succeed at improving user experience, CEOs and product managers must begin by developing a shared vision for the project that can only come from an open dialogue among all stakeholders within the organization.