Falling through the cracks

This post is #7 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.

Greg’s story

Greg Price was a healthy young man who grew up in Acme, Alberta. He played sports, he was close with his family, and he even had a pilot’s license.

Greg had testicular cancer, one of the most survivable forms of cancer.

Due to a number of mistakes and unnecessary delays, Greg ended up dying from a blood clot just days before his chemo was scheduled to start.

This happened despite the fact that everyone that Greg encountered was a competent, hardworking person who genuinely wanted to give him the best treatment possible.

This happened because of the siloed nature of the Healthcare system and poor communication between those silos. And because of fax machines.

Modern technology and patient-centered care could have prevented Greg’s death, but the healthcare system is slow-moving and resistant to change. “Fail fast” doesn’t fly in life-or-death situations, but that doesn’t mean that healthcare shouldn’t change.

I attended a screening of Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story last week, followed by a panel discussion about the film and healthcare in general. I was motivated as a patient to demand better from my healthcare system and gained increased appreciation for companies like my mentor Meaghan’s startup Mikata Health.

I also learned two valuable lessons from this event.


Lesson 1: The power of storytelling

I was moved by this film.

I’ve heard the stats and anecdotes about how the healthcare system is behind the times when it comes to technology, leading to wasted money and reduced quality of care, but it had never really hit home before I saw this film and Greg’s story.

As I’ve spoken about before, stories are STAR moments: Something They’ll Always Remember. And it’s true, when you give a problem a human face, people will start caring.

I need to use more stories when I’m trying to change minds!

Lesson 2: I’ve got it easy

I’m obsessed with making enterprise software companies more user-centric, which is usually far tougher than doing the same with consumer software companies. However, I didn’t realize until this event that I’ve got it easy compared to the behemoth that is healthcare.

Order of Canada recipient Dr. Ewan Affleck was part of the panel and spoke about a project that he worked on to make one single patient record system for all of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Against all odds, this system is now in place for all 40,000+ patients in the territory.

“Whether you are in Fort Smith or Ulukhaktok or wherever and you have kidney failure, you can have your nephrologist in Edmonton following your results and your blood pressure. You can have the intern in Yellowknife and the GP in Fort Smith. They can then work together to ensure your care is good and it’s not dependent on shipping you around.”

Dr. Ewan Affleck on NWT’s medical records system (source: Northern Journal)

This effort took a mind-blowing 17 years. In a territory with less than 0.2% of Canada’s population. Imagine the work involved in getting the rest of the country on board. Now compare that with convincing 100-1000 employees of a software company to make a similar change.

I’ve got it easy. And I’m so grateful for Greg’s family and Dr. Affleck for sharing their stories and teaching me these lessons.



It’s okay to be slow

This post is #7 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


Last week I wrote a long post summarizing my progress so far. At the end, I discussed some of my constraints, including the following:


Do TWICE as much with HALF the resources

  • Don’t do more; do it differently
  • Can’t sacrifice speed


Which came from numerous quotes in my research, such as:

  • “We [designers] slow things down because we think about them longer. “
  • “Can’t slow down velocity on getting features done”
  • “Product owners need to demonstrate progress. If feels like we’re interfering with their status updates. “

But now I’m starting to have my doubts.


Maybe you can sacrifice speed

I recently realized that while it would be great to speed up design, that might not be the best approach to increasing an organization’s UX maturity.

The reality is that good design does slow things down.

But isn’t it better to walk in the right direction than to run in the wrong direction?

Yes, well-designed solutions take longer than just getting features done, but they make your users happy, they are less buggy, more maintainable and extensible, and they differentiate you from your competitors.

My research was focused on mid-maturity companies, where people told me that design has to be fast. But I’m now learning that high-maturity companies don’t think that way. As UX Designer Barbara Shain told me about a past employer:

“There isn’t just a perception that design slows down development– we all accept it as a fact.”

In other words, yes UX is slow, but no that’s not a problem.

