All You Can Learn Blog

Managing And Satisfying Stakeholders

May 20, 2017

Kim asks,“what makes stakeholders so difficult to pin-down, and how can you satisfy them?”

Stakeholders get a bad wrap for coming into projects late and upending them. They tend to be busy, time-strapped people who bring expertise to projects, but are not always around to share feedback or ideas. It’s up to teams to gain the trust of stakeholders, and a keen understanding of their desires, despite these challenges.

To mitigate the threat of the executive swoop and poop, start your projects with a RACI exercise to define team roles: who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. Create project plans with milestone dates and specific points where stakeholders can provide critical feedback. Adapt to the ways of your stakeholders and proactively communicate with them to ease any anxiety they might have about the project. Make sure stakeholders know when they’ll have an opportunity to provide feedback. Listen to them, parrot back what you’ve heard, and communicate your next steps. The more stakeholders hear you reflecting their concerns and wishes, the more likely they’ll accept your solutions.

Collaborative Design Discovery

May 5, 2017

Our mindset—the attitudes and assumptions we hold—influences how we work with others, how we receive criticism, and communicate. To a large degree, it can determine success.

Dan Brown shares three mindsets that he believes designers need to cultivate to work successfully in collaborative environments.

Adaptable
An adaptable mindset allows you to roll with the punches. You are comfortable giving the client options and adapting your techniques to the unique needs of the client and environment.

Collective
A collective mindset allows you to accept perspectives and contributions from other people on a team. You understand that other perspectives can improve your work, and that more heads are better than one.

Assertive
An assertive mindset is confident without being arrogant. You can be comfortable in a situation where not all of the answers are available, but decisions need to be made based on where you are at and what you know in the moment.

What Is Your MVP?

April 22, 2017

Melissa knows that not all experts agree over the nature of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Is it a first release, a product rushed to market, or part of an iterative product approach? Product Manager and UX Designer Melissa Perri explains that MVPs are part of a process. They are an experiment to learn more about our customers: the problems they have and the solutions we can offer.

Before you get started on a product solution, and to minimize the risk of creating something that won't find a foothold with your target audience, Perri recommends asking the following questions:

  • Do our customers really have this problem?
  • What do our customers expect to gain in the end?
  • What are our customers doing to solve their problems now?
  • What do they care about in a solution?
  • Where will they use the solution?

Stakeholder Interviews

April 8, 2017

Kim Goodwin says that stakeholder interviews are a critical step to setting the foundation for a project and establishing clear expectations and goals. These interviews are an opportunity to understand the perspective of the stakeholder: what they want to accomplish and why, and what ideas and expertise they bring. Interviews are also an opportunity to identify discrepancies in the goals and expectations shared by stakeholders.

When preparing for your stakeholder interviews, put together a set of basic questions. These questions may even seem dumb, but it’s important to encourage stakeholders to explain in their own words the challenges that may (or may not) seem self-evident.

Some of those basic questions may look like the following:

  • What do you think this project is about?
  • Who is it for?
  • When do you need it completed, and why?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  • What should it accomplish for the business?
  • How will YOU define success?
  • How do you want to be involved, and what’s the best way to involve you?
  • Who else will influence the outcome?

Site Performance Budget

March 25, 2017

Dan Mall knows that users are not in the habit of sticking around while a site takes nine seconds to load—and even nine seconds is a stretch. There are a few culprits behind heavy pages, like typography, code, and images that haven’t been optimized. If we develop a performance budget, and test our page load times, we can identify the fat that needs to be trimmed and improve load times. We can also use a performance budget to make content and feature decisions, such as how many images we use on a page.

Create a spreadsheet and run your website through a free webpage test tool. Note your page times for start render, visually complete, and fully loaded. Now list your competitors and compare their times against yours. Tools such as webpagetest.org will generate a report that can help you make the decisions you need to improve your site’s performance.

Cultivating The Right Mindset for Discovery

March 18, 2017

In discovery, we embark on a set of research activities to gain knowledge and make decisions. As Dan Brown explains, discovery is not so much a phase of a project as it is a mindset that we bring to the work. A discovery mindset involves asking questions and making decisions – a creative back and forth between inquiry and action.

