How do we consistently create UX strategy? Tough question.
Part of the problem is in the fuzziness of the term “strategy” itself. Many people blur it with detailed planning. Others consider strategy to be in-depth investigation, such as market research or competitor comparisons. Or, it gets conflated with vision or ambition.
None of these is strategy.
Strategy is about uncovering the key challenges in a situation and devising a way of coordinating effort to overcome them for a desired outcome. It’s an interlocking set of choices that aligns activity and shows causality: if we do this, then we expect to see that.
Analysis and planning, while necessary inputs and outputs in the strategy creation process, are not the core of strategy. You can’t analyze your way to strategy: the answers don’t magically emerge from data. And detailed roadmaps don’t provide the rationale for the activity they organize. Strategy does. It connects analysis and planning with an intentional logic that guides decision making.
The UX Strategy Blueprint is a simple tool to help you define a UX strategy. You can use the template freely provided you don’t change the structure and give me credit where necessary:
Download the UX Strategy Blueprint
Keep in mind that strategy is hierarchical. It cascades from the top down. Effective UX strategy aligns upwards.
Regardless of level – corporate, product, team or personal strategy – the crux of strategy work relies on the same set of elements, outlined below. Using this schema allows you to not only articulate a UX strategy consistently, but also map it back to superordinate strategies.
Elements of UX Strategy
The elements in the UX Strategy Blueprint are based on existing research in the field of strategy. First, it borrows from Henry Mintzberg’s five Ps of strategy from his landmark book Strategy Safari. These are combined with Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley’s five questions of strategy in their recent book Playing To Win. (Both books are highly recommended).
The intersection of these two frameworks yields six common facets. Each is given a box in the Blueprint, formulated specifically for generating UX strategy. Below each of the six headers are guiding questions, as well as examples of the types of information required.
Here’s how to interpret each element in the UX Strategy Blueprint:
- CHALLENGES. Strategy implies the need for change, a desire to move from point A to point B. What are the hurdles to doing so? What opposing forces must you overcome to be able to reach the desired outcome? For instance, in user experience design you may face challenges around coherency if, say, you’re trying to integrate several web properties after an acquisition. Or, you may be fighting severe usability issues or a deteriorating image. Ultimately, strategy is about problem solving. What problems are you solving for? Focus on customers and users, but you may also have internal challenges you want to list here too.
- ASPIRATIONS. What experience do you ultimately want to deliver? Go beyond the generic goals like “be consistent.” Instead, strive for something more aspirational. For example, you may want to differentiate your service through a specific type of user experience, which would drive adoption. More importantly, consider how you will impact your customers’ work and daily lives. How does your solution transform what they capable of doing and who they ultimately are? Your aspirations should inspire your teammates.
- FOCUS AREAS. Strategy is about trade-offs. Indicating your focus areas helps concentrate effort on the things that matter most. Note this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be ignoring everything else not listed, just that the elements listed here are of higher priority. Indicate your primary focus for these five topics in a straightforward, factual manner:
- USERS – Who will use your solution? If you have personas, list the ones that are most relevant to the success of this strategy.
- REGIONS – What are the countries, languages, and cultures that are in play?
- SERVICES – What products, services, platforms, and technologies are included in the strategy? Scope out the ones that aren’t.
- USE CASES – Indicate the key scenarios of use at a high level. For instance, in ecommerce settings will you focus on finding products, the purchase process, or both?
- AREAS OF UX – What areas of UX will make the most difference? Highlight aspects such as information architecture, interaction design, visual design, content strategy or branding, as well as attributes of usability such as control, learnability, or discoverability, among others.
- GUIDING PRINCIPLES. This is perhaps the trickiest but most important part. In business strategy, the guiding principle indicates how you’ll win against competitors. For UX strategy, the guiding principles are the approaches you’ll take to overcome the challenges and solve the problems you’re facing. This can include a particular sequence of activities, like “mobile first.” But strive to be even more specific. What rules of thumb must be in place to reach your aspiration? What mantras would you give design teams to consistently execute towards the same goal? Remember: strategy provides consistency in behavior. How will you get everyone paddling in the same direction?