Related image


But speed is still important

As I was writing this post, I decided to look up some transcripts of the podcast that first introduced me to User Research 3 years ago: Dollars to Donuts. Turns out that many of the mature companies featured in this podcast do still have speed pressures.

I think if we double the size of the research team, I’m not sure that would be in the best interest of the company. I think that might actually slow things down.

-Alex Wright, Etsy

[The research team] got our foot in the door with some product teams and showed what kind of impact we could have and how… rapidly we could do this work… How it could speed up development in some cases.

-Aviva Rosenstein, DocuSign

But again, speed isn’t everything.

You can go too fast if you skip especially those early important steps of focusing on ‘Okay, let’s clarify, what are we doing?’ … if you cut the wrong corners, there’s a “gotcha” at the end.

-Kerry McAleer-Forte, Sears Holdings

Like many things in life, this is a very delicate balancing act.


What do I do now?

I’m so confused. But that’s normal in research.

Going forward, I’ll continue exploring ways to incentivize teams to care about design while keeping up the speed. However, I’ll also look into ways of embracing the slowness!

The first diamond

This post is #6 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.

The double diamond

The double diamond is a great model for the design process. This Kayla Heffernan blog post describes it in more detail, but it boils down to two phases:

  1. First you figure out which problem to solve,
  2. then you solve it.

In both phases, you first diverge (go broad), then converge (go deep). Hence the diamond shape!

My UX career has really focused on the second diamond (solving problems) as opposed to the first (figuring out which problems to solve). Which is why I’ve focused my work so far on the first diamond (figuring out which problem to solve). It is so valuable to take the time to understand the problem space before diving in and exploring solutions.

Before I jump into the second diamond (fixing the problem), I’m taking the time to recap my progress so far.

My hunt statement

So where did I start this first diamond? With the following hunt statement, which I carefully crafted when I started this research earlier this year.

I want to learn how decision-makers at enterprise software companies understand what UX design is, and how it fits into the success of their business;

So that I might develop more effective approaches for increasing investment in UX and getting the company to move further along the scale of UX maturity.

As I reread this statement, I’m almost embarrassed by it. But that’s a good thing.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman (source)

The fact that I cringe as I read that means that I’ve learned something since I wrote it!

Like what?

UX growth doesn’t just come from decision makers

Firstly, I really didn’t focus my research on decision makers. I did have formal interviews with one CEO and a couple of managers, but I balanced that with several chats with “worker bees” like myself.

I did this because as I wrote about in The Three ITs of UX Growth, average employees don’t have to waIT for decision makers to force UX growth; they can commIT to UX growth themselves!

Increasing investment may not be the right choice

Fred Brooks said way back in 1975 that doubling the number of programmers on a development team does not double the speed of that team.

The same goes for designers. As one designer who I spoke with put it:

“We don’t need more funding. We need different funding”

Marcos Lopez, CEO of Solium, put it nicely during my talk with him:

“Things work when they’re not forced… organically start to say this is how we build things.”

Increasing investment isn’t just unnecessary for UX growth, but it might actually be a hindrance. I’ve heard stories of multiple conflicting design systems being developed in parallel by different design teams in the same company. That might not have happened if there were fewer resources available and the team had to run a little more ‘lean’.

There’s more than just one “scale”

As you can see in my UX Maturity Models summary, there are dozens of different “scales” for measuring UX growth, so it’s a little ambiguous to say “move along the scale of UX maturity”. Which scale?!

I niched down

I didn’t end up looking at a broad sample of enterprise software companies. Most people who I spoke with were with “mid-maturity” software companies, meaning companies where UX was accepted and encouraged, but where UX was not involved in the overall strategic direction of the company.

This wasn’t really on purpose but was a bit of a happy accident because I ended up seeing a lot of similarities between the companies that I spoke with.

My Methods

So what did I do to address that hunt statement? I did both primary and secondary research.

