Case Study

Embedding UX Culture


Wolters Kluwer, TAA (Tax & Accounting)

Roles I’ve served:

  • Head of UX, Cloud Strategy Solutions Division
  • Thought Leader in UX
  • Lead in UX Community for TAA Europe
  • Head Coach in Training UX


  • Led a community of UX managers in Europe for up-skilling & raising the bar of UX awareness & level of excellence, resulting in 210% increase User research & usability testings across the countries
  • Created a center of excellence to serve the European markets comprised of 9 countries to increase UX best practices within the division
  • Led workshops at community-level which produced 21 assets for the Design system for complex software to cater to the whole division, a 1st time for the DS to have complex software components added
  • Coordinated the “Train the Trainers” program for a span of 12 months for a community of all of the UX managers in Europe. It featured best practices from Lean UX, Contextual design, Goal-orientated design
  • Spear-headed qualitative research, IXD & introduced usability testing as a common practice to cross-functional leaders for a pan-European Cloud platform project to consolidate inconsistent product solutions

Overall company culture & processes unfortunately had UX marginalized to engage near the end of the product design process (instead of at the start).

The orgs were HEAVY on UI but light on UX (for some, non-existent).

The Greatest Confusion: UI over UX

  • Chronic misunderstanding of roles & responsibilities of UX within all the orgs were leading problems. It was needed to clarify that UX is distinct from UI and have different skill-sets & focus
  • The company as a whole has 2 pillars of reporting lines (Tech & PM). UX serving under one of them (and not reporting under Design) had led to UX being limited to UI production mainly while any UX efforts were seen as overheads & expendable.
image of build build build!

Clashes with SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

  • To exacerbate the issue (of UI over UX confusion) the orgs were adopting SAFe, a set of organizational and workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. It is well known for optimizing code production & speed while it is vague on how to incorporate UX into its process
  • UX teams were over-stretched with many UI demands generated from new feature ideas requested directly from product management

‘Feature-itis’ – a condition where the whole org is focused on delivering features endlessly while usability is low.

Imagine a scenario where a software product adds on features year after year while not taking the time to check if they are actually adding value to User (and are actually being used). Then consider the complexity it creates for the designer to fit in (or hide) the UI, and for the development team to maintain the code.

All of this leads to extra costs for the business and affecting the bottom line just to have it available in the market. All the while it is making it difficult for the User to adapt and will not get used. There’s an infamous company product of this scenario where it had 621 features in its 10+ years of existence. When a proper study was done it showed that less than 5% of the features were used with regular frequency. The remaining features were perhaps gets used once in awhile or for extreme edge cases. This begs to question to the whole org then, “why are you making life so difficult for your Users and yourselves”? 

checklist in understanding UX and SAFe challenges

Having had witnessed a few SAFe rituals from several countries and formulated my own observations, it was necessary to hear from the UX managers of those organizations. We’ve had multiple group discussions with representations from all the countries and had discovered common pain-points as patterns. It was followed up with anonymous surveys, individual interviews to get the context & detailed scenarios. The below were the top common patterns:

  • Confusion of UX with UI
    • Colleagues believe that UX is the same as UI design; regards research / testing as less priority and gets passed over frequently
    • ‘Final design’ upfront demands being a standard
  • Timing out-of-sync & lack of time
    • UX brought in at end of process and little change of adjustments even with UX recommendations
    • Not enough time within the PI to perform the needed design activities including testing – frequently 1 sprint is not enough
    • UX gets blamed for delays or development challenges due to requested iterations & changes based on User input
  • Exclusion to product visioning
    • Not being involved with Lean Portfolio Management (on Epic level with PMs)
    • Being met with closed ideas & required only for final designs for specific UI components. UX is not included in the business/decision flow for backlogs

If research is cut off, UX is unable to contribute its most valuable skills to the org (at start of the process) with insights gathering & test experiements…

At this trajectory, it was probable that a revolving door in UX recruitment will continue; UX teams are experiencing hired UX designers leaving and are mainly replaced with UI/Visual designers to focus on final designs for UI production. Meanwhile the orgs run the risk of producing features & products which will not be adopted by Users due to little or no UX done.

It was time to mind-map & discuss potential remedies on tackling the issues raised. The UX managers / Leads themselves had clear ideas on how to improve the situation moving forward as illustrated below.

map of UX leads commenting on sisues with SAFe

This council of UX Leads had come to realization in these sessions together that although there are cases of nuanced factors for each country but have shared many common pain-points as patterns as well. They’ve now a shared understanding on what challenges they all face together.

