I started working for a company as the first and only UX professional on-staff about a year and a half ago. At the time we were in a pretty similar position: while we had projects and deliverables, we didn't have any real goals or mission.
Since I've started, I've been working hard to establish UX as part of the company culture. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.
Above All Else, Establish a Process
The first and biggest step you can take towards gaining more focus on UX within any organization struggling to adopt it fully is to establish a clear process. Every UX designer seems to have their own UX process, myself included, and each process should be different based on context. However, by establishing and socializing your process, you set expectations about what the business can expect from you, and what you can expect from them.
At the feature level, having an established process will help provide a better understanding of timeline and progress among your team members and business partners-- transparency that appears to be sorely lacking. At the user story level, it will also help you establish goals and provide a more clear understanding of expected results of recent work.
To help with transparency, consider adjusting your team's Kanban columns to reflect where your team is in the UX process. Rather than following the traditional "Backlog," "Ready to Work," "In Progress," and "Complete" structure, create columns that reflect the steps in your process such as "Iterating," "Low Res Design," "High Res Design," "Refined With Team," "In Development," "Deployed," and "UX Testing."
Critical to any Kanban team's success is the retrospective-- taking time every so often to look back and discuss what's working well with the team, what isn't, and also to discuss upcoming work. If you don't have occasional retrospectives, either post-release or at regular time periods throughout the year, make sure that you get this on the calendar as part of your overall process.
It's worth noting that, whatever process you use, the process should be your own, based on your understanding of the needs of your company and goals. While it's good to ask for feedback initially, don't wait to set something in stone, even if your feedback on goals and direction is wishy-washy.
Set a meeting with your analysts, head of department, and managers to present your process, with a clear understanding that this is a presentation of what you will be doing and not an invitation for feedback. If nothing else, it's a starting point for a process that can change in the future. In every journey, however, you need to take that first step.
Socialize the Benefits Among Stakeholders
In order to gain buy-in to your process, you must be able to explain why that process is beneficial to your stakeholders.
Who are your stakeholders in this situation?
Your team will gain transparency and reduce friction/time to completion by having a clear understanding of what's expected at each step along the way.
Your business partners will have a better understanding how your team works, and why it makes the requests that it does at different steps in the development cycle. They should also experience a boost in cross-team communication, as any good process places the UX professional in a unique position to coordinate efforts and facilitate communication across groups.
Your end users will experience a better product, gain clarity into the development life cycle and priorities, and have more input on the direction of your product. This is always a bi-product of greater customer engagement and UX testing.
Set Goals Around KPIs For Your Team
You wouldn't go to the archery range without a target. Everyone needs something to shoot for, and it's time you gave your team a mark.
Begin gaining goal orientation by establishing a few KPIs for your team. What you choose initially matters less than having a goals in the first place. Two easily understandable metrics to cherry pick might be lead time and cycle time. Do some research to find out how your team measures up and set small goals for improvement.
It might feel wrong to set the bar low, but doing so serves two main purposes. First, it helps give your team something to shoot for while getting used to an established process. Secondly, achieving even small goals feels like a win, rather than whiffing on larger jumps. It's important to have wins early in the process to keep the momentum towards UX focus strong.
Establish a process. Socialize the benefits. Set goals. If you can do these three things, you'll develop a more focused UX culture and drive results in your organization.