Showing posts tagged Situation

Situation: Uncoordinated collaboration

"So, which one of us is doing this?"

Some projects have no plan, no overall direction of where it’s going long-term and the activities required take to get there. Other projects may understand the objectives, have a general sense of the activities and outputs, but have no structure for how people will work together: how often are we meeting? how are we using those meeting times? when can the team expect to see outputs? will we review the outputs prior to getting together? what’s the best way to communicate feedback?

The effect: When people don’t know how they’re working together, they don’t know whether they should be making decisions individually or as a group. They don’t know whether they need to focus on building consensus or getting buy-in. In short, they 

The challenge: This situation may stem less from poor planning and more from an anti-collaboration culture or mindset. Deep-rooted reluctance to collaborate, either in the corporate culture or in the individuals, will be difficult to change.

Situation: Efforts ignored

"This stuff doesn’t really matter because we’re working on a separate track."

Members of the team choose to ignore outputs, recommendations, and solutions provided by team members assigned those activities. The quintessential example here is a disenfranchised design team — where some team members discount the value of their contributions.

The effect: Without alignment on activities and outputs, the team will fragment, wasting time and money. Business stakeholders will also waste time trying to reconcile disconnected efforts.

The challenge: Disenfranchised teams may have no control over their disconnectedness. It may be driven by politics up the ladder, a defensive colleague, or irrelevant interpersonal conflicts.

Situation: Lack of context

"There’s a lot going on behind the scenes here…"

Teams do not have insight into the organizational, business, or operational context surrounding a project. Context is crucial to the success of a design project because it allows designers to gauge what approach, process, and solution will be the best fit. Context establishes constraints, not only for the project, but for the design itself.

The effect: The project team runs into unanticipated roadblocks in the design project.

The challenge: Stakeholders may see “insulating” the design team as their responsibility, and be reluctant to relinquish that role.

Situation: Excluded from planning

"It’s a shame she’s not in the meeting. All these action items are for her."

The people responsible for delivering and executing are not included in the planning process.

The effect: Project teams spend more time reconciling plans (or easing the anxiety of the producers) than necessary.

The challenge: Collaborative environments tend to favor the path of least resistance, which in this case entails making decisions on someone’s behalf when they’re not there. One flavor of this scenario involves actively excluding key producers because they are seen as not essential to the planning process.

Situation: Poorly planned presentation or discussion

"I hate to put you on the spot, but…"

Project stakeholders do not understand the design work because the design team hasn’t assembled a meaningful narrative. Designers may have been asked to present concepts without sufficient notice, or the design team neglected to anticipate questions from the stakeholders.

The effect: Progress on the design work may be held back until stakeholders buy into the design concept. High quality work may be undermined by a poor presentation.

The challenge: Design processes balance spontaneity with deliberation. Presenting a design at a moment’s notice is not necessarily unreasonable, but the project team must understand the potential risks to the project.

Situation: No Time to Design

"Just get some rough ideas down by tomorrow, OK?"

Forces outside the design team establish an unreasonable schedule for producing design ideas.

The effect: Designers confronted with this situation will resent the project team if forced to prepare outputs without sufficient time. If they comply with the unreasonable request, they may find themselves committed to a design concept that doesn’t effectively solve the problem.

The challenge: The design team may be eager to dive into the problem or to prove their value, ignoring the risks that come with short-changing their process.

See also: Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job, Chapter 6, Sticking to Your Process.

Situation: False Consensus

"I think we all agree here."

The team comes to some agreement (on direction or approach, for example) but doesn’t really understand the underlying assumptions or the downstream implications. If they understood those, they might not agree.

The effect: A false consensus may move the project forward, leading to more challenging conflicts later when the underlying assumptions come to light.

The challenge: Since everyone agrees, it may be difficult to detect that this is a problem.

Situation: Distracted by shiny objects

Team members lose focus of project objectives because they see something novel, and wonder how it might fit into their project. ”Shiny objects” is the favored term for ideas that have captured the imagination of the public or the industry. These ideas get a lot of play in industry press, and quickly make their way into design conversations:

"Why can’t our site be more like Apple’s?"

"What about a Twitter stream?"

"Our site needs social sharing functions."

Design decisions driven by what’s new, and not by what’s needed, are appealing because they’re easy to make. They’re not easy to implement or justify.

The effect: Project resources become diverted to exploring this great new thing, and not solving the core design problem.

The challenge: Team members may see the project as a failure if it doesn’t include the shiny new thing.

Situation: Distracted by the competition

Members of the project team lose focus on project objectives because they are distracted by a competitor. This competitor may be outside the company, but is often inside the organization — a separate team working toward the same, overlapping, or competing objectives.

The effect: Project teams can’t operate efficiently because resources are diverted to “deal with” the competition.

The challenge: In design, a better product is the best way to beat the competition, especially when other aspects of the situation are beyond the team’s control (eg: office politics). Human behavior, however, prioritizes undermining the competition. It can be difficult to deal with this situation when our survival instinct kicks in, and team members become transfixed by arguing why the other guy is inferior, and not on investing in making their own product better.

Situation: Over-preparation

Product teams may create early mock-ups to frame the problem, which locks them into a particular mindset.

In design, too much preparation leaves no room for innovation. By over-preparation, I mean walking into a situation where the design team has thought so much about the problem, and relied so much on pre-existing assets, they can’t think about the problem independently of their initial solution.

The effect:  Good design strategy takes the design just far enough to validate the objectives and constraints, and establish an overall direction. When a design concept lingers too long, becoming entrenched, it can cause conflict because some team members may be unwilling to go.

The challenge: Overcoming this situation is hard because people tend to prefer familiarity. They may feel a sense of ownership of the design concept and be reluctant to let it go.