Expert reviews: aligning the organisational promise

How to run an expert review and apply them effectively to organisational vision and intent.

Traditional forms of expert review tend to focus on usability and more functional aspects of the user experience.

But what if we used expert reviews to make a connection between organisational vision and intent?

An expert review is a usability technique where a group of people with subject matter expertise (“experts”) sit together and rate (or “review”) a product/service. The existing knowledge of these experts makes the process fast, meaning this is a quick way to gather initial hypotheses that can be investigated with other, more user-centric methods like depth interviews. To establish the baseline and align these experts, the product is often rated against a set of agreed-upon criteria called heuristics.

There is plenty of literature on the Internet on how best to conduct an expert review – both the Interaction Design Foundation and the Nielsen-Norman Group have published detailed write-ups on how to conduct “heuristic evaluations” (expert reviews). I’m not going to explain how to conduct an expert review, but instead show the value a business can gain by drawing a parallel between heuristics and organisational value propositions.

Before we begin: what’s an “organisational promise”?

Every organisation has a set of value propositions that make up their product or service offerings. These are the reasons why customers “hire” them and, once hired, become the promises that need to be met for a customer to be satisfied with them. These propositions can range widely, from functional behaviour, to user experience, to “how using a cool-looking gadget makes me look in front of my friends”.

The organisational promise is the reason why customers keep hiring an organisation, so it’s important that the entire organisation understands and focuses its effort on delivering that promise. By seeing these value propositions as heuristics, we can apply expert review concepts around how we construct and communicate heuristics to how we construct and communicate these value propositions.

Alignment and communication: the “heuristic tree”

A well-constructed set of heuristics will consist of a blend of focus areas, each broken down into further detail. Each “child” heuristic might then be broken down further, creating a cascading set of heuristics (a “heuristic tree”). This can break down a big organisational promise into smaller parts that are easier to articulate and deliver.

For example, an organisation with user-centricity at the heart of their promise might articulate that in the following: “Are we serving and selling appropriately to customer needs?” This “parent” heuristic can then be broken down into several “children”:

  1. “Do our marketing communications address known customer needs?” - a heuristic like this communicates a specific direction that marketing teams and content owners can further breakdown and contextualise.

  2. “Do our services help customers make good decisions for themselves?” - a heuristic like this informs a whole range of functions, from product to design, to content.

Each “child” heuristic then becomes a parent in its own right, with its own children that further break down the ways they can be addressed. Having a well-defined heuristic tree  enables conversations over which heuristics apply to which teams, and to what extent. A cascading series of such conversations becomes the backbone that keeps the whole organisation aligned towards delivering the organisational promise.

From strategy to implementation: moving down the tree

In the example above, each child brings an additional layer of context that informs the various ways the parent can be met: (1) is about marketing and communications, while (2) is more about information and interaction design. This additional context informs the various ways a heuristic is being addressed: in the above example, the parent heuristic has a Marketing element, as well as a Product/UX element.

Also, product and delivery teams often have to grapple with translating strategic direction into implementable action. Breaking down a high-level heuristic through parent-child layers informs this translation via the addition of more and more context and detail at each level.

To illustrate this, we take the heuristics in the first example and extend them to a digital team:

Are we serving and selling appropriately to customer needs?
Do our services help customers make good decisions for themselves?

There are many ways the original parent-child set could have been broken down, but this is one possible way that eventually leads to implementable actions for a website team. These heuristics also become the baseline for a more traditional expert review for that website.


Thinking of organisational value propositions as heuristics allows us to use tried-and-tested expert review best-practices at every level of the organisation. By constructing a cascading heuristic “tree”, every level of the organisation can be aligned towards the organisational promise while addressing the unique context of their workstreams.

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