- ACTIVITIES. What types of UX activities are needed to implement the strategy and achieve your aspirations? This includes such things as user research, concept development, sketching, screen design, prototyping, and testing, as well as creating patterns or guidelines. Team development and skill development can also be recorded here. Note that this section shouldn’t read like project plan, rather it’s an inventory of the types of activities required to reach your aspirations. Keep in mind you may need new capabilities to execute your strategy. That’s OK: strategy isn’t a re-configuration of existing skills and resources, rather how you’ll maximize chances for success.
- MEASUREMENTS. How will you know your strategy is on track? How can you show progress and success? Often benchmarking and comparison is needed. This means you’ll likely have to measure aspects of your user experience (e.g., satisfaction) before and after work begins. Ultimately, your measurements should support the business goals. Try to find metrics that show the positive impact UX has on business. Be specific with goals like “increase sales by 5% by streamlining checkout” or “reduce calls to the support center by 15% by providing better self-help online.”
You’ll probably find overlap with the information you provide for these six elements. That’s a Good Thing: strategy is an interlocking set of choices you make to overcome adversity and reach a desired position. Still, try to avoid direct repetition in wording. The overall logic should make a coherent storyline.
How To Use the UX Strategy Blueprint
Building UX strategy is a creative endeavor. Explore different options, asking “what if?” and “what would need to be true?” With the UX Strategy Blueprint, there is initially no risk in trying out alternatives: cross things off, move sticky notes around, rework ideas, crumple it up and start over again. Strategy is designed.
It’s best to start with the challenges and aspirations. After that you may find yourself bouncing around between the boxes. That’s fine. The Blueprint exposes the dependencies in strategic choice, letting you see all of the elements at once.
There are several situations in which you can use the UX Strategy Blueprint:
- BRIEFINGS. Bring a print-out of it to briefings. The Blueprint serves as a great checklist of questions to ask. Your notes will also be concise and captured in a single overview.
- WORKSHOPS. Hang a poster-size version of the Blueprint in kick-off meetings or strategy sessions. Use sticky notes to fill it out as a team. This guides the discussion and keeps the exercise focused, as well as builds consensus.
- REFERENCE. Post the completed Blueprint in the office for ready reference. This keeps your strategy in sight at all times.
The UX Strategy Blueprint can also be used online. There is a version of it, below, with open input fields, so you can capture the elements digitally as well. Or, try uploading an image of it as a background within an online collaboration board (e.g., Mural.ly, TUZZit.com) and apply virtual stickies as you go.
UX Strategy Blueprint (with input fields)
Once all of the elements have been agreed on, consolidate the strategy. A good, succinct strategy should only be about two pages long. Give it multiple forms to illustrate your intent to different audiences. Create a presentation, document and a graphic, as needed.
Share the strategy as often as possible. It’s hard to over communicate: print it out, hang it up, start every meeting with your strategy slide, use it as dummy text in wireframes instead of lorum ipsum. Reiterate.
Developing strategy is a craft, one that involves exploration and choice but also systematic thinking. The UX Strategy Blueprint helps you see all the moving parts in a single overview. In doing so, it simplifies strategy, making an abstract concept more tangible for all involved.
Hi – would just like to say thanks for this, it looks like a very useful tool. I recently read the fascinating (although long!) book Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman. He talks about how strategy ultimately is a story told to others about how challenges can be overcome. And that it’s therefore about persuasion: convincing others to work with you or explaining to adversaries the consequences if they do not. Your blueprint seems like a useful tool for that task.
Thanks for the tip, Francis. Sounds like a great resource. Glad to hear that there are similar definitions of strategy out there. The focus on storytelling is great too, which I’ll integrate into my discussion of “communicating” strategy.
Is there a way to edit the headlines and subheads on the Blueprint pdf?
I can correct errors if you see some. Otherwise, it’s not meant to be edited. You can use it freely otherwise.
The blog says: “There is an editable version below.” That is why I thought it could be edited.
Yes, I could see how that would be confusing. By “editable” I meant that the information you record can be entered directly into the blueprint. I’ll change that to be clearer. Thanks!
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Perfect timing! I was just scouring the web for a good UX strategy template when the UIE email dropped into my inbox.
