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Venafi UX Organization Building

My Roles and Involvement

First UX hire, initial UX manager, UX organization leader, initial “agile team” guinea pig

Key Collaborators

Sr. Director of Product Management, CTO, VP of Product and Engineering, Software Development Managers

Venafi is an enterprise encryption management company with a large install base throughout the Global 2000, but had no end-user presence. The engineering and product management departments wanted to bring a new focus on user experience and satisfaction. This was to be a long term, ongoing effort to shift the company from a total lack of UX to a “user delight” driven company.

UX at Venafi was very different than most places that I had worked, or any of my peers. The subject matter was foreign to 99% of UX and design people out there. Enterprise UX is in the minority, and enterprise PKI UX is probably a minority subset of that. Getting up to speed and gaining in-depth knowledge of the front-end of PKI was an awesome experience to have, it’s not a UX niche that most people will run in to. The cosumerization of the enterprise and especially security was a environment where almost everything you did to the experience was an improvement. That didn’t mean it was easy! Working in such a specialized medium was a UX project in itself.


The primary goal of building a UX organization within Venafi was to “consumerize” the enterprise software experience and give end users something that was simple, easy to use, and beautifully designed.

Primary Problems

  • No design or UX presence
  • Well established waterfall product development process
  • No concept of iteration, testing, rapid experimentation
  • No experience in IA, wireframing, mockups or prototypes
  • Development was a complete silo

Project Challenges

The main challenge establishing UX at Venafi was the well established waterfall development process. There was no concept of design, personas,  iteration, user testing, or any other UX fundamentals. As an enterprise software organization, design and experience had not historically been a priority.

Developing enterprise encryption software had its own inherent challenges. As it was not a web or cloud based product, release dates were unavoidable as customers needed to have advanced notice when new versions were coming out, and new customers needed to be able to plan hardware purchases, change control windows, and the install and deployment of the software in test labs well before deployment into production environments. This meant that the actual usage of the software by end users could be a distant, drawn out process as users could not directly access it before the long-tail business processes were complete.


UX organization process flow


  • Development of comprehensive user personas
  • Establishment of more agile, iterative process
  • Creation of cross functional, multi dimensional teams of designers, developers, QA and product managers.
  • Inclusion of design and testing before the development process

The central theme in moving from “no UX” to a UX driven process was the slow, persistent pull towards the iterative cycle that involved design and testing before spending significant time developing. Agile principles played a big part in this, as well as the creation of cross functional teams that brought together designers, developers, product managers, QA and documentation writers. Working as a group made it much easier to rapidly design and develop through iterations and include feedback and testing without having things get lost or thrown over a wall to uninvolved parties.


UX testing documentation and plan

Another part of the success of UX at Venafi was the support and inclusion of upper management and executives into the process. By keeping everyone informed at all levels, people were able to see the progress, methods, and successes of a lean, user driven process. This lead to a snowball effect of interest and support that grew steadily over time and helped UX become something that Venafi came to rely on.


UX testing process flows


Venafi was able to accept and embrace UX as a new way of thinking. The user personas were adopted throughout the company and became “household names” in conversation. Product development had a focus on iteration, testing, and incorporating user feedback directly into the process. They also adopted an Agile process and moved away from the waterfall method they had previously used for many years. UX designers became primary contributors to the product lifecycle and development process, and were a required asset on every new project.


Internal UX evangelism visualization

As a result of the inclusion of UX practices, experiences and interfaces became much easier to use, aggressively vetted with customers during the design and planning phase, and targeted towards end user ease of use and delight.

The people at Venafi speak in terms of the user now, and keep the experience of the company at the front of their minds. Competing in the enterprise space depends on the “consumerization” of software, and providing an experience that mimics and rivals the experiences that the customers have in their everyday lives.


UX service mapping exercise


UX war-room wall