UX Maturity models: pros and cons

Summary: What are the pros and cons of UX maturity models? First, they offer a way to assess where your organization is at. Next, they can often be aspirational versus realistic. Third, they might not help because you aim to ‘move up’ instead of maintaining a strong results-producing position.

Maturity models: pros and cons

UX maturity models have emerged as a popular tool to assess an organization’s UX capabilities and identify areas for improvement. They can help you understand what “stage” of UX growth your organization is at; however, they can also mislead you into thinking it’s an upward progression– it’s not.

UX maturity model staircase man leaps to the top while team lifts him up

The “levels” progress model illustrations used by UX maturity models might be misleading in real life. Note: This is based on Experience Dynamics organizational consulting work, which has used the models for over 15 years to improve UX maturity. Our own model, developed by Frank Spillers, uses a lifecycle metaphor, which may also be inexact.

While these models provide valuable insights into the current state of UX practices, it is essential to recognize their limitations and focus on maintaining a position of growth, performance, and innovation.

Understanding Maturity Models

UX maturity models are loose frameworks that assess an organization’s adoption and success with managing UX. This includes UX design process, methodologies, team and leadership, and ability to gain UX ROI. They typically follow a multi-level approach, categorizing organizations into various stages of maturity, from novice to expert. These models are based on loosely defined criteria or measures of an organization’s capabilities to conduct and repeat UX success, including user research, usability testing, design processes, and team collaboration.

Pros

  • Self-assessment and benchmarking: One of the primary advantages of UX maturity models is that they enable organizations to conduct a “here’s where we are” self-assessment. By evaluating their UX progress against predefined criteria, businesses can identify strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to benchmark themselves against where they’ve come from.
  • Clear progression path: Maturity models offer a potentially structured path for organizations to follow in their UX journey. As they progress through the maturity levels, organizations gain direction into how to improve their UX practices.
  • Communication and alignment: UX maturity models facilitate organizational communication and alignment. Different teams can discuss their UX goals and progress to agree on a shared understanding of UX business goals and organizational support needs.

Maturity models can help chart your evolution. For example: We had no UX designer two years ago, now we have a team of three delivering core value.

Cons

  • Simplistic approach: One of the main criticisms of maturity models is their tendency to oversimplify complex issues related to organizational adoption. UX is dynamic and varies across industries, leadership styles, and user contexts. Reducing it to a predefined set of stages of maturity may not capture the entire picture.
  • Limited diagnosis: Maturity models often focus on the symptoms of poor UX adoption, overlooking the broader organizational and cultural factors that influence UX effectiveness. Getting at organizational root causes of poor maturity is crucial.
  • Fixed levels mindset: Following a maturity model may lead to a fixed mindset, where organizations become content with reaching a certain maturity level. This can overshadow the need for continuous improvement and maintaining good UX practices (that signal maturity).

Maturity is not a destination it is a journey of ongoing active commitment. For example, we build a UX team of ten, that is heavy on UX designers. It’s time to add at least five UX Researchers. Next we will add two Service Designers to help design cross-channel product-service experiences.

Give your maturity model a different emphasis.

While UX maturity models offer valuable insights, organizations must look beyond them and embrace a mindset of continuous growth and momentum building to maintain peak performance. To achieve this “Peak UX” state, organizations can use the following five tactics:

  1. Holistic UX strategy: Develop a comprehensive UX growth strategy that goes beyond the checklist of a maturity model. This strategy should align with broader business objectives, incorporate user feedback throughout, and prioritize innovation and creativity.
  2. User-centric culture: Every member of the organization does user advocacy and focuses on delivering exceptional user experiences. User-centered thinking should extend to all departments, not just the design team.
  3. Encourage experimentation: Create an environment that supports experimentation and risk-taking. Encouraging teams to explore new ideas and test innovative concepts can lead to breakthroughs in UX design.
  4. Regular User Research: Invest in continuous user research to stay updated with evolving user needs and behaviors. Data-driven insights will help shape design decisions and drive improvements in the user experience.
  5. Cross-functional collaboration: Facilitate collaboration between different teams, such as designers, developers, marketers, and product managers. Cross-functional collaboration enhances communication and problem-solving, resulting in better UX outcomes.

Conclusion

UX maturity models are potentially useful tools to assess an organization’s UX capabilities and identify areas for improvement. However, it is essential to recognize their limitations and avoid becoming complacent once a specific maturity level is reached. The true essence of UX maturity lies in maintaining a position of continuous growth, performance, and innovation. Organizations can build a strong user-centric culture. This includes investing in regular user research and conducting a UX process reset to create innovative and exceptional maturity momentum.

See our UX process reset workshop, which we use as a starting point for UX maturity efforts.

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