I think it would be very difficult to use every UX documentation process out there and still get actual work done, so you have to pick and choose carefully. I need to get my client out of the weeds this time around so a strategy document is definitely helpful…thanks!
Thanks Jim, a fanstatic tool that ties so many elements together cohesively.
I just noticed though on the editable PDF version, that the ‘Challenges’ box doesn’t have an editable field; would love to have that option added.
Thanks for the tip, Dan. I’ve updated it now, and you should be able to input into the “Challenges” field.
Hi Jim, what a neat tool! Working with it right now, and it really helps retain focus. Thank you for that! I noticed a tiny typo underneath the “Challenges” heading – an extra “r” sneaked it’s way into “What problems are you(r) trying to solve”.
Thanks, Hertje! Let me know if you have any questions. I updated the typo…
Hello, I’m listening to your pod-cast on UIE and want to thank you for the good thinking here. In my own attempt to put your thinking into my way of thinking, I asked myself, “If I had this document all filled out, what would the final outcome or artifact be?” For me, I would want a statement that I could posterize or use as an elevator speech. Thinking about that, I drafted this boilerplate:
“Our UX Strategy is to focus on these using these to guide these in order to achieve these and/or overcome these as measured by these .
What are your thoughts on communicating your Blueprint?
oops! WordPress thought my boiler plate was an attempt to insert HTML. Sorry. 2nd try:
Our UX Strategy is to focus on these (areas) using these (principles) to guide these (activities) in order to achieve these (aspirations) and/or overcome these (challenges) as measured by these (measurements).
Hi Lon. Thanks for the feedback and question. I envisioned linearizing the information from the canvas into a 2-page document. But a boilerplate template could also work. The only difficulty there is getting each of the BLANKS to fill in down to just a few words. Generally, I find you end up with a list of several things for each information type. So it might make an unruly sentence. But if you could pull it off, I’d be all for it. Let me know if that works for you. I’d love to hear your story! – Jim
Dear Mr. Kalbach, this is just a short note to say “thank you” for creating and sharing your outstanding “UX Strategy Blueprint” with the community. I would strongly suggest that you would also publish the translated versions on your personal website as well. I can send you the translated version into Persian if you like. I’ve already used in it few time with my research and development partners over here. All the best, Kaveh
Hi Kaveh, If you ever want to publish a translation of my blog posts, please go ahead and do so. Just credit me as the author and let me know when you do so.
I’ve just looked at this preliminarily, but it looks like a great resource. Thanks very much for making it available. I’ll be sure to cite you where I use it.
Reblogged this on Seth Owings – UX Strategist and commented:
Great resource for UX Strategy
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Great template thank you…
Is it correct to say that “strategy” addresses a problem only or can you create a strategy to address new opportunities?
Hi, thanks for the comment.
Of course strategy can address new opportunities. Those come with their own challenges. Ultimately, strategy is about an honest recognition of the challenges your face — whether dealing with an existing problem or exploring a new opportunity — and devising a way to overcome them. New opportunities often come with uncertainty, which itself is a type of challenge to overcome. In this case, “Lean Startup” approaches may be a core part of your strategy. (Lean Startup is ultimately about dealing with uncertainty).
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Nice article and template! An idea for you….So, you have a nice list of “Challenges”, from both the user and business sides. I think it might be useful to group challenges (where possible) and then draw a “dotted line” to the Aspiration that solves it. Just a thought!
This is just an initial framework I created for my own situation. I fully expect others to change and modify things for their actual situations. Makes sense to me to have user and business challenges separated. I also often find team challenges one that comes out too. Tying them to Aspirations may not work in some cases: I typically focus on 1-2 main aspirations. But it’s worth trying. Let me know what you come up with. – Jim
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I found this article really interesting! In fact, I would like to reference it on one of our courses.
I work for the IDM (www.theidm.com) and all our online courses sit behind a password protected log in. Therefore, when we want to reference an article (we use Harvard style referencing) I need to ask the author for permission to do so.
Let me know whether this is a possibility or whether you require any more information.
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Great post. We also wrote about this topic. Here you can check:
What’s your opinion?
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