When it comes to creating great digital products there's a few but very important prerequisites that I look at when trying to predict the success of any project. I strive to establish these in teams I join or help set up.
1. Business - Tech - Design unity
2. Constant contact with end users
3. Strict following of methodology across teams
4. Humble & perfectionist team culture
1. The holy trinity of digital product development
It should be commonplace but it doesn’t happen often in neither agency nor in-house settings that each of the three disciplines of Business, Tech and Design are treated with equal weight throughout the whole length of the project. They all have a common goal - to build something that people will want - but many times that just remains an aspiration because the understatement of the three fields' equal importance results in key ingredients being left out from the product development process.
When teams don't have both Business, Tech and Design represented evenly at evey decision point they risk building something that's either irrelevant, disfunctional or confusing. To achieve a productive workflow and to build empathy between teams it's key to establish hands-on collaboration that recognises the value each brings to developing the product from problem definition to solution. My approach to help do that could be summarized as follows:
Make it easy for stakeholders to participate. Do production phase workshops with them on top of the initial discovery phase ones to make sure they're part of the process of understanding the evolution of the problem space. Live stream any customer workshops they can't attend.
Get them participate in sprint planning if not in person, remotely. Allow them to represent business needs at every step but show them why those are just one part of the sauce that makes a successful product.
Live streaming customer workshops
Encourage cross-discipline exchange of ideas by conducting co-designing workshops. Involve representatives of the tech team in design reviews. Devs know best what's technologically feasible so let them influence design and scope.
Create interaction proto snippets for clearer communication of details. Don't separate design and tech workflow - iteration is most efficient if both streams tackle the same stories in a sprint as learnings will impact both design and build.
Impact vs feasibility mapping
As a designer you have to be full of dualities; be a good listener and also a good communicator, design with conviction but test with complete openness, know when to diverge and when to converge ideas, when to practice criticism and when to show empathy. You need to be a good storyteller to sell & reinforce the experience vision & design principles across teams.
You need to speak the language of both Business stakeholders and the Technology team to be able to communicate the interpretation of research effectively. Be a good facilitator to establish a UCD mindset across the board. You need to be willing to embrace chaos and keep focus by choosing the tools that will eventually take you to the right solution.
Journey map template
2. The truth is out there
A digital product's moment of truth doesn't happen on the screens of its creators, it happens in the wild and in the mind of the user. So look up from your screens and observe real world relationships. Start with what people need then build them something they'll want. Ask questions like; 'Am I tring to make people want this or am I trying to make it so that people will want it', 'Is there a more elegant way to this - can the system take off some of the user's cognitive load', 'What are the key attributes of this product that live inside the user?', 'How do we help the user feel a little bit more awesome?'.
To predict what people will want is by knowing everything about the context in which a product will be used. When doing research always look at the bigger picture and look for hidden factors that influence people's needs to reveal opportunities for true product and service transformations. Validate your assumptions and validate often as people's expectations and aspirations never stay static as they navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape. Adjust your personas, think mindsets.
3. God is in the well-groomed backlog
How much of an impact a product will have at lauch is determined by the decisions made right from the start on what to build and on what to build first. To be able to define and prioritise user stories the team must know how much value each would bring to the world. UX research and stakeholder workshops define that in the form of an initial set of stories and priorities which can be used as a basis for an OK product but if the team wants to go beyond what is essentially just an abstraction of people's needs and behaviours they need a process that ensures consistent feedback from observing the real value that is created during actual use.
The iterative approach of Agile lets teams steer their products towards directions that lead to the most value by ensuring constant learning about the real experience where for every interaction there's two key aspects to monitor; relevancy (right features, right priorities) and ease of use (UI and usability). The hard bit is to actually act on these learnings as teams often find it difficult to part from work that they believed to be the right answer to the problem at hand. Following Scrum methodology is one way of overcoming the feeling of wasted effort. Backlog grooming is when a product's faith gets decided and so it's a crucial part in ensuring that the feedback loop that engineers the right values into products can flow efficiently from sprint to sprint.
Agile testing de-brief
4. Work hard and be nice to people
Aim for the best in any work you take on. Learn to give and receive critique well so that you create space for genious work to happen. Review your work daily. Have structure, know your research, never be precious about your designs, craft the delightful details with great care, trust your hunch, deliver and do it all with a goddamn smile.