How do you justify investing in UX?

May 5, 2021

The traditional answer of gathering data to convince stakeholders doesn't work. Use this UX toolkit to uncover the business pain points and get their buy-in for adopting UX.

This is probably the most frequently asked question I get from those keen to improve the quality of their products but can't get the budget or buy-in. My traditional answer used to be: get the data and then demonstrate to people how much money they are wasting or missing out on. It's a great answer, it seems logical, plus who could argue with data? The only problem with it is that it doesn't work!

There are two main problems with the data-driven approach:

1. Time and Effort
Even when a company does guerilla testing with limited or no external budget, it still takes a lot of time and resources to source the customers, run the interview sessions and distil the insights.

2. Facts Alone Don't Change Minds
When you present your results people can always justify why your data is flawed: "that was a unique circumstance" or "we aren't the same as that company so it won't translate". I've wasted months trying to convince people with data. From my personal experience, it doesn't work and there's science to back this up as well.

To get people to buy in to UX, you need to change how they think about building software

Change the ways of working

To get people to buy in to UX, you need to change how they think about building software. Until this point, it is likely that your organisation didn't see any need or benefit in UX. Now, you want them to shift not only how they think about product development but also how they manage or execute when building new products. This change requires two elements, motivation and ease.

Motivation

Data tries to tackle the motivation side by demonstrating how much more effective and efficient product development can be, and assumes that people are solely motivated by doing the right thing. If you dig deeper to understand how they measure success, you will find out what really motivates them.

As a massive generalisation, in companies that haven't fully embraced UX and Product thinking there is often a divide between IT and the business. The business often sees IT as expensive and needing control. In turn, the current way of working has set parameters where IT presents exactly what it needs with the goal of driving down costs. A suggestion to get more budget to do UX flies against their current metric of cost and, from a relationship perspective, can be seen as an attack as you want UX to "validate" the ideas that the business has already came up with.

The company was funding small bug fixing projects, but it was a losing game of whack-a-mole.

Ease

Shift the focus from convincing the business to adopt UX and start thinking about how you can make their jobs easier. This is UX 101; Uncover your customer's problems.

Socialise with the business people, listen to their challenges and see where the pain points are from their perspective. When I did this at one company, the business people said they knew all too well that there was problems with the system and were keen to improve it, but that they were blocked by the business case process. The process mean they couldn't put together a business case with a strong enough ROI. After speaking with the finance department, they acknowledged a problem with the business case process because it encouraged short-term projects and let the quality of the product as a whole suffer. To counter this, the company was funding small bug fixing projects, but it was a losing game of whack-a-mole.

Their challenge that finance faced was that they were responsible for holding the business accountable for expenditure and they couldn't find a way to enable a higher quality product while ensuring that money was being spent responsibly. At this point, I had allies in the business team and the finance team, so we pitched together to do a small experiment of funding one product team to solve a problem. And we got it approved!

If you rely purely on motivation you're leaving the hard work to others and, more often than not, they won't see the value. By making it easy you don't even need that much motivation to get people on board.

Challenges you might face

Before I make everything sound simple and easy, the example I used was one where the process worked and everyone was aligned on making things better for the end customers. So here are three other examples of when things didn't go so well.

Unmotivated business people

You may find that your business is happy with the status quo. From my experience, this happens when people have been in their role for some time and have excelled at the current way of working. Try to dig into the business case process and any difficulties calculating or verifying the ROI to see if you can find a pain point that can be agreed on. If not, move on as you don't need to convince everyone. You just need to find one or two allies to put together a trial.

This is the quickest route to bloated software

Different customers and users

Some companies are more sales-driven than product-driven. The product roadmap can be heavily influenced by salespeople and the feedback received on their sales calls. This can seem perfect, as it appears that you are adjusting your product based on the needs of the customers. But in some cases, the customer is not your user, so you are getting a distorted view of what the user actually needs. For example, the customer is taking a list of requirements from their users, distilling that information before passing it to the salespeople, who distill it again and finally share it with the product team. Issues can arise from this process, as you get no context around why users want a particular feature, how they will use it, or even if it is really needed. This is the quickest route to bloated software. But looking at it from a motivation perspective, by getting that feature built a customer will be able to tick a box and another sale will be made.

This is a very tough position to argue. When you go talk to the salespeople about looking into user problems, you might not get buy-in as their biggest problem is the slow pace of building new features. I personally didn't have success. The best way that I've seen to turn the issue around is a reactionary response when sales start to fall. In this scenario, everyone suddenly becomes very interested in a new competitor who is starting to win business. Depending on how far you have fallen behind it could be difficult to catch up at this point.

A monopoly / oligopoly

One CEO I spoke to admitted that the companies UX wasn't great, but he didn't see any reason to invest in it. His company was a marketplace that had great brand recognition and adoption on both the vendor and customer sides. There were two main companies in the space and they were both doing well. Neither was really rocking the boat. Given the cost of trying to establish a new competitor, he assumed that the biggest risk was from a Google-sized company entering the space, at which point he wasn't sure they would be able to compete. His view was to make as much profit as possible in the mean time.  While I disagree with this approach, he had looked at the options and made his decision.

So in summary, talk to your business people and see if you can find common ground. Have some data to back up why investing in UX will result in better results but use this as a last resort after you've uncovered their pain points and their needs. Find common ground that you can work on together. And if all that fails, then it might be time to polish off your resume and join a company with similar values as you.

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