"I didn't realize it required so many different skills," the newly-appointed user experience (UX) team manager told us. "I mean, it seemed so straight forward when we came up with the idea, but once we got into it, we kept realizing all the things we didn't know how to do."

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time we'd heard this from a manager. In fact, we hear it quite often. Managers embark on a project, say a redesign of a critical internal application, only to realize their team, proficient in a few skills, doesn't have the breadth of skills necessary to develop a quality experience. The result is an app that works, but frustrates the users because it doesn't quite meet their needs.

Migrating Away from the Specialists Approach

Traditionally, when an organization set out to build a UX team, they did so by recruiting and hiring individuals trained in the various specialties. The individuals, having studied and practiced in areas, such as information architecture, visual design, and usability research, were hired to spend their days applying these skills to solve the organization's design challenges.

However, most organizations couldn't afford such a team. Either they didn't have the budget to have someone dedicated to one area or they didn't have the workload demand to justify it. Since the specialists weren't really trained beyond their specialty, they couldn't easily be assigned other work. (And if they were, they often resented the vast amounts of non-specialty work.)

Organizations that couldn't afford a team would then "wing it", training the personnel at hand to solve the problems on an as-needed-basis. These individuals, not having the experience and solid work time to dive deep into a specialty became generalists who could do many things on a satisfactory basis, but few things as well as the specialists.

Yet, over time, the specialties have become better at explaining what they do. Through conferences, a vast amount of well-written books, certificate programs, and online resources, the wealth of knowledge formerly only available to trained specialists is now generally available. Add that to the growing sophistication of today's projects, and today's best teams have generalists with experience and a level of knowledge on par with the top specialists.

Assessing the Team's UX Skills

Part of the role of today's UX manager is to ensure the UX team has all the necessary skills, at the best level possible. To do this, they need an easy way to assess the current skills of the team. Once they've got their assessment in hand, it's fairly straightforward to design a coaching and training curriculum to fill in the gaps.

To help managers with the assessment, we've created a simple 130-point scoring process. They can just walk through the various skill areas, rating their team on a 0-5 scale, based on the teams current level of competency. When done, they'll not only have an understanding of the team's overall effectiveness, but a clear idea of where to improve.

The assessment is easy to complete. For each of the skill areas listed below, a manager rates their team using the following scoring criteria:

The Core UX Skills

Now that we know how to rate the team, what do we rate them on? For the last few years, we've been studying the most effective teams, isolating those skills that make the most difference.

In our research, we've identified eight Core UX Skills. Teams directly apply these skills during the planning, design, and development phases to ensure the best possible user experience. The Core UX Skills are:

Because these skills are critical to the user experience, we double the rating we give them when we're combining the scores to determine a team's overall rating. For example, if a team warrants a 4 in Information Design, we'd count it as 8 in the final assessment. If a team scored 5 points in each of the Core UX Skills, they'd get a total of 80 points.

The Enterprise UX Skills

Along with the Core UX Skills, teams now need skills to enhance their value across the enterprise. User experience extends beyond the on-screen interactions to all touch points with the user. Special skills are needed to ensure the team interacts with the rest of the organization in a productive manner. While the teams don't need to know how to do the jobs of others in the organizations, they need to know how those other roles will influence the design. These Enterprise UX skills include:

Of course, you may find there are other skills critically necessary to succeed in your organization or environment. You can add them into your assessment formula alongside the skills listed above.

Arriving at the Team's Rating

The formula we use for calculating a team's rating is (Core UX Skills x 2) + Enterprise UX Skills. With 8 Core UX skills and 10 Enterprise UX Skills, the top score is (40 x 2) + 50 or 130.

How well did your team do? Here's some guidance we give the teams we assess:

With the assessment in hand, team managers can now look for ways to enhance their team's capability and improve the team's productivity and results.

More on UX teams

Continuing on the theme of evaluating team skills is Dan Brown's UIE Virtual Seminar, Plays Well With Others: Survival Skills for Design Teams. Dan will show you how to assess talent and skills available to team leaders for more efficient and effective projects. And designers will understand what they need to best fit on an effective team. Learn more about this webinar.

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How are you ranking your teams' skills? Share your thoughts with us on our blog.

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