Primary Research

Armed with tips from Steve Portigal’s great book Interviewing Users, I conducted seven different formal interviews and dug up notes from two recent informal conversations about UX maturity. In these 20-45 minute chats I asked questions including

  • (Show a summary of Neilsen’s 8-stage UX maturity model) Where on this scale is your company? How about when you first started there? If it has changed, why?
  • What would you like to change about UX at your company?
  • Other than Development, which departments should UX collaborate with?

I then summarized all notes in one big spreadsheet then did two rounds of Research synthesis to pull out themes and patterns from these talks. Below is an image of one of those synthesis sessions.


Secondary Research

There is a lot of work that has already been published on UX growth. Reading that work is what’s called secondary research.

In addition to collecting and analyzing different UX Maturity Models, I read several case studies, including this paper on Applications of Maturity Models and this UXmatters article on IBM. I also read the very actionable book UX Revolution by Paul Boag.

These sources were great for giving me a broader view of the problem space and provided a bit of a sanity check of my own research.


I also recently spoke about my ideas. Signing up for a ten-minute talk at a UX meetup forced me to really distill my thoughts down into something simple (see The Three ITs of UX Growth) and also gave me a few insights and introductions from the audience!


The grand-daddy problem

After clustering and analyzing my notes from this research, the main problem I’ve found is that even with a shared vision, UX growth can be stunted by the lack of a shared “how”. To encourage UX growth, we need to change the default “how”.

Even with a shared vision, UX growth can be stunted by the lack of a shared “how”; to encourage UX growth, we need to change the default “how”

Design constraints

To solve this problem, I’m going to keep in mind the following constraints, which were also based on my research:

  1. Do TWICE as much with HALF the resources
    • Don’t do more; do it differently
    • Can’t sacrifice speed
  2. They’ll think it was their idea (INCEPTION)
    • Change can’t be forced
    • Should happen organically
  3. From ANY team to ANY team
    • UX might be a pot calling the kettle black
    • UX needs to be more self-aware

Specific design prompts

I summarized my findings into three possible design prompts.

Firstly, how might we clearly trigger when one team should involve another team?
Software development can be a messy, disjointed process, which makes it hard to join in and act as a team. It can also be hard to know when the design team should be involved (or when the design team should get help from other teams.

Next, how might we improve the design of products without slowing things down? Design needs to be able to jump in without delaying projects.

Lastly, how might we incentivize teams to be fast and produce well-designed solutions? We need to incentivize the right process as opposed to speed only. The design team must be able to keep pace.


What’s next?

While each of these prompts has tons of potential, I decided to focus on option 3 for the sake of time:

How might we incentivize teams to be fast and produce well-designed solutions?


Yes, more research. My research thus far has only scraped the surface of how teams are incentivized. So before jumping into fixing the problem, I have to loop back to that first diamond to get a little deeper understanding of it.


I love this part. Quantity over quantity. I’ll be sketching at least 25 different ideas for addressing this design prompt. After that, I’ll work with my mentor Meaghan to evaluate the ideas and iterate on them. Eventually, I’ll further explore some of the better ideas. Stay tuned!



So far, this research has been great. It’s always fascinated and frustrated me that for some people and some companies, UX just seems so obvious, whereas for others, users are seen as annoyances. I’ve enjoyed sinking my teeth into this puzzle while learning about research.

Even though the mentorship program that prompted me to start this project ends next month, I could see myself exploring this problem space for years to come.

The Three ITs of UX Growth

This post is #5 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


My journey

I used to be a developer. I read as much as I could about UX, then really tried to put those readings to use. There were a lot of successes, but these great UX ideas that everyone was raving about online didn’t always catch on as much as I expected them to.

So I started learning about UX Maturity models. I even compiled a list of models. And I embarked on a research project with the help of my mentor Meaghan, interviewing people about UX and scouring the internet for insights.

That research is still ongoing but I’d like to share a super high-level summary.

The Three ITs of UX Growth

When it comes to leveling up your UX game, there are really only three things you can do.

