UX maturity — for UX Professionals

Use the information on this page to assess the UX maturity and competency of your team and your organization and to set specific goals for improving your UX maturity.

UX maturity is the ability of an organization or a product team to define and meet UX goals that help to achieve business goals.

A UX maturity scale is a ranked measurement scale of UX maturity levels that covers the full spectrum of UX maturity levels from lowest to highest UX maturity

Further definitions, for example business goal, business strategy, and more.

Overview of this page

A basic, general maturity scale

Table 1 shows the maturity scale from the ISO 33020 standard for assessment of process capability. This general maturity scale is the point of departure for my UX maturity scale.

The highest maturity level (Innovating) appears at the top of the table; the lowest maturity level (Incomplete) appears at the bottom

LevelGeneral definition
InnovatingThe process is continually improved to respond to change aligned with organizational goals
PredictableQuantitative management needs are identified, measurement data are collected and analyzed to identify assignable causes of variation. Corrective action is taken to address assignable causes of variation
EstablishedThe Managed process is implemented using a defined process that is capable of achieving its project outcomes
ManagedThe Performed process is implemented in a managed fashion (planned, monitored and adjusted) and its work products are appropriately established, controlled and maintained
PerformedThe implemented process achieves its process purpose.
IncompleteThe process is not implemented or fails to achieve its process purpose

A UX maturity scale for UX professionals

I have adapted the basic, general maturity scale in Table 1 for UX professionals. Table 2 shows key UX characteristics of each level. Table 2 was last updated on 27 May 2021.

LevelKey UX characteristics
Innovating► The organization’s decisions and actions are based on user research and user involvement.
► Business development and IT-development are indistinguishable.
► UX goals and strategies are aligned with business goals.
Predictable► Metrics are used to define and measure the success and quality of a product.
► Corrective action is taken if a metric does not fulfill agreed qualitive or quantitative requirements.
► Products are released only if they meet agreed requirements.
Established► All projects comply with the quality system for UX consisting of procedural standards, style guides, and rules for following up on the quality system.
► The UX process is uniform. Projects may still differ in the way they do UX work if the quality system allows tailoring UX work to specific needs.
► The quality system ensures that UX activities are carried out in accordance with the state-of-the-art.
► The organization improves UX activities based on input from stakeholders.
Managed► Some projects plan UX activities before the project starts and the plan is followed and monitored; the plan is adjusted if the need arises, just like a budget.
► There is a budget for UX.
► Style guides are available and some projects adhere to them.
► Management may refuse to make inconvenient decisions that are strongly recommended by UX professionals.
Performed► Some UX activities are carried out by people who may have some knowledge of UX. The activities may or may not be done properly.
► UX activities are ad hoc, that is, they are carried out whenever engaged people see a need for them; they are not planned up front.
► Sometimes, there is little or no time to implement UX research findings.
Incomplete► No UX activities.
► Design is based solely on opinions
► Development teams practice developer-centered design and complaint-driven design..
► There is no budget for UX. A good UX is fine if it comes for free, but no one is committed to delivering it. There may be a budget for "making things pretty."
► Product managers may say that they care about usability, but when it comes to making inconvenient decisions to improve the UX, for example, delaying a release to correct critical UX problems, nothing happens.
Hostile (not part of ISO scale)► Developers simply don’t want to hear about users or their needs; their only goal is to build features and make them work on the computer. In this mindset, humans are irrelevant — they're told to use the system, regardless of whether doing so is easy or pleasant

Comments on the scales

My UX maturity scale is based on the ISO 33020 standard. I use the same terms for the maturity levels as ISO 33020. I have six levels in my maturity scale because ISO 33020 has six levels, and because it is my experience that six levels are manageable and enough to cover the important differences in UX maturity.

Management’s true commitment to usability and user experience is important for a high UX maturity. Many managers will say that they are committed to usability. However, there is a tremendous difference between paying lip service to commitment and true commitment.

Commitment is not doing what you want to do.  … 
Commitment is doing what you don’t want to do –
because it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.
In fact, the more you don’t want to do something,
but continue doing it because you believe it to be the right thing to do,
the more you are committed to it.

– – Phillip G. Armour – –

Competency scales

The scales above assume that UX maturity develops equally across all kinds of UX activities. However, this is not my experience. For example, an organization can do excellent usability evaluations and poor interviews of typical users (analyses). Another organization does great analyses, user requirements, design and usability evaluation but ignores important feedback from users via support.

I have developed competency scales for some of the pillars of UX work, that is, key UX activities:

  • Analysis — interview, observation, focus group, etc.
  • User requirements
  • Design
  • Usability evaluation (see details in the following section)
  • After launch; support
  • Standardization

Contact me for more information about these competency scales.