There are three qualities , or mindsets, that Dan Brown believes are essential to the discovery process.

Curiosity

A curious mindset understands that there are gaps in one’s knowledge. When we are curious, we ask questions, follow hunches, and give ourselves permission to explore ideas. We find excitement in the process of learning new information.

Skepticism

A skeptical mindset does not accept all of the assumptions it sees at face value. When we bring a skeptical mindset to a project, we are able to assess ideas, play devil’s advocate to challenge assumptions, and approach a problem from different angles.

Humility

Humility reminds us that we don’t have all of the answers; regardless of the experience and knowledge we bring to a situation. Cultivating humility allows us to listen to the opinions of others, and be okay when we don’t know what we don’t know.

How Does Your Organization Make Decisions?

March 4, 2017

Kim tells us that organizations vary in the way they are structured, and in the way they make decisions. While some organizations are hierarchical and process-driven, others may rely less on formal structures and processes. Understanding the mindset of an organization will help you tailor your approach to working with them to get the best results—and to find creative ways to introduce best practices that an organization has traditionally ignored.

Adhocracy: This organization is comfortable with change and finds wisdom in information gathered outside of it. It values external data like user interviews and research. It tends to have a lean, startup atmosphere that is iterative and creative, loose on process but high on invention. Employee roles and responsibilities might be unclear.

Clan: This organization values change, but believes wisdom can be found within the company. It invests in employees and makes everyone feel like a stakeholder. Collaboration is a necessity.

Hierarchy: This organization values internal expertise over external research. It is risk-averse, structured, and values stability. It is heavy on process and structure and responds well to templates and process.

Market: A market-oriented business likes stability and risk reduction, and tends to value external data and research. It loves data analytics, A/B testing, and anything that can tie design to metrics. Google is a classic example of this structure.

Rules for Prototyping

February 25, 2017

  1. Each prototype should take less than an hour to make.
  2. The first prototype you create for a product should be so simple that anyone can build it.
  3. Build ugly.

Dan Mall believes that every prototype you make should solve one problem with one solution. Don’t build something that is complete. Use your prototypes as an opportunity to explore creative problem solving, and typography. What will an infinite scroll look like on this site? Explore the pieces of your project in creative and inventive ways.

Developing prototypes and element collages are all part of the skill set of a great designer. Sketch more. Write more. Make something.

Product Strategy

February 18, 2017

Melissa Perri tells us that minimum Viable Products are an answer to a question, a solution to a perceived problem that users have. Product teams experiment with solutions to learn more about their customers and the feasibility of their proposed solutions. They experiment, explains Product Manager and UX Designer, Melissa Perri, to solve two things before they build:

Problem-Solution Fit: Does this problem exist and can I solve it?

Product-Market Fit: Is my product desirable in the market?

Product teams learn through experimentation, and though these experiments may result in more failures than successes, the process of questioning, experimenting, and testing will hone the final product vision and strategy.

Streamline Your Design Efforts

February 11, 2017

When in the thick of a project, the small, day-to-day decisions we make as designers can get away from us. Dan Mall knows that that’s when an interface inventory can make a difference.

If you take an inventory of button styles, for example, on your project or site, you may find a variety of styles, typography, and subtle design variations that were not intentional. Design teams can review an inventory, and all of the decisions that were made, and use that information to create an overall style guide that streamlines design decisions and can be applied in the future. This approach will result in cleaner code, and reduce the cognitive load on users.

Thinking In Metaphors

February 4, 2017

Metaphors have a knack of encapsulating a feeling or experience, and for this reason, they stick. User researchers gathering data can find the essence of a customer’s experience and communicate it effectively by looking for the metaphors that people naturally use to describe their experiences.

The qualitative datasets that researchers collect as part of user research are often full of metaphors – and not just the things that people say. Cyd Harrell notes that researchers take while observing participants often contain rich insights into user behavior. Metaphors humanize the data we retrieve and can become a powerful part of the larger design and product conversations we have.

Finding Amazing User Research Participants

January 28, 2017

User research informs the work that we do and is a critical piece to the success of the customer journey maps and buyer cycles we define for products. As Nate Bolt tells us, research shapes the success of our work, and illuminates the why, when products fall short of expectations.