It was a chronic issue with having the wrong mindset, misunderstanding when to engage (and not engage) UX, and jumping into solutions without truly understanding what the problem is to solve…


It was clear that the problem is rooted with  training & cultural issues within their organizations. Now the question was HOW to overcome this.

“Train the Trainers” Program 

To ensure a level of consistency/standards to be set by the UX community of best practices & principles, a training program had begun consisting of guest speakers & trainers I’ve invited into the coaching staff. We were investing into our UX leads/managers for 12 months with cadenced workshops on best practices & principles in UX –in order for them to bring back to their orgs and train their colleagues themselves.

Building up the UX Community & Workshop sessions

  • Firstly, a community for UX was required, a place of learning as well as sharing of insights, ideas with each other, and to support one another. In the first month, I’ve nurtured & led a community of UX managers from the countries– as the ‘Agents of Change’. Initially it was exclusive to the heads of UX from each countries intentionally to focus on strategy & high-level issues (and filter out noise). In the 2nd year, we’ve expanded this community to a wider audience in a separate channel, engaging cross-functional colleagues, designers , developers, even HR managers.

  • The community bonded naturally with the discovery of common pains and obstacles for UX across the countries. The discussions of possible remedies led me to focus on including training programs for the whole community– to train the trainers, the UX managers to bring the best practices to their orgs

  • A Lean UX competition was set to rally the countries to celebrate progress, wins & share actual artifacts within the community, and learn from each other as well.


3 Core Functions Working Together

  • Product Manager – advocates the needs & goals of business
  • Tech / lead engineer – advocates the feasibility & time on implmentation
  • UX lead – advocates the goals & needs of Users; facilitates the workshop as moderator
image of Risk reward chart with post-it notes
title of roadmap for change

Strategy For the Community & Serving Each Country

  • Understand each orgs in order to gauge where they are currently
  • Having a roadmap of the next 3 years for UX in Europe – for training & continued growth for the community required budget & buy-in on the strategy from regional leadership
  • Having customized roadmap/ UX plan to serve the countries at individual level in building up UX practices & standards– this is to be done with stakeholder interviews & custom roadmap for each individual organization.

It’s not enough to ramp up the UX team within the orgs, but essential to get support from the whole org for UX.

Peter Drucker's quote and chart
Everyone Needs To Buy-in
  • Enabling & shepherding the entire organization to “buy-in” the new UX culture & methodologies was key. This stood to be the biggest challenge and would take the longest time to take traction; a matter of months or even years for some countries. Training the UX leads wasn’t enough to affect cultures within orgs, although it was the first step in a long process
  • UX cannot happen without advocates & champions from all levels– top-down, middle and ground up. At every opportunity, I had placed positive pressure on regional leadership with periodic meetings and presentations echoing this sentiment.
The roadmap creation step by step
  1. Org study – deep dive
    1. Assessing the country’s stage of UX maturity with deeper understanding of org’s structure & political landscape for change
    2. The above is best achieved via meeting & interviewing the people of the org – all levels & functions
  2. Identify bright spots
    1. What’s working already well?
    2. What does the org understand already in UX?
    3. How can we build UX momentum off of that?
    4. What other roles are working well, and how can those be co-opted?
  3. Develop a custom strategy
    1. Eg. 3-5 months of “process beta” – training & win project
    2. 6-24 months of “staffed UX effort”; further training, staffing with senior UXers, UX projects in swing
    3. 24-48 months of “UX program” – field studies & testing, UX management
  4. Identify UX sponsors
    1. Seek & find sponsors/champions at all 3 levels – Leadership / exec, management, grass-roots (developers)
    2. Form alliances / co-opt for internal support
  5. Exercise UX cycling & measurement
    1. Iterate practices on evidence based insights
    2. Become active with qualitative info from field research
sample scorecard for UX maturity
title- what drives UX?

Building Bridges with the Product Management Community

  • Cultural change needs to happen across all levels including the Heads of Product who has high influence on their orgs. By speaking at their conference and started building relationships & rapport with them was a fundamental start in the process
  • Highlighted the importance of engaging UX early in order to maximize success & minimize risks in time / costs – all serves business
  • Engage conversations on best practices in Lean which can help business win
  • Updated them on latest movements in UX community and Co-opt PMs in the cultural change ahead
Role of UX
chart of User adoption & costs of design changes
Breaking it down – roles & responsibilities of UX

In addressing the Heads of product in Europe in a presentation, it was critical to be aware that it was a mixed group with some are already advocates of Human-centered Design and some were detractors, and many were in the middle. Quite frankly, even UXers get confused with many buzz-words of various methodologies. We’ve spent the opening 7 minutes discussing how it all is at the core the same – having the Customer & his needs at the center of the process. And its execution depends on not UX designers exclusively but from non-designers, Product managers as well. In fact it’s a whole organizational affair in order to work.

