ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

Managing your UX investment to protect and nurture your product

As your product needs evolve over time, the ability to scale your UX resources up or down is crucial to maximizing your product’s growth — and your UX budget’s impact.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons we encourage EdTech companies to think of their UX spend as an investment rather than a strict, project-by-project budget. When you invest in UX as an ongoing project (on a quarterly basis, for example), you free up your product and UX teams to work more efficiently and productively as they identify solutions and resolve problems.

But the investment approach to funding your UX initiatives still requires careful attention to how and when your money is put to use. It’s one thing to have an investment number set, and another to actually use it properly. The ability to quickly throttle your UX investment’s burn rate must be balanced with a clear understanding of your product roadmap, including upcoming priorities and an appreciation for the unknown issues that might arise.

A properly managed UX investment begins with a well-defined product roadmap — and ends with clear communication. Here’s some advice about how to guide your product team so that they do both things well.

What’s at Stake: the Risks of Mismanaging Your UX Investment

Of course, EdTech companies never intentionally mismanage their UX investments. But it can happen. And when it does, it’s the products themselves that are at risk.

The first stumbling block arises when companies don’t green-light enough UX initiatives in the early stages of the investment period — and then find themselves scrambling to spend the remainder before the end of the quarter.

The reality is that in corporate America, surpluses are often discovered late. For marketers, this isn’t a big deal. It’s easy enough to create more assets, run an additional campaign, or make updates to the website. But it’s a different story in the product world.

When you rush to spend money on UX initiatives just so you don’t lose access to that budget the following quarter, it’s more challenging to utilize that money responsibly. You risk throwing money at problems that don’t really need solving — or that aren’t really the highest priority.

The second issue arises when EdTech companies determine a UX investment level for a set period of time and then accelerate their UX initiatives early on in the investment period. When they do this, they effectively reduce their UX output for the latter part of the contract.

It’s a little like sprinting the first few miles of a 10k and not leaving enough fuel in the tank for the final paces. These companies may be pegging their UX activities to the items on their product roadmap — but they still risk coming up short in the event of an unexpected problem (or a newly discovered priority) in the final weeks or months of their investment period.

Smart UX Investing: Letting Your UX Partner Be Your Guide

Working with the right UX agency can go a long way in preventing these problems. For example, we work with our clients to assess their goals and known problems at the outset to set the right level of investment. Then, we take the lead in responsibly stewarding that investment over the course of the investment period, whether that’s 3 months, 6 months, or a year.

In addition to regularly reporting on each client’s spend, we work with our clients to prioritize among various UX initiatives and create a schedule that lends itself to a more even burn rate over the investment period. As you might expect, this is only possible to the extent that clients have a firm grasp on their product roadmap and a willingness to invest accordingly.

Guiding Your Product & UX Teams: Planning Your Product Roadmap Wisely for Maximum ROI

In some ways, properly managing your product’s UX investment begins with an appreciation of the value of UX and the nature of product development. Corporations are accustomed to approving set budgets for individual divisions and expecting those units to find a way to stay within their budgetary boundaries. But budgeting for product development is a little bit different. It’s not always possible to perfectly predict the level of investment that will be required for a product from quarter to quarter.

We don’t have to tell you that product development is fast-moving. New problems and priorities frequently surface that simply couldn’t have been anticipated. The same thing goes for your product’s UX, which is inextricably bound to every facet of your product.

That doesn’t mean you can’t plan responsibly and set a realistic level of financial investment in your product from quarter to quarter. And it certainly doesn’t mean that your product team should operate with a blank check. However, budgeting for product development does require greater flexibility.

The success of your product will depend on your ability to make wise decisions about what needs to happen now (even if you didn’t plan for it) and what can wait. That’s part of why an investment-type budgeting model tends to work better for product development and UX work, in particular. It allows for greater flexibility in addressing the needs of a product as they arise.

Take the following steps to set your product team up for success in responsibly managing your product’s UX investment:

  1. Keep your product roadmap up-to-date, with clearly delineated goals for the next 12-18 months. That way, if you end up with “found” budget at the end of an investment period, you and your UX partner will have a clear idea of how best to make use of it.
  2. Create clear lines of communication between your product team, UX partner, and your leadership team. In order to flexibly accommodate your product’s needs, your entire team needs to be accountable and responsible in decision-making. And that requires excellent communication. This starts with your product team and UX team working in tandem to continually assess the product’s current needs. Your product team must then be prepared to explain those needs as they arise to leadership (particularly if they necessitate an additional investment). They must be able to make a solid business case by defining the problem, explaining what’s at stake if it isn’t fixed, and providing an estimate of the cost and time required to fix it. If leadership decides not to invest additional funds, they can do so with a clear understanding of the risks.
  3. Provide your product team with the right resources. Finally, commit to providing your product team with the right resources, including everything from UX research and design to content. And be prepared to stay flexible — while also making smart decisions.

Investing wisely in your EdTech product’s UX enables you to nurture its growth and ensure its success. That means investing at the right level — and spending that money wisely. With proper planning, excellent communication, and the right UX partner to guide you, you can do just that.

  • 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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