Strategic UX, Part 3: Improved collaboration and excellence in experience

Screengrab of WeWork

To see massive, transformational change and growth in your company, you need to shift your company’s thinking about user experience (UX).

Great UX is not delivered by one team. It’s not an activity in a project, something you ‘do’ like usability testing or wireframes. Great UX is only fully achieved as a result of an experience-focused mindset that permeates your entire company: business management, integration, activities and skillsets, design management, and more. Every activity comes into collaborative alignment around customer psychology and behaviour, coordinated by a desire for your customers to have a seamless, intuitive, and refreshing experience using your products and services. Great UX, in turn, becomes a strategic, commercial differentiator and a key part of your value proposition.

Unicorn companies — typically privately-owned companies valued at over one billion dollars (find out more about unicorns in our white paper 'Journeys with Unicorns: Excellence in User Experience') — usually embody this strategic UX mindset. How else do some companies rise to the top and achieve radical, global success, while other companies, seemingly with the same ideas and ‘desire’ for greatness, flounder and fall away? Many unicorns revel in being in this space of experience excellence, creating a Blue Ocean of opportunity and leaving competitors with little room for manoeuvre.

The value of UX-focused thinking

If we could look inside these unicorns and understand their UX capability, what would we see? Let’s take WeWork, the global juggernauts of co-working and collaborative workspaces. They demonstrate UX-focused thinking and organisational alignment, starting right from the top of the company.

Be in no doubt of WeWork’s command of their market. Founded in 2010, WeWork has accelerated into the top ten unicorns in the world, with an estimated value of $20 billion. In 2017 they more than doubled their members to 175,000, more than doubled the number of enterprise members, and almost doubled the number of locations to 200. This is an endorsement of the commercial power that can be achieved by focusing on UX. Many other businesses could benefit from trying to replicate this level of UX focus and perspective.

A key characteristic of a business focused on UX is that it will manage the UX top-down. This means the senior management team focus on UX strategically. Again, we can focus on WeWork to demonstrate this perspective:

Dave Fano, Chief Growth Officer:“User Experience just needs to be baked into every aspect of what we do. From our digital products to our physical products to the way our members think about things like invoicing and billing. We want to ensure that our members are getting a consistent experience no matter where they go.” 

Adam Neumann, CEO: “In my opinion there are very few companies in the world that are actually tackling the connection, that pinpoint between physical and virtual, come together and connecting.”

Hear more from Dave and Adam in this WeWork video. 

Tomer Sharon, Head of UX“Our mission at WeWork is to create and inspire compelling and effective experiences through deep data-driven human understanding, innovation, design, and best practices.”

You can see in the above quotes that WeWork’s senior management team have both a passion and laser-focused team intent on delivering ‘experience excellence’ across every element of what they do.

What can we learn from WeWork? What are some of the key characteristics they exhibit that back up their leaders’ rhetoric?

Let’s start with organisational structure.

How can you deliver an excellent experience to customers if your organisational elements responsible for that experience are fragmented, aligned only by function, often in competition with each other, with no one measured directly on customer satisfaction metrics or other broad indicators of digital excellence?

Yet that is often how companies are structured, harking back to historical business structures which seem incapable of meeting modern, digital needs. Typically, an unfortunate board member or senior executive is then charged with corralling and cajoling multiple, disparate teams and divisions to artificially work together in an attempt to deliver a better end-to-end online experience for customers. The resulting UX issues from this lack of alignment bubble up to the surface, fuelling user consternation and frustration.

WeWork does things in a different way. Tomer Sharon again — and note that his title is ‘Head of UX’, an indication already of their commitment to experience excellence:“Many UX teams out there mirror the product organization or the business units of their companies. We are not going to fall into this trap. WeWork UX is focusing on the overall experience rather than any specific space design, digital product, or service. […] And we are organized by critical user journeys.”

Sharon has aligned his UX group based on critical user journeys affecting the overall user experience: pre-membership, onboarding, membership and support of member companies. As you can see, these critical user journeys are largely aligned with the customer lifecycle: in this way, Sharon has teams responsible for every stage of a customer’s relationship with WeWork, from initial awareness through to any possible future departure. No doubt, WeWork is a company that understands the factors that influence Customer Lifetime Value. A critical performance metric for a business operating a subscription-based business model. They get the value of UX.