1) commIT

Some companies up their UX game thanks largely to the efforts of a single person. In fact, my employer Solium is one of them. Not too long ago, we were having problems improving the UX of our products. But then a developer decided to take things into his own hands. He did a prototype of a redesign for one of the company’s main products and showed it to the leadership team. They loved it and built a team around him. That app is being released to the first major wave of customers this week, as shown in the blog post below!

new participant experience

A recent Solium blog post announcing a redesign that started as a side project

Obviously this one developer wasn’t the only person who cared about UX in the company, but his commITment and results led to a tipping point within the company and some very positive changes.

2) waIT

UX is becoming more and more mainstream. From articles on Design Thinking in the Harvard Business Review to reports of enterprise software being rejected by clients due to bad UX, executives are more aware than ever of the value and practices of UX.

Picture a typical customer of an old-skool enterprise software application. Let’s call him Jon. Jon wakes up one day and with two taps on the CityMapper app, he finds the best train route to work. While on the train, he does some leisurely scrolling through Airbnb and books a place for his upcoming vacation. He’s feeling pretty good… until he gets to work and has to try to do his job using a hideous, mind-numbing interface originally developed for Windows 95.


One of these things is not like the other!

Don’t you think that Jon is going to eventually wonder why his work software can’t be a little more like the sweet apps on his phone?

He is.

So if you wait long enough, the executives at your company are probably eventually going to hear complaints about bad UX and be aware of how to fix them!

This is exactly what happened at a financial institution that I spoke with.

“[The change] came top down actually. It wasn’t grassroots. [Prompted by] reality… banks must find unique ways of differentiating or they won’t be able to continue existing for much longer.”

This bank is now undergoing huge UX growth and seeing great results because of it.

3) quIT

If you tried to do IT and you can’t waIT any longer, do what I did: quIT your current job and find a company, like Solium, that really values User Experience.


If you want to work for a company that values UX, go work for a company that values UX!

Obviously no company is perfect, but Solium has gone through its UX breakthrough, which means I can spend more time solving problems and less time trying to convince other people that they are really problems.

The talk

I know this isn’t anything groundbreaking or particularly interesting, but writing and speaking has always helped me clarify my thoughts. I’ll be speaking about this later this week at the Calgary UX meetup in a ten-minute Rapid Fire talk.

Do you agree that UX Growth boils down to these three things? If not, why?

More questions than answers

This post is #4 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


I’m now past the halfway point in my six-month mentorship program. Looking back, I’ve done pretty well on the goals I published back in January.

1. In order to learn more about UX maturity and UX research techniques, I will interview at least 5 people from different companies about UX maturity by April 1st, 2018.
2. At that point, I will decide on a specific direction for future research.
3. Throughout the process, I will blog at least twice a month about my process and progress.

Pretty well but not great.

  1. I’ve interviewed not 5, but 6 different people about UX maturity (good) but they have all been from my company (not so good)
  2. I’ve decided on a direction for future research (good- I’ll get to that later)
  3. I have fallen behind on blogging twice a month (not so good)

So why no bloggin’?

I’m still writing at least 10 minutes each week as part of my Thursday Tens habit, so there’s no shortage of draft posts. Yet I’ve been reluctant to publish anything because I haven’t had any obvious insights from my research.

Isn’t research supposed to lead to a bunch of lightbulbs going off in my head?

Not only have I had no aha moments, but I was starting to doubt the whole idea of getting companies to increase UX maturity. Can UX maturity be sped up? If so, should it be sped up?

In my meeting last week with my mentor Meghan, I mentioned this frustration to her. How she responded surprised me:

“Good new questions are just as good of a research output as plain old answers… designers need to be comfortable moving forward despite a total lack of clarity and information”

So this whole process wasn’t fruitless after all! Sure, I have no answers yet, but I now have several questions that have been informed by research. I also have a little bit of practice being in this uncomfortable situation of trusting the process in spite of its haziness.

Oh, and I now have a blog post. The source of my writers block is now a source of strength, thanks to Meaghan’s encouragement!

