Starting a project right

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Starting a project without proper preparation is a recipe for disaster.

If you tried baking a cake without the right ingredients or timing, you’d probably end up with a goopy mess or a salty slab with the consistency of cardboard.

The same approach can be applied to product design and development. Having the right ingredients, timing, and tools for the job is imperative to producing a successful end product. This is why we start every project with a discovery session. Not only does it form one of the most important parts of a project’s UX by helping us define what the product needs to do, it’s also a great way to begin the working relationship with the client.

There is no UX without user research, which is why we start with it.

Who needs to be involved?

From our side we usually have a UX designer, developer and someone to act as a facilitator who leads the sessions. This way, the designers and developers can focus on the important details in the session without worrying about leading it. In order to make the process efficient, it’s also important for the client to bring the right people to the meeting. The ideal number from the client side is around 3-4 people; enough to cover all the bases, while not having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Preparing for the session

The first order of business is to understand what problem your client is trying to solve. It helps to know what you’re talking about before you get people into a room. After that, you’ll want to start a competitor analysis in order to understand what currently exists in the market. Last but not least, creating stakeholder profiles allow you to understand who you’re going to be dealing with in the workshop sessions, whether they’re the head of the company or members of a specific department. These should ideally be created by the account handler and distributed to the team before you all meet the clients.

Workshops and techniques

There are many different workshops and techniques that exist to help with the exploratory process. Below, I’ve listed a few that we utilize here at TTT to align us with success. Some of these may not be necessary if the client has already carried out their own research. Note that each of these steps probably have enough detail to warrant their own blog, but for the scope of this piece, I will give a high level overview of each one.

Product vision discovery

Usually defined at the beginning, this is where you would explore the business value of the product and how it will relate to the products users.

Defining the product goals

After gaining an overview of the product, you then need to figure out what the product does and doesn’t do. Using Uber as an example, the product goal could be to get a passenger from point A to point B without the uncertainty of flagging down a taxi or taking public transportation. Laying these goals out will help define product features in further workshops.

Create user personas

It’s critical to consider the users when creating a product. Here, you would create personas that would make up the product’s potential user base. Generating the user profiles, needs and behaviours help with defining the user journey, and feature development. It’s important to bear in mind not to accidentally create a persona that’s really two people. This can often result from putting too many traits into one persona, and can skew the following stages.

Feature definition

Product features can be seen as a means for the users to achieve their goals. With the product goals and user personas defined, you can start mapping out the required features that connect the need, with the goal.

Defining the user journey

This is where you would run through simulations of how the user will use the product features to achieve the product goal. Consider everything from the devices they’re using and product functionality to, user emotions and motivations. Also look at any blockers that might come up in the journey, and try to minimize these issues and make the experience smooth. If everything above was done correctly, you should be able to map out the