Differentiating UX Strategy from Tactics :: UXmatters

UX professionals must … develop a deep understanding of both the business strategy and the product strategy that provide the basis for any UX design effort.—Pabini Gabriel-Petit

“All UX professionals—whether they are responsible for UX research, strategy, design, or all aspects of a UX design project—must must understand, in principle, the nature of business strategy and product strategy. UX professionals must also develop a deep understanding of both the business strategy and the product strategy that provide the basis for any UX design effort,” advises Pabini.

“According to David A. Aaker, in Developing Business Strategies, the concerns of business strategy include the following:

  1. “The product market in which the business is to compete
  2. “The level of investment
  3. “The functional area strategies [that are necessary] to compete in the selected product market
  4. “The strategic assets or competencies that underlie the strategy and provide the sustainable competitive advantage…
  5. “The allocation of resources over the business units [and]
  6. “The development of synergistic effects across the businesses—the creation of value by having business units that support and complement each other.”

“In Product Strategy for High-Technology Companies, Michael E. McGrath defines product strategy as comprising the following core elements:

  • Core strategic vision—Where are we going? How will we get there? Why will we be successful?” UX professionals should play an active role in envisioning what products to create—in part, on the basis of the generative user research they’ve conducted.
  • Product platform strategy”—“A product platform is a collection of common elements, particularly the underlying technology elements, implemented across a range of products.” Determining what product platform to employ or create is an important element of product strategy. A key element of a product platform that provides a user interface is a common design system that every UX designer creating products using that platform should employ. When an organization is developing a new product platform, creating such a design system should be part of the product platform strategy.
  • Product line strategy”—“A time-phased, conditional plan for the sequence of developing product offerings from a common platform, with each product offering targeting a specific market segment.” Generative user research plays a key role in understanding and devising a strategy for meeting the unique needs of particular market segments and determining which target users’ needs to address. Plus, the use of a common design system facilitates the development of a family of products.
  • New product development”—This element of product strategy defines the “specific functionality for each new product offering, consistent with the overall product line plan….” A product team—including one or more UX professionals—is responsible for developing the strategy for a particular product. UX research plays an important role in defining the vision, target market, and requirements for the product.

UX Strategy Versus Design Strategy

“It’s no wonder that many people are confused about the role of User Experience in strategy,” acknowledges Pabini. “Among UX professionals, there is not broad agreement on the definition of UX strategy—perhaps not even among those of us contributing to this column. I’ve always made a distinction between UX strategy and design strategy. In my view, UX strategy focuses on the creation of a User Experience function that optimally supports the organization’s business strategy. Its concerns include organizational models for UX teams, the roles on UX teams, the UX design process, and how members of the UX team work with those in other functions. As UX professionals, we must understand our organization’s business strategy, then devise a UX strategy that supports it.

“In contrast, design strategy focuses on creating a product design that addresses the needs of both the product’s target users and the business. As UX professionals, we must understand and contribute to the strategy for the product or service our product team is creating. Both UX research and product strategy inform design strategy, which, in turn, also informs product strategy. A UX design strategist should play an active role in defining product requirements that ensure a product satisfies both user and business requirements.”

Being Strategic and Supporting Business Needs

I’ll build on Leo’s point that UX strategy supports product strategy, which, in turn, supports business strategy. When you’re working on a UX strategy, it is important to do the following:

  • Establish a clear understanding of high-level business goals. If the business goals remain unclear or business stakeholders have not communicated them clearly to your team, push back on executives and ask them to clarify their goals. How can you be successful in defining a UX strategy if the overall business goals are unclear?
  • Clearly link your UX strategy to your organization’s high-level business goals.
  • How does your UX strategy support product strategy and business strategy? Make it clear how your UX strategy should feed into product- and business-strategy efforts.
  • Be prepared to hand off your UX strategy to other functional teams. Once you’ve spent time and effort creating a strategy, it can be hard to hand your work over to another team and trust them to implement your vision. Do it anyway. There are experts at your company who know what to do to implement your strategy. So do a good job on your strategy, then hand it over to those experts and let them do their job. Trust them. Of course, you must be available to discuss and iterate the strategy with other functional teams. But don’t fall into the trap of creating a development plan at the same time you’re creating your UX strategy.

Defining Separate Functional Roles

More on my last point about handing off your UX strategy to other functional teams: You’ll need to do this in any company that has large enough product teams to keep functional roles separate. But what about smaller companies in which people fulfill multiple roles at once? Do the best you can to keep your strategy hat on when you’re working on strategy, so you can create a strong strategy. Of course, creating a great strategy means considering the needs of and feedback from other team members, so do that, too.

But avoid going down the rabbit hole of considering implementation what-ifs? or asking “How would we implement that?” as you’re creating the strategy. While it might seem like doing strategy and tactical planning together would save time—and it might save some time—it would likely be at the cost of creativity and the opportunity for greater innovation. Establish your larger vision first and understand and detail the why of your product, then determine the details of the how later on.

When creating a UX strategy, always be sure to tie it into the larger success of both the product and the company.

Creating UX Strategy Artifacts

“As UX professionals, one of the best ways we can contribute to strategic momentum is by capturing the strategy team’s words and beliefs, synthesizing them into visual models and diagrams,” advises Leo. “If you believe that the one who holds the pen runs the meeting, UX professionals wield a powerful pen.

“On my current team, we are in the early, strategic stages on a variety of initiatives, and UX team members continually develop concept maps or diagrams that capture the team’s beliefs about the business we want to be in.

“These artifacts have been instrumental in three ways:

  1. Reflection—We have helped individual team members to express their own thoughts and considerations by offering an artifact on which they can reflect, then make any necessary corrections if we haven’t gotten it right.
  2. Alignment—As multiple points of view arise, these artifacts address and embrace them, helping team members both to integrate others’ ideas into their own and to establish shared beliefs.
  3. Communication—These UX strategy artifacts naturally become elements in our storytelling—okay, PowerPoint presentations—driving reflection and alignment across others who didn’t participate in their creation.” 

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