Debunking the myth that User research was too costly & adds excess time was the next point to get across, with examples of modern tools & practices for ‘rapid learning’ experiments to get validation on key decisions on design. In the same context, a clear distinction of focus & responsibilities between UX & UI was explained. As many UX departments reported under Product, it was essential that they were aligned on UX skill-sets for future recruitment.

What is “User advocacy” and why does it matter to business?

Statistics & figures sit well with Product executives, it was important to speak their business language in order to get a good outcome from the presentation. Facts show that approx. 70% of new software products fail due to Users not accepting the products. Hence User adoption is key to beat the percentages and meet success. In order to gain User adoption, User advocacy is essential– a practice of having genuine empathy with Users. In order to achieve genuine empathy (and not remote empathy which is far worse) a discipline of consistent HCD (Human Centered Design) needs to be practiced, connecting back to the earlier point in the need for UX.

Imagine having to spend 3-4 years in UI design & development and to realize that it failed when released in the market due to lack of User adoption; one can easily quantify the cost of that failed venture – all due to skipping on UX and focusing solely on UI. Another example showcased was the system (still in the market) which has 621 features while only 5% of them are actually used regularly by customers. One can quantify the costs of maintaining those unused features in code as well as UI design efforts in the coming years. And if we add on the costs of cognitive taxing those features enforce on Users, the costs are overwhelming to the brand & the business.

Why involve UX at the start instead of at the end? Can we afford NOT to?

The cost for design changes skyrockets if UX is consulted at the end (near launch date). In comparison, if UX is approached at the start the costs in those changes are at its lowest with the benefit of higher maneuverability for options. In my experience, whenever UX is brought in at the end the UX recommendations gets ignored by tech/business due to lack of time & costs involved – leading to a deficient product to release and adding risks of failed User adoption.

title-support calls to each country

Support To Each Country

  • Regular support calls with country’s UX leads on their custom training program to enhance areas to improve in adopting Lean UX / Human-centered design’s best practices
  • At country level, I’ve conducted interviews with key cross-functional leaders in the orgs, which gave insights on UX maturity level assessment. It was followed with tailored roadmap for a gradual path of having a more embedded UX culture
  • Scorecards in adopting SAFe with Lean UX was assessed for each country – to first understand in order to support

1-to-1 meetings to listen & coach

Finding the gaps & talking through probable remedies together…

Further tailored training & guidance, fortnightly

support calls 1 to 1
title-key values and mission

Shared Vision / Mission & KPIs as a Community

  • I’ve coordinated the discussion & workshop on what the UX community’s common values & its focused mission are– decided as a group
  • Mapping of key responsibilities UX should take to serve their orgs
  • Mapping & ranking the top initiatives the community needs to undertake to make impact
  • As a result, the group came together on a set of common vision & high level KPIs to take, setting up for the next several years to mobilize in achieving them.


Mapping shared goals as a community – a Mission Statement based on common Values.

I had confidence in the UX leads to arrive to the all-important declaration of what the community’s key values are, and its ultimate mission. Dot democracy was used to vote on various statements outputted from the session.

dot democracy in action
top votes in key values for UX community
Top agenda for UXC
image of The mission statement of UX community

Self-realization as a group was far more powerful than having an executive or a boss tell that how it should be. They own this declaration as their own to march forward, self-motivated.

title - KPI for UX

Measuring the Rate of Customer Validation

  • Based on feedback from the UX leads that across all of their organizations, their orgs suffered from a mindset that it does enough customer validation & research when in reality that is far from fact. A way to measure this based on evidence was needed, a scorecard on how the org as a whole is performing on this key indicator
  • Lack of visibility of this KPI and no incentive of UX activity participation from cross-functional colleagues were needed to be addressed in order to improve
  • Each quarter, under my guidance the UX managers (custodians of this scorecard) would submit it along with business reviews to the MD of Europe – inciting interest from the whole org in doing this well, a first for the company
  • The rate of customer research will become a direct indicator of how the business will be impacted.



“What gets measured gets done.”
                           – Peter Drucker

By establishing clear operational metrics and evaluate performance, companies have the advantage of using what is crucial to stay competitive in the market, and that’s data.