A competency scale for usability testing

The scales in Table 1 and 2 are for UX maturity in general. Based on my experience, in particular from usability testing certification, I have developed a scale for an organization’s competency with respect to usability testing:

CompetencySpecific characteristics of usability test
Very high► UX evaluation is continuously improved based on internal and external experience.
► UX evaluations generate both problem reports and user requirements.
► All touchpoints are systematically evaluated.
High► Quantitative UX tests are carried out by appropriately trained UX professionals
► There is trust in the UX test sessions. This means, for example, that UX sessions are rarely observed by stakeholders. Difficult issues that require discussions with stakeholders are described carefully by the UX professional based on usability tests and discussed in workshops.
► UX problems are handled exactly like bugs. This implies that no UX findings can be ignored.
► UX problems are tracked systematically from the moment they are discovered until they are either solved or rejected for good reasons
Medium► The organization evaluates the user experience (not just usability) of some of its products and services, for example customer support.
► A few touchpoints, for example, customer support, are evaluated
► Compliance with the standard for UX evaluation is checked regularly.
► UX test tasks are based on evidence from user research and customer support.
► UX evaluations occur throughout the project
► Stakeholders are involved in planning UX evaluations
► UX evaluation results are discussed with stakeholders – not just presented to them.
► UX professionals employed by the organization are always involved in UX evaluations carried out by external consultants.
Low► Usability tests are systematically planned and approved.
► There is a standard for UX evaluation and some projects adhere to it
► Usability tests are carried out by appropriately trained usability professionals
► Usability test tasks are based on assumed use cases
► Usability tests mainly occur shortly before or after release.
Very low► A few usability tests are conducted by enthusiastic individuals. They may be amateurish, but they still produce some valuable results.
► A few usability tests are carried out by external consultants with no or limited involvement of people employed by the organization.
► Usability test tasks are based on gut feeling.
► Usability test results are presented to stakeholders, but the results are not discussed.
► Usability test results are often ignored, especially if they are expensive to implement.
► Usability tests are considered interesting and observed by curious stakeholders.
► Some organizations may set up a usability lab.
Non-existent► No usability evaluation
► Design is based on opinions
► Changes are based on complaints
► Functional testing (“user testing”) is confused with usability testing

At the competency levels High and Very high, the observation of usability test sessions by stakeholders is considered unproductive. “Seeing is believing” is relevant only at lower levels.

Stories about increasing UX maturity

I have written several stories about increasing UX maturity. These stories, which I continue to work on, describe in more detail what to strive for and how you can move from a low UX maturity level to higher levels.

The four most recent stories are about Delta Market, which is a fictitious chain of more than 500 medium-to-large, high-end grocery stores. Delta Market has more than 50,000 employees and a market share of approximately 20%.

While Delta Market is fictitious, the stories are all based on real events that colleagues and I have experienced. I have chosen to use stories and scenarios to communicate my experience, because often, organizations are unwilling to share information about their road towards a better user experience. Scenarios are particularly helpful because they have their basis in storytelling and are condensed, and easy to grasp. My hope for this series is to encourage discussion and help organizations define their vision and set goals for their UX development.

UX Paradise, Part 1: Milestones on the Road to UX Maturity
Part 1 of this series provides an overview of the series, presents some personas representing people who work for Delta Market, and outlines the UX maturity model that forms the basis for this series. It also describes Delta’s State of Affairs in 2011: The Swamp.

UX Paradise, Part 2: Draining the UX Swamp
Part 2 describes how Huxley, a new hire at Delta Market, boosted the organization’s competitiveness by raising Delta’s UX maturity from low to high. The journey, which required nine steps that any organization could easily pursue, took them from 2012 to 2019.  The article, uses specific examples to explain what I mean by UX strategybusiness strategyUX visionKey Performance Indicators (KPIs), and other terms that UX professionals should understand to communicate effectively with management and executives.

UX Paradise, Part 3: A Day in UX Paradise
Part 3 describes a typical day in the life of Huxley, the UX manager at Delta Market, after Delta had reached the highest level of UX maturity, and explains how functioning at this high level of UX maturity affects Delta Market’s employees—in particular its UX professionals. The purpose of this article is to encourage discussion and to help organizations define their UX vision and set goals for their UX development.

UX Paradise, Part 4: The Customer Experience
Part 4 describes how Eva and her friend Adam, who are customers at Delta Market, would hypothetically experience Delta Market’s high UX maturity. The article contrasts the user experience at Delta Market to the user experience at its biggest competitor, Alpha Market, which has a low UX maturity.

Pointers and acknowledgements

The above maturity scales are inspired, among others, by

Timo Jokela provided helpful comments and suggestions for the content of the UX maturity scales.