There are a variety of ways that teams can recruit testing participants, from simply finding people on the street, to targeting specific audiences.  Each approach has pros and cons. The method you use for gathering participants should be informed by the type of user research you do, and the product or concept you are testing.

Eight Categories For Recruiting Research Participants

  1. First person you see
  2. Someone in your office
  3. Friends and family
  4. Craigslist, or another community
  5. Recruiting Agency
  6. Panel
  7. Facebook Ads/Twitter
  8. Live User Intercept

Getting Unstuck

January 21, 2017

You’re crunching under a deadline and your brain is jelly. Synapses are fried. You can’t surface a creative thought for the life of you. You’re stuck. What do you do?

Dan Saffer has a practical prescription for getting unstuck, unblocked, and energized. Here are his tips for how to build a creative habit that sustains you through those dark days when ideas run dry.

  • Prepare: Build a creative habit. Schedule a small block of time and show up every day.
  • Find a ritual: Artists often create a ritual around the work they do to get them in the right headspace. It could be listening to music, arranging pencils, what-have-you. Find what works for you.
  • Keep a list of your top three big questions: Hang them in a visible place in your workspace so you can think about them.
  • Walk: If you are feeling stuck, get outside. Why? Because even Nietzsche thought it was a good idea.
  • Be boring: If you are out and about, resist the urge to look at your phone and other digital distractions.
  • Time: Spend as much time as you can with the problem you are trying to solve.

Solutions tend to come to us when we aren’t thinking very hard about them. Give yourself the space to ruminate over ideas, ideate, and percolate.

Unearthing Themes In Research Data

January 14, 2017

Cyd Harrell tells us that user research data often contains metaphors that describe the overall experience that participants have. Researchers can surface these metaphors in data, and in their notes, by taking a closer look at the language that participants use to describe their experience. Language that falls within the following thematic groups is particularly interesting, because it represents powerful human desires and needs, and can provide insights into the overall user experience.

  • Attraction: Love, sex, and friendship. Participants might express emotion in these areas toward a product or concept. Attraction represents deep human needs, but it can also represent repulsion — for example, participants who feel discomfort with a product or experience.
  • Food and Shelter: Language that describes the feeling of home and safety, or lack thereof.
  • Status & Competition: This is another deep human connection that can result in the use of interesting metaphors. What kind of competition are people trying to win? What is important to them?
  • Places: Language that describes a place or context.
  • Animals: What creatures show similar behavior?

Know Your RACI

January 7, 2017

Stakeholders can be incredibly helpful to teams—or problematic, depending on how you look at them. As Kim Goodwin says, we can’t expect busy stakeholders to bend to our way of working and communicating, but we can create a constructive environment for their feedback and the way we respond to it.

A good place to begin is with a team meeting that explores the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved: who will be responsible for doing the work, who will be accountable (the people who will approve the work), who should be consulted, and who should be kept informed. The acronym for this approach is called RACI and seasoned project managers are familiar with the process.

Streamline Your Design Efforts

December 17, 2016

When in the thick of a project, the small, day-to-day decisions we make as designers can get away from us. As Dan Mall tells us, that’s when an interface inventory can make a difference.

If you take an inventory of button styles, for example, on your project or site, you may find a variety of styles, typography, and subtle design variations that were not intentional. Design teams can review an inventory, and all of the decisions that were made, and use that information to create an overall style guide that streamlines design decisions and can be applied in the future. This approach will result in cleaner code, and reduce the cognitive load on users.

Crafting Product Stories That Engage

December 13, 2016

Your product must communicate its unique value to stand out in a competitive marketplace. Stories shape the way customers interact with products, and provide purpose and meaning to their experience. When customers respond well to product stories, they attribute value and desirability to the product and brand.

Begin by asking yourself what the story of your product is.

  • Who is the hero?
  • What is the hero’s goal?
  • What is getting in the way of that goal?
  • How will your product meet the hero’s goal? What is its value?
  • How will you get your hero to use the product?
  • How will you sustain interest in the product?

Our goal, says Donna Lichaw, is to create the best product stories that we can for customers. Successful product stories shape the way customers interact with the product. We create a world in which customers can see how our products enrich their lives.

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