Building The Organization’s UX Capacity: A Quick Assessment Exercise
November 13, 2019
by: Jared M. Spool
To formulate a successful user experience strategy, UX design leaders need to have a deep understanding of their organization’s current UX capacity. What skills, knowledge, and experience in UX design and research do we have available in our organization? What will we need to accomplish the big things that lie ahead? Do we have enough people who can do the work?
We’ve created a simple exercise that identifies the gaps between your organization’s current capacity and what you'll need to successfully execute your UX strategies. While the mechanics of our exercise only takes a few minutes, the exercise’s benefit comes from the subsequent deep discussion around every aspect of managing and growing your UX capability.
Preparing to identify the organization’s UX skill gaps
To prepare for the exercise, we created a set of skill cards. Each card lists a particular set of UX skills, knowledge, and experience that your team will need to deliver well-designed products and services. The cards include a wide range of expertise, such as user research, marketing, information architecture, front-end development, and interaction design.
A few of the skills we’ve put on our skill cards. Download the full set from here.
We’ve included some blank cards. These are for the team leadership to fill out, with skills specific to your organization’s needs.
You’ll likely need to add specific skills around the domain of the products and services. For example, if your organization is delivering in the healthcare market, they need expertise in medical privacy regulations (HIPPA in the U.S.), medical technology, and how medical practices operate, to name a few.
There are skills specific to the business and technology your organization uses. Knowing how your business makes money and how to design for specific technology requirements are key.
We have a quick test you can use to figure out if a skill is worth adding to a blank card. We ask, if we were to hire a new designer who didn’t have any knowledge or experience with our domain, business, or technology, what would we have to train them on to be fully productive?
What are the upcoming big initiatives for your organization?
As part of the preparation, you’ll ask UX and product leadership to list out the major initiatives for the next year. What are the outcomes the leadership wants to achieve? What are the critical parts of the roadmap?
As you assess the skills of the team, think directly about these outcomes. We’ll be dedicating our new UX capacity specifically towards accomplishing these outcomes.
As you look at each skill card, you’ll want to go beyond just the UX and design teams. Consider all the other people who influence the users’ experiences for your products and services, like product managers, developers, and other influencers. After all, the decisions they make change up what your users’ experience will be.
For the exercise, the leadership of the UX and product teams sort the skill cards into these four piles:
Pile 1: Everybody has these skills, knowledge, and experience
In this pile, you'll put the skills that every member of our team currently has. It’s rare for an organization to have more than a few cards here. Most won’t have any in this pile. It takes a mature organization to make sure they’re hiring and training common skills across every job function.
Pile 2: Team has enough skills, knowledge, and experience
In this pile, you'll put the skills that, for the upcoming initiatives you’ve identified, your organization has enough skills on hand. This means no project will be stalled when a need for this expertise pops up.
Pile 3: Team needs more skills, knowledge, and experience
This is where you’ll put the cards for where your projects could use additional people with this expertise. Key projects will find themselves in a backlog until someone who has the skills, knowledge, and experience is freed up from more important work.
Pile 4: Team doesn’t have any skills, knowledge, and experience
This pile gets the cards where nobody on the team has the expertise. This is where your organization must go outside to get the skills, knowledge, and experience.
Assessing where you need to grow more capacity
The sorting usually goes quick. Then the fun starts.
Most teams end up with a lot of skill cards in the team needs more and team doesn’t have any piles. This is where UX capacity growth needs to happen.
The skills in team needs more means that there are people available internally to help grow the organization’s capabilities. They can lead training and coaching, to develop the skills in more individuals, eventually moving the card into the teams have enough pile.
The skills in team doesn’t have any mean there isn’t anyone already onboard to coach others. You’ll need to go outside to get this expertise.
A tool for planning your training and hiring needs
Looking at the skills most critical to the upcoming major initiatives and projects will tell you how to plan internal training and external hiring. You might find you can relax any hiring requirements for skills you have plenty of, while focusing on growing those skills you’re in critical need of.
This can feed into next year’s hiring and internal training plans. You can calculate the value of your team’s work necessary to achieve the major initiatives. That value is what you base your investment on for both training the team and hiring new team members. Calculating that value will give you a solid justification for both budget items.
This simple exercise yields tremendous strategic insight for UX design leaders. It gives a quick snapshot of where the team is and what it needs to go forward.