Transforming the traditional: the challenge of user-centricity for large organisations

At Lighthouse we typically work with well-established enterprise organisations, helping them gain the competitive edge in their market with expert UX design and deep understanding of their users.

Part of this work involves assessing and improving their robustness of process and capability to deliver user-centric products and services.

This is what we call product maturity – something we’ve been talking a lot about lately.

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How user-centric is your organisation?

Learn about using a product maturity framework to measure and improve your organisation’s user-centricity 🔎

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We know from long experience that businesses who put users at the heart of their operations reap benefits across the board.

We also know, however, that making changes from organisational models originally rooted in the running of factories, rather than in creative thinking and user-centricity, can be challenging.

Behaviours honed in a more industrialized economy (that is, a desire for certainty, a love of detailed plans, and a penchant for control) can be the enemy of key future digital business success factors.

Graham Waller & Mark Raskino
'Take Digital to the Core' Gartner Report

Why is becoming a user-centric organisation difficult?

It sounds an obvious thing to say, but well-established businesses tend to be large, complex ones with an abundance of moving parts and a top-down chain of command.

There are a few problems this can cause when it comes to becoming a user-centric organisation.

Working in a large company means there are amazing opportunities to do big things that impact many people. But it also means that sometimes we get in our own way too. It’s difficult to be agile and nimble when there are so many of you.

Conor Ward
Director of Design, BT

Siloed departments 🧑‍💼

This combination of size and complexity naturally leads to a traditional departmental structure, with strict hierarchies and fewer opportunities for experimentation or collaboration.

A top-down approach is far more common here, partly out of habit.

It’s easy for silos to develop in this atmosphere, both within and across teams. Such structures can make it very difficult for modern, user-centric ways of working to gain any traction.

When everyone is beavering away on their own thing vital knowledge gets trapped, and only those employees who come into direct contact with users have the faintest idea of their needs and wants.

Enterprise companies tend to be large and siloed, with each silo containing dispersed expertise.

Margaret Kelsey
User-centric design for large enterprises

Resistance to change what works ⛔

It’s human nature to be risk-averse, especially if you have been doing things a certain way for a long time and nothing has ever exploded as a result. Continuity is often highly valued within traditional organisations, and with good reason.

Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘loss aversion’. Discovered by Daniel Kahneman, loss aversion explains our tendency to keep what we have rather than gain something equivalent or possibly even better.

We’re all hard-wired to value what we have more than what we could have, and this in-built resistance can make it challenging to adopt new user-centric practices, both on an organisational and personal level.

Often, there’s also a lack of understanding within the wider organisation as to what modern design practices are really all about, making this resistance even more likely (and understandable!).

This can stem from and feed into a lack of design culture. Whilst many enterprise companies have design resource in-house, design can frequently be treated as ‘a department that produces nice looking things’ rather than something to embed and ultimately guide the wider organisation.

Fast deadlines, slow changes ⏱️

Traditional businesses often have legacy systems and processes that are not designed to prioritise user needs. These systems are often difficult to modify or update, making it heavy work to incorporate new user-centric practices.

Where organisations have willingness to change there can still be a frustrating struggle to adapt long-established systems.

Paradoxically, enterprise companies may have these slow-moving and complicated ways of working, but at the same time tend to think in the short-term and impose hard, short timelines.

A business where the focus is on meeting deadlines means that it’s speed rather than user-insight informing the decision making process.

How can an enterprise businesses become a user-centric organisation?

If you’re in an influential position at an enterprise business and curious about putting users at the heart of operations, you might feel a bit gloomy having read all those challenges.

The good news though is that there are loads of things an internal champion like you (yeah that’s you, the champ 🏆) can do to help user-centricity get established in even the most traditional organisation.

Where does your organisation sit on the product maturity scale?

Understanding this is the first step in becoming a modern, user-centric business 🚀

Find out

The best way we’ve found around this is to think big and bold but act small and often.

Conor Ward
Director of Design, BT

Small, manageable activities that show the value of a change in direction can be incredibly powerful.

  • Value: Are you making sure key stakeholders are made explicitly aware of the value of the organisation’s user-focused activities, for example research?
    • Are reports on such activities made engaging and crystal clear for them?
    • Is it immediately obvious why they should take note?
    • Are user-centred design activities being measured effectively?
  • Strategy: Are lines of communication open across the organisation?
    • How often do the C-suite and design team interact?
    • Does design have a place at board level?
    • How strong is leadership’s understanding of modern user-centred design activities?
    • What about the rest of the business? Is everyone included in this journey? Are they empowered to try new things? Do they have all the training they need?

It’s human nature for people to contribute if they feel their input is valued and worthwhile – but for that to happen, everyone needs to understand exactly what it is they’re expected to buy into.

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At the heart of it, building understanding of the business value and faith in the processes of user-centred design is key.

Whether the process is headed up by internal advocates, external specialists or a combination of the two (our favourite approach), a sensible plan of quick wins will bolster confidence, and help embed the skills needed for a truly user-centric organisation across the board.

In a nutshell…

We’ve seen that the large size and complex structure of enterprise organisations can lead to siloed departments, as well as resistance to change and tight deadlines that prioritise speed over user insight.

Small, manageable activities that show the value of a change in direction are the way to get started, along with clear communication and effective measurement of user-centred design tasks.

Ultimately, becoming a user-centric organisation requires a cultural shift that prioritises collaboration, experimentation, and a deep understanding of user needs and wants.

Shifts of this sort are by their nature an evolving process not a ‘one and one’ activity that can be completed within a set timescale.

The shared journey is just as important as the destination if change is to be truly meaningful.

Ready to go on a bold journey?

Our product maturity framework will help you to uncover blind spots and give actionable, bite-sized activities to get started on 🤘

Let's go!