ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

Why you must advocate for flexible UX budgets for your EdTech product

One of the most common challenges we help product leaders work through is how they can plan, build and adapt UX budgets over months, quarters and years. It can be very difficult when setting yearly budgets, for example, when you know unforeseen challenges and opportunities will inevitably require you to pivot along the way. In many organizations, tension arises when internal stakeholders, including CFOs, learn that discovery work has unearthed new insights that require adjustments to timelines and budgets.

But what can you do when your internal stakeholders balk at shifting budget to make those decisions? Whether your organization is a startup or a billion dollar enterprise, the answer is building a culture where it’s safe to allow new insights to inform changes to timelines and budgets. That can be easier said than done though. But it’s incumbent upon product leaders to help stakeholders and key leadership understand and support the need for flexibility in how product budgets are developed and deployed.

What Qualifies as a “Flexible” UX Budget — and Why You Must Champion the Need for One in EdTech

The cornerstone of successful UX planning and execution is a flexible approach that allows you to quickly scale your team’s efforts as needed. The ability to pivot as your team gathers new insights or encounters new challenges is critical. As a product leader, you need key leadership who aren’t as close to product development cycles to have your back in situations that require nimble decision making.

Enlightened stakeholder and leadership cultures that support flexibility in budget allocation share these three attributes: 

  1. They view the product team’s ability to discover new problems and opportunities, even after plans have been put into place, as a strength rather than a failure to forecast.
  2. They support the product team’s freedom to reprioritize objectives, even when it means altering budgets and timelines. 
  3. They value what’s best for the overall product experience above initiatives they may see as their own. 

In short, you must reserve the right to change course with budget amount and budget allocation, and your leadership needs to support it. Here’s why.  

User Research Constantly Reveals the Need to Pivot

The best EdTech products rely on user research, which should happen early and often in product development. Researching competitors and analogous user experiences, auditing current products, conducting user testing, and benchmarking are all part of knowing your users. 

User research reveals what users actually think, feel, and want from your product. And frequently, it’s different from what you expect. User research should prompt pivots; after all, you want to make decisions based on reality, not assumptions. If your processes aren’t flexible, your product simply won’t keep up with changing user needs.

The Educational Space Can Change Overnight

You needn’t look far for evidence that the educational space can change quickly and radically. In 2020, all of EdTech was forced to scramble when product roadmaps were blown to pieces. Product teams had to learn how to keep products usable while making them more adaptive

In 2021, EdTech teams had to get serious about staying relevant in the latter stages of the pandemic. That required identifying which user needs were temporary and which were likely to persist — and acting accordingly.

While another massive crisis may not be around the corner, you now know you must be willing and able to respond decisively to unforeseen events.

Budgeting for Unknowns is Hard – Your UX Partner Should Help You Reprioritize and Adjust Your Plans to Maximize Your Spend Over the Long Haul.

With the rate of change in the educational space, a rigid UX budget just doesn’t work. You need to build room in your budget so you can step up (or scale back) your UX efforts. That’s a tall order — and one that can be gracefully handled with the right external partner.

When you work with Openfield, we help you determine how to build and get the most value out of your budget. Our wide bench and deep expertise in EdTech makes it clear when and how to flex UX work — and that positively impacts your budget, no matter its size. 

These three different scenarios based on your product budget illustrate how we facilitate UX budget flexibility:

1. Well-Established Products Seeking to Protect and Grow Market Share = Target Your UX Efforts Strategically

In our experience, teams that have well-established products with flourishing user bases and solid market share typically enjoy more budget flexibility already. A track record of wins leads to more trust. If that meshes with your reality, you’re in luck. What often will limit you in this scenario is the ability to scale your team quickly enough to adapt to roadmap reprioritization. This is where the flexibility of a highly adaptable partner can help you drive results (and ROI) with strategic, responsive UX investments. 

For example, one month you might need to focus intensively on user research. During that time, we would act as a force multiplier for your research team to allow for greater speed and focus. The following month, you might find that you can pull back on research as your internal product team works to implement changes based on your findings. We’re able to scale up and down as necessary to ensure that your spend keeps pace with your evolving needs. 

If you only have an internal UX research team, you pay them regardless of the product work that needs to be done. Do you really want to pay a researcher’s salary if the workload ebbs and flows? We manage your budget and bring in our experts — only where and when necessary.

2. Entering Product Maturity But Still Need to Grow User Base and Refine Your Product = Be Ready to Shift Your Product Roadmap

If your product has grown beyond the early days of minimum viability to a place where the focus is now on investing more in the user experience in order to get to the next level of increasing market share as quickly as possible, UX becomes a continual and necessary investment. If you’re at this point, your organization understands this and likely has an established UX budget. 

No matter what your budget is, it likely still comes with restraints that you wish you didn’t have. You should still approach UX work with a mindset of flexibility. You shouldn’t just expect to divide your budget by twelve and spend the same amount each month. 

At this stage in your company’s growth, you may need to shift your mindset to allow for the appropriate level of budgeting flexibility. One of the most important things we do for clients is help them build business cases that allows key decision makers to align with what’s needed. 

3. Early-Stage Products Breaking Into the Market = Leverage UX Roadmap Planning and Budgeting Expertise While Entering Growth Mode

If you’re an early-stage product team focused on your entry into the market, you’re likely feeling the need to ready yourself for longer-term UX planning, perhaps for the first time. Every established product team with a million dollar budget once wondered: Do we need to build a sustainable UX budget this early? And if so, how exactly do we do so? 

Engaging a partner like Openfield can be incredibly empowering — and significantly increase your efficacy and momentum as your product matures. We’ll work together to set an appropriate budget, define areas of flexibility, and establish roadmap goals that fit today’s constraints while plotting pathways for scaling down the road. 

On the surface, an external UX team can seem more expensive. But as actual costs and requirements become clear, an external team brings greater value per dollar spent

Your UX Partner Should Help You Build Trust With Internal Stakeholders

Openfield can play a valuable role in helping you educate your stakeholders. We can confidently demonstrate that a flexible UX budget will allow you to quickly uncover and address any product issues as you identify them. That can save budget and build trust — not only with your stakeholders but also with your users. And isn’t that the best return on investment for your EdTech product?

Ready to make your UX budget flex to boost your ROI? Let’s talk.

  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As CXO at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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