8 challenges to UX design in the enterprise

Waterfall vs. Agile, continuous learning vs. irregular release dates, cross-team collaboration vs. siloed departments.

Waterfall vs. Agile, continuous learning vs. irregular release dates, cross-team collaboration vs. siloed departments. Sometimes, it feels like the enterprise just isn’t ready to embrace User Experience design.

We look at eight challenges that clients and UX specialists will have to face together and propose some solutions to get around them.


1. UX Misunderstood

At the start of a UX project, there’s often a misunderstanding. “Some stakeholders may have no idea of what you’re here for. They may think they already know what their users want. They just want the thing they’ve made to look better”, says Xwerx’s Head of UX, John Mooney.

How to deal with this:

“Very soon after getting in the door, we have to provide clear information to management: what UX is, what it is not, what kind of activities we’ll be doing, etc.”, insists Sean Murphy, one of the company’s founder directors. A well-prepared stakeholders kick-off and some one-to-one interviews should clear up the confusion. UX Design is far more than just “making software look good”.


2. Collaboration Resistance

Multidisciplinary teams are at the heart of user-centred design. “By creating interactions between product managers, developers, QA engineers, designers, and marketers, you put everybody on the same page and on the same level”, writes Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX. In practice, collaboration can face management resistance and a long tradition of organisational silos. “Silos are the death of collaborative teams ”, warns Jeff Gothelf. “As a result, conversation across disciplines wanes and mistrusts, finger-pointing, and “cover your ass” (CYA) behavior grows.”

How to deal with this:

The Lean UX process promotes several ways to build a “shared understanding”. Stakeholders are involved at the very early stage; teams develop personas and scenarios to maintain a common empathy for users; designers and non-designers work together on lo-fi wireframes, exercises which all harness the power of collaboration and allow the project team to see the benefits of getting out of their silos.

Why do we engage in this exercise?

To build trust.

It doesn’t happen immediately – it’s incremental. As we collaborate, trust is developed and people are faster to leave their silos behind.


3. Organisational rigidity

“Most enterprise clients have their own project management techniques that don’t jive with a healthy user experience design workflow” , writes Jordan Koschein in an old but still relevant post called UX for the Enterprise. The “waterfall” model – or any linear process – is doomed. Agile methodology has overcome the challenges of continuous release and user feedback. Integrating UX into a company’s own variation of development sprints, however, is rarely a walkover.

How to deal with this:

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. You won’t change a development process that has possibly been in place for decades overnight so you need to think about building a “customised variation” of it. Pick your opportunities to introduce leaner development cycles, do it gradually and always seek to show the value of the new approach” , says Xwerx’s Sean Murphy. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck with project approval processes and tonnes of requirements which are almost immediately out of date.


4. The release cycle is years, not weeks or months

A Claims Handling product for a big insurer is not a photo sharing app. Even if more and more software is moving towards the online service model (Saas), many enterprise products, notably in the world of “BtoB”, still support long release cycles. Some even involve physical distribution. Add the challenge of getting regular feedback from expert users and there is a high chance that your condensed “build-test-learn” cycles will stay virtual.

How to deal with this:

You need to be showing your work to people even if it might be a long time before they can put their hands on the final product. If you are not validating as you go, your long release cycles make you particularly vulnerable to producing software that solves problems that … well … don’t exist. A UX professional’s role is to convince stakeholders that user validation is not optional. If you’re meeting resistance, start with lightweight validation that can quickly demonstrate the value of user insights. As Steve Krug demonstrated in his seminal book “Rocket surgery made easy”, some valuable tests “can be done quickly and easily, with little cost”.


5. Legacy UX “Debt”

When starting a new project, UX designers and developers often have to contend with years of cruft that have obscured tools and processes. Under the pressure of short deadlines or now forgotten business requirements, the company has, consciously or not, sacrificed the design to improve … later. This “debt” has many bad consequences, writes Maiz Lulkin . It destroys accountability and “erodes trust between management and the tech team, sometimes permanently”.


How to deal with this:

Forget about the “big bang” approach to the UX debt. Most products can’t be rebuilt from the ground up. Start by identifying the key pain points of the legacy product. From there, create a plan to tackle these incrementally . Often, UX can be improved with the minimum amount of change. For example, information architecture is always a good candidate for improvement. Helping users to navigate effectively in the application (e.g., understand where they are and how to get back to where they came from) is an obvious UX activity that’s often overlooked. Take a look at the 10 Nielsen’s general principles for interaction design as a good starting point for identifying these pain points.


6. Fear of failure

When trying to apply Lean UX design principles inside big companies, your most insurmountable enemy might be the fear of failure. Change is scary. Some people in the team, often managers, might be terrified to make a bad decision. You’ll recognise them easily as they usually disappear into their office, avoiding meetings and workshops.

How to deal with this:

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field” , the Nobel Prize winning physicist Neils Bohr famously said. Take advantage of an interview or a kick-off meeting to explain how Lean UX encourages “fast and small failures” (with minimal risks) as a way to avoid really critical errors. Also, learn from everyone’s concerns by asking, at the very start, what might cause the project to fail.


7. Gatecrashers

Lean UX works with cross-functional teams sharing knowledge from end-to-end. When new people join a running project, ask questions that have already been answered and make assumptions that have been explored, teams can inevitably feel frustrated. The larger the enterprise, the more likely this is to happen.

How to deal with this:

A project team’s most invaluable tool is its backlog. This prioritised list of user stories will prevent you from reopening problems that have already be examined (maybe even solved) weeks earlier. Xwerx’s project managers use tools like Confluence, Trello, and InVision to keep everything and everyone on the same page. So when someone does crash the party, they have a clear understanding of what they’re joining.


8. The buyer IS NOT the “end-user”

In enterprise UX, notably when dealing with BtoB applications, the distance between a product’s end-users and the decision makers might be longer than the corridors. “The end user is chronically under-represented as the purchasing process is dominated by C-level decision makers and other senior personnel” , remarks Eoin Kingston, Senior UX Analyst with Xwerx. “The end users sometimes have little or no say in whether they use the product or not. It is bought and implemented on their behalf.”

How to deal with this:

If you’re lucky, there is good data available and the users are invested and accessible, writes Jordan Koschei in UX for the Enterprise.  If you’re unlucky, advocating for end-users will be more like a step-by-step journey. You’ll need results to bring more change. “Try out some ideas and prove their value via quantifiable successes”, recommends Jeff Gothelf, the author of “Lean UX”. “Whether you saved time and money on the project or put out a more successful update than ever before, these achievements can help make your case.”