seen + learned

Product strategy vs. UX strategy – thoughts from UXPA Boston 2014

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 | Posted by Tania Schlatter | Labels: , , , ,

Note: this post was updated June 10, 2014. I read Jeff Gothelf's post "There is no such thing as UX strategy" after seeing tweets about it a while ago, and didn't think too much about it. Recently, however, I've been thinking about how (and if) UX strategy manifests in UI design decisions, so I decided to attend the UXPA Boston 2014 conference session "UX Strategy exists, but what is it?" with this in mind.

Gothelf's post, which claims "[T]here is no such thing as UX strategy. There is only product strategy," inspired the session, moderated by Diana DeMarco Brown. It was great to hear stories from panelists Sarah Bloomer, Eva Kaniasty, and Lori Landesman. During Q&A, one attendee said he agreed with Gothelf, but unfortunately, there was not much time left to explore the statement. With a night to sleep on it, I realized that statement was crucial to helping me define my own thoughts on the topic.

To me, UX strategy is the goals and plan established for helping and delighting end-users, as well as meeting the needs of stakeholders, and in the case of enterprise applications, purchasers. Stakeholders and purchasers are types of users. My bias as a designer is to go the extra mile for end users – the people who use what I design. In the case of a consumer app, the user and the purchaser are the same, so in these situations I agree that product and UX strategy are the same. In the case of enterprise applications, user and purchaser goals and needs are often vastly different. Like so many answers to UX design questions, the answer to the question of whether UX strategy is different from product strategy is, "it depends." It depends on who your users are, who the organization is, and what the goals for the product are.

Focusing on the purchaser has led to dreadful and compromised enterprise application experiences. I've worked on enterprise applications for ATG (now Oracle), Endeca, (also now Oracle), and Curaspan, to name a few. In those cases, UX was part of product strategy, both functionally and conceptually. That in itself was not a problem. However, while stakeholders and product managers believed in UX, when it came down to coding and shipping, their focus was on meeting the needs of buyers. This makes sense given how enterprise product management success is measured – in sales, obviously. Like an oldest child in a family, enterprise product strategy takes up a disproportionate amount of stakeholders' time and attention. UX is the younger sibling, wanted and adored, but left to its own devices due to the focus on the oldest child. With intermittent support, UX for enterprise applications often lacks the resources it needs to sustain it and help it thrive.

Follow up note - June 10, 2014: With more thought and reading, I want to add that I think enterprise product strategy can be the same as UX strategy, it is just that it often isn't. If/when enterprise product strategy focuses on providing value to purchasers by developing software that is designed to succeed by helping the people who use the applications do so effectively, efficiently, and with appropriate delight, product strategy is aligned with and subsumes UX strategy.

This brings up more questions: are stakeholder and purchaser needs for enterprise applications really so different from end users, and if so, why? Also, if business stakeholders and product purchasers are types of users (as I consider them to be), then is the discussion of UX vs. product strategy really about end user-focused strategy vs. stakeholder and purchaser-focused strategy specifically in the realm of enterprise applications?


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