Collaborative activity for seamless, innovative experiences

In support of this approach, McKinsey & Company talk about this type of organisational structure in their recent article, ‘Designing and starting up a customer-experience transformation’:

“The benefit of this approach [structuring cross-functionally, focusing on a set of specific customer journeys] is that it emphasizes the end-to-end experience for customers, given that they’re exposed to organizations across channels and functions. The idea is to design ‘future back’—first determining the ideal future experience and then tackling a set of initiatives to overhaul an entire journey from start to finish.”

Only a company in strategic alignment around UX can support collaborative activity that delivers seamless, intuitive experiences. This requires thinking about how to design an experience and not merely the parts that make up the experience. Taking a joining-the-dots approach is a key consideration in the design of Experience Excellence. Furthermore, it demonstrates a holistic approach to UX from both thinking and doing perspectives.

Sharon sums up this approach very well“We want to continue pushing boundaries, and we don't want to stop at the office space. We want to take a more holistic approach to that community feel, and that future community integrates physical, digital, and service design.”

So moving towards UX-led organisational alignment has obvious benefits — and can dramatically increase the odds of market success and leadership. But this is where it gets interesting, because WeWork take the whole concept one step further.

Rather than limiting the idea of User Experience to the digital realm, WeWork embrace the term in its broadest sense, the crossover between physical and digital — the whole enchilada. This not only makes sense given the company’s obvious focus on physical office space, but more importantly, it allows the company to cater for members’ needs no matter their situation or mode of engagement: if the customer is relating to WeWork, then WeWork have considered and planned for their experience. Fano sums thinking about the intersectional of physical and digital from a UX perspective: At WeWork we’re uniquely positioned to tackle the User Experience problem in ways that no other companies have before. To think how we now start to blend User Experience for digital and physical components of our product offerings is really exciting.”

When UX is considered in this way, it becomes challenging to argue why any company would not structure and align themselves fully with the idea of customer experience excellence. ‘Tradition’ and ‘inertia’ are not good reasons for maintaining a legacy approach, especially when our modern, digitally-enabled world allows and even encourages disruptive, nimble companies to move quickly into your market. Again, remember that WeWork was only formed in 2010 and are now making incumbents like Regus seem dated and cumbersome.

Becoming a better listening organisation

UX not only affects WeWork organisational structure, it also is given marcomms consideration in its own right and ‘WeWork UX’ has its own Twitter feed, YouTube channel, Instagram feed and Medium account. It even has its own logo for branding all of those activities.

With all these structural and mindset benefits in mind, let’s look at an externally-shared practical benefit that stems from WeWork’s organisational alignment around User Experience. In early 2017, they launched an internal research tool called Polaris, designed to help WeWork “become a better listening organisation”.

Screengrab of Polaris

The core of Polaris are experience insights called ‘nuggets’: “A nugget is a combination of an observation (something we learned), evidence (an audio or video snippet of a user describing the experience in their own words, or a screenshot or photo), and tags that allow for slicing and dicing the data.”

The tool helps WeWork prioritise member issues, search a database of interview and feedback findings, and provide ideas and stimulus for WeWork teams looking to start new projects.

It is difficult to imagine an insight-centric tool like Polaris being so strategic and collaboratively focused in a company where UX does not permeate organisational structure and company-wide mindset. There would be too much resistance and not enough impactful advocacy for it to gain traction and have a lasting effect. Again, with everything in alignment around customer needs and desires, excellent experiences can be delivered efficiently and effectively.

Overall, WeWork are demonstrating a new level of UX thinking and organisational alignment that any company interested in true market differentiation can learn from. Of course, there is more to it than structure and mindset. One example of this is the Double Diamond model (or Nomensa’s Triple Diamond variation, specific to UX) to guide best-practice UX activity within projects. However, the foundations must first be in place.

If you're interested in organisational change and alignment around UX excellence, our Experience Assessment service can pinpoint the practical changes you need to make, spanning governance, success measurement, strategy, and other key dimensions.

Alternatively, speak to us about tailored programs and services to develop a UX-focused mindset amongst your senior management team, or longer programmes to develop industry-leading UX skillsets in your team.

Since 2001 we’ve been helping the biggest and brightest companies develop and deliver excellent experiences and we’d love to discuss achieving the same success with you. Drop us an email at hello@nomensa.com, call us on +44 (0)117 929 7333 or send us a message.

And if you’d like to read more about Strategic UX, read the first two articles in this series: