Posted by: communicationcloud | December 2, 2011

Measuring success in UX and customer-service teams. Part 1: defining success

How do you know you’re successful at work? How do you demonstrate to colleagues and peers that the work your team is performing well? How do you build your case for expanding your team?

I’ve been talking to several people involved in designing and communicating about software products in various companies recently about how to go about doing this, and it’s a hot topic …so I thought it might be useful to some to describe a way to go about it.

When you’re working as part of a team of specialists in a complex area – like making products more usable or implementing self-service customer care – it can be particularly difficult to have conversations about performance, because people find it more difficult to understand what your team is for.

Metrics and measures are often the language of success in a business, but to get them in place and use them to communicate with your colleagues, you need to start by developing a nice clear picture of your purpose.

In this article, I’m going to describe a way to step back and define what success “looks like” for you; I’ll follow up shortly with a 2nd post on how to measure progress towards success.

 What do you need to achieve?

Here’s a simple (ish) way to step back and work out what you need to do to be successful.

  1. Define the headline business goal that you’re working towards. This is usually the answer to the question “why does my team exist?”

For the moment, forget that you’re trying to come up with measures; instead, focus on describing what you’re trying to achieve, in a way that fits with the overall business goals.

If your goal just doesn’t fit with the overall business goal, then it might be time to rethink what you’re trying to achieve, and why – it’s going to be difficult to get support if what you’re doing doesn’t fit with what the business is working towards. An exception to this is the case where the business has an “official” goal, but it’s largely ignored by senior management. In these cases, you need to find out what goals are really being pursued by the people whose support you want – and express your goal in a way that supports those.

2. Work out what has to happen to achieve your goal? Let’s call this sub-goal A.

3. Work out what has to happen to achieve sub-goal A? Let’s call this sub-goal B.

4. Keep going until you can’t go any further.

5. Test out your success criteria by explaining them to colleagues. The success map framework below provides a useful way to do this, and is a useful way to help your own thought processes too.

Creating a visual success map

Here’s a a handy framework for visualising the things you need to do to be successful. This comes from the “Strategic Performance Management” course at Cranfield University School of Management (highly recommend this course, by the way, if you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity). You’ll see that it splits goals into different perspectives with “financial” at the top – because that’s usually the headline goal of any business. If your headline goal doesn’t fit here, then it should probably fit under “customer” perspective instead, but link to a higher-level financial goal (unless your business really doesn’t care about making money).

In this success map, I’ve focused on the example of a customer-service team (mostly because this should be easy for people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to relate to). You’ll notice it’s incomplete. You might not agree with the things that I’ve put on it. This isn’t too important; it’s just there as an example of how a team might go about mapping their goals.

How the success map works

Here’s how to read the map:

  • The headline goal is a financial one: “reduce cost of supporting users”
  • What needs to happen to achieve it is that the online self-service capability needs to be improved and products need to be made easier to use
  • What needs to happen to improve online self-service capability is that the right product-support topics need to be written and the search engine’ performance needs to be improved
  • What needs to happen to get the right product-support topics written is that the team need more product training and access to customer feedback

I’ve simplified the map, to make it easier to understand, but additional complexities are entirely possible:

–          You can have an entire sub-tree of goals relating to a single perspective (in fact, you probably will)

–          You can miss out a perspective when you’re defining goals – as long as all sub-goals relate somehow to the headline goal

Here’s an example of a slightly more complex version of the success map:


Testing your success map

Once you’ve drawn up your success map, you can test it on yourself by reading it from the bottom up, asking “why” at each step. For example:

  • Why is product training important? Because it will help produce the right product-support topics.
  • Why is producing the right product-support topics important? Because it will help increase the online self-service capability.
  • And so on…

If you’ve worked on this map on your own, I suggest you now go and test it out by explaining it and encouraging people to interrogate you about the details.

Next steps: defining your measures

You now have a list of all the things you need to achieve success. Well done;)

All you need to do now is define a way of measuring progress towards each, and you’ll have a measurement framework. i’ve written about this in my next article: Creating a measurement framework



  1. […] In an attempt to give a more useful answer, in my last post I wrote about how to create a success map that defines success in a UX, technical communication or customer service team. Here’s that post, in case you missed it: Measuring success…part 1: Defining success […]

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