Next steps

Now that I have a good feel for how UX evolved at my company, I’m going to move on to other companies.

I’m also going to do some serious secondary research, combing the internet for similar research that has already been done. Luckily I already have a good start on that thanks to my initial interest in UX Maturity models back in 2016!

Oh, and I’m going to get back in the habit of bloggin’. Twice a month, of course!


Research synthesis

This post is #3 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been cornering a variety of coworkers and chatting with them about how they relate to User Experience. Even though I’ve only worked there for two months and I’ve only had four interviews, I already have a good feel for the history and the current dynamic of UX at my company.

For each of these chats, I went in with a discussion guide and went out with pages and pages of notes and quotes.

The other day, I worked with my mentor Meaghan on tying to make sense of these notes. By the way, Meaghan’s company Mikata Health was recently selected for the AccelerateAB conference!

Setting up

To prepare for this synthesis activity, I broke up my notes into tweet-sized chunks. I then printed these onto cardstock and ended up with over 60 cards. I didn’t have access to a colour printer so I just marked each card with a highlighter so we knew which card was from which interview.


I’ve done card sorts before to help set up a site’s information architecture, but never to synthesize research.

The general idea is the same though: Take one card at a time and put it close to other cards that “feel” similar. Every now and then you’ll need to move one cluster close to another, or split up groups of cards. The fancy term for this is “cluster analysis”.

Eventually you’ll end up with groups of cards. Give these groups a name or a theme. You’ll end up with something like this.


And then what?

A lot of interesting themes were revealed when we did this sorting activity. We came up with 14 of them.

There were a lot of insights that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t done this exercise. It’s strange: I was the one who did all the interviews, yet it wasn’t until I saw everything laid out in front of me that these things clicked.

But even though lots did “click”, I still wasn’t sure where to go. Meaghan explained to me that this “fuzzy” feeling is normal.

My next task: digest it. I’m going to review my notes and my themes, then use this to guide my next round of interviews.

Stay tuned for more on my process and findings!

The Hunt Statement

This post is #2 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently started researching how companies relate to UX Maturity.

Since that first post, I’ve been in brainstorming mode. I’ve been jotting down tons of questions, as well as a huge list of people that I might like to ask those questions to. At first it was exciting to get into writing all of the possibilities that were in my mind, but it quickly became a little overwhelming.

Narrowing things down

Enter my fearless mentor Meaghan. When we last sat down together, we had the goal of focusing my list of questions. But how?

The hunt statement

As Meaghan says, the hunt statement is your ‘north star’ that you align all of your research towards to keep your research focused. The format is a what followed by a why. Meaghan suggested filling in the blanks in the following way:

I want to learn ____________

So that I might ____________.

This is going to come in very handy, because I’m really quite curious.


Will ferrell meme: curious like a cat

While no one actually calls me Whiskeres, I’m also curious like a cat.

Just this week, when I tried Guerrilla User Research for the first time (in a work project), my research partner kept pointing out how long I was taking. I didn’t understand why he thought it was a problem- as long as the people I was talking to were happy to continue, why not keep asking questions?

But now I realize that some of my questions weren’t especially relevant to the problem that we were investigating. If we did have an explicit hunt statement for that study, we would have been on the same page I wouldn’t have been pulling on threads that my partner wasn’t interested in.

So for this UX Maturity Research project, I’m going to have a hunt statement to keep me in line.

My hunt statement

I want to learn how decision-makers at enterprise software companies understand what UX design is, and how it fits into the success of their business;

So that I might develop more effective approaches for increasing investment in UX and getting the company to move further along the scale of UX maturity.

Next steps

Using this hunt statement, I’m going to create an initial discussion guide, do a couple interviews this week, then refine the guide if necessary and continue the research from there!

Stay tuned for future updates 🙂

Kicking off a UX Research side project with my mentor Meaghan

This post is the first in what will be a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


I’ve long been obsessed with the concept of UX Maturity. Why do some companies rave about the power of User Experience Research and Design while other companies just don’t seem to get it?