Sample view of UX KPI no.1

It was to be an whole wide org’s affair with collaborations from collegues from Tech & PM were expected & to be measured at intervals of 3 months led by the country’s UX lead. Key items in the metrics included:

  • Qty. of customer insights gained
  • Qty. of feauture ideas / hyphothesis validated with Users based on facts
  • Ranking the quality & cadence of usability tests undertaken
title- KPI no.2

Measuring the Rate of UX Debt

  • A prime pain-point the UX teams all suffer from– Usability gets compromised with either tech/business constraints placed and run up UX debt (work omitted or cut out) affecting usability for customers
  • I’ve led the community to have a shared set of criteria to measure the UX debt (and the rate of churn/ to reduce the items on list)
  • Rate of performance on this on this quarterly measurement is shared with top executives in business reviews including the MD of Europe, which will gain engagement from rest of org to take action.
image of KPI no.2

Running up UX debt exponentially & getting forgotten over time was a common issue experienced by all 9 countries.

Each unpaid UX debt leads to negative implications to the company’s success as poor usability hurts the bottom line.

Working together towards reducing the debt would be in the interest of everyone in the company.

Key items in the metrics included:

  • Qty. of High User Value & Low Effort
  • % of capacity allocated to reduce UX debt from total backlog
  • % of churn (diminishing) of debt items

Building Bridges With the SAFe Community

  • Friction & frustration with SAFe framework marginalising UX to be “UI production farm” were the common issues across European orgs, with both communities (UX & SAFe) at odds on how to work together
  • Speaking at the SAFe Leadership conference, I gave a presentation on what is UX & what it is not, how UX can serve for better development & the orgs. It resulted in building relationships with several key Leads in SAFe across the countries as a good start to open the required conversations on how to collaborate better
  • I was able to have great follow-up meetings to open the door for UX managers to get more visibility on PI planning & influence the product decisions at much earlier in the process.



Looking for bright spots & alliances from each functions to co-opt into the movement of the UX cultural change…

title- how we work together

Visual Map of the Product Design Process As a Cycle

  • The Go-To-Market (GTM) department which handles the market research (and related customer feedback) from a pricing & launch/marketing stand-point also clashed with UX
  • Many of the countries’ UX Teams were being restricted from doing UX research due to PM & GTM’s belief that the research work is already done by from their process –this was due to confusion on what Market research vs User research is fundamentally
  • I’ve engaged with the head of GTM & Product from Europe to discuss and map out a way to better collaborate; it led to the need to have a visual process map for other departments to understand when is ideal to engage with UX and when not-to-engage
  • It resulted in a draft process map which outlines the whole product design cycle with Lean UX, GTM, PM, SAFe processes all considered – it was a start for further discussions & refinement.
image of various boards in product life cycle
title- remote workshop training

Training the whole Org on Lean UX– UK as a Pilot

  • Once the UX managers were trained on best practices for Lean UX, goal oriented design, next step was the support them in tackling the training issues for their colleagues from other departments – a tough challenge with varying levels of detractors for change
  • I served as a partner to the UX manager (UK) to tailor a program best suited for the org & based on my previous observations of its UX maturity and sourced an agency who can deliver it
  • The chosen agency was brought in to assist in a week-long training (remotely due to COVID) with a team of trainers/educators to run training/workshops using actual project problems to use to solve via the best practices in Lean UX / Human-centred design
  • UK went first as a pilot run to see if it can be scaled to be applied to other European countries as well. It was well received and dramatic impact on boosting the shift in mindset & perception of the local UX team. This led to a roll-out to other countries that following year.
image of work boards in UX workshops
title- indicators of traction

Signs of Positive Impact

  • The program of “cultural change” was in full flight now, the fully-trained UX managers were key in pushing the best practices from grass roots & ground up – once they were supported with training, extra resources and the network of the community, the wind was in their sails to keep progressing as ‘change agents’ in UX culture for their orgs
  • Light training for the whole org as an intro to Lean UX with an external agency boosted UX awareness & skillsets throughout the org with non-UX colleagues (especially from the PM function) empowered to practice the methodologies themselves, a good start to UX democratization
  • Having the 2 KPIs shared with the ‘C-suite’ leaders have led to a shift in mindset from cross-functions; UX leads were now getting approached by their colleagues regularly on how to improve the performances.
image of KPI performance slides from each org

Cross-functional collegues showing more attention & engagement in User research across countries, the rate gets measured every 3 month intervals…

Changing culture will take time, we knew this coming in. But placing seminal activities & training to jump-start an on-ramp to that journey was accomplished. I had estimated 3-4 years on average in reaching their peaks in maturity.

photo of UK's UX team at work

I wish to thank my coaching staff & partners including Vikenti Kumanikin & Marcello Coppa. Without them it would not have been possible to cover so much ground and at such high quality for the UX Community for those years together.