Which is why, for at least the next 2 months, I’ll be conducting research on this topic.

How it began

I’ve had great mentors (and unofficial mentors) in the past, so when a friend tweeted about the Chic Geek mentorship program, I jumped at the opportunity.

The program is incredibly well-run. They match mentors with mentees based on a thorough questionnaire about goals, experience, and interests.

My match is Meaghan Nolan, a co-founder of the digital health company Mikata Health and a former lead designer at New York agency Moment. Needless to say I’m happy with my match!

But what do I want?

After I learned that Meaghan was going to be my mentor, the organizers asked me as the mentee to come up with a SMART goal. I really wasn’t sure what to shoot for, so I set a goal to set a goal. (Huh?!)

goal to set a goal.png

My waffly initial goal: To set a goal

Fast-forward to the first official mentorship meeting: When I sheepishly showed Meaghan my somewhat confusing goal, she immediately jumped into researcher mode. After just a few questions, she proposed a WAY better goal.

If you are interested in tech and UX research, why don’t you do UX-style research on tech?

Yes! Brilliant!

We eventually settled on the following:

  1. In order to learn more about UX maturity and UX research techniques, I will interview at least 5 people from different companies about UX maturity by April 1st, 2018.
  2. At that point, I will decide on a specific direction for future research.
  3. Throughout the process, I will blog at least twice a month about my process and progress.

They aren’t especially specific or measurable, but UX rarely ever is. The April 1st deadline is in place in order for me to get some broad initial research in before drilling down into something interesting or unanswered from that research.

Next steps

After this first meeting, Meaghan sent me some relevant links. One of which was a talk SHE GAVE at the Interaction17 conference on Design at Scale. What!? My mentor not only has worked with everything from startups to Fortune 500 companies, but she’s given a talk on design culture?! Amazing.

After I read through the rest of the materials that Meaghan sent, I’ll put together a rough research plan based on the IDEO Field Guide for Human-Centered Design.

Then of course I’ll actually start talking to people and post about it right here later this month! I can’t wait!

Want to talk?

Care to enlighten me on your personal journey through UX maturity? Let me know!

My Name is Shane and I’m a Usabilityholic


Yes, it’s a bit cheeky to make drugs and addiction the theme of a business presentation, but I think it paid off!


The Setup

I’ve been at my new job as a Software Engineer for Wall Street Systems (Part of ION Trading) for just over two months now. On the side, I’ve been slowly and steadily asking around and getting a feel for how we approach User Experience. Last week, my persistence paid off and I was asked to make a presentation to the company’s User Experience Community of Practice (CoP) on Usability Testing.

The CoP is a group of a few dozen people who have done some great work recently on the visual design of ION’s products. I wasn’t sure how much expertise already existed in the company with respect to user research, so I started my talk by polling the audience. It turned out that I was the most experienced person in the company on Usability Testing. It was a novel and exhilarating feeling to be “the expert” in the room. I guess I earned that though- over the past few years I’ve read and tried as much as possible in the world of UX, gravitating towards User Research such as Usability Testing.

The Sell

After explaining how easy, valuable, eye-opening, and addictive usability testing can be, I concluded my talk by offering to write a draft on best practices for running usability tests and to pilot a usability test.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I definitely didn’t expect a C-level to ask me to run a usability test the very next week- and that’s exactly what happened!

Sadly, I was on holiday the next week, but we’ll be doing a pilot hopefully before the end of this month!

The Software Speech

Meanwhile, my favorite London meetup, London Software Craftsmanship Community (LSCC), put out a call for speakers to do lightning talks at Skills Matter‘s beautiful new CodeNode facility. Initially, I shied away because I’ve never spoken publicly about software, but because the talk at work went so well, I decided to jump in and do it.

I had to rush through a little to get it down to 5 minutes but the audience was great and I’m glad I did it!

You can see a video of my talk here on the Skillsmatter website.

Just in case that link doesn’t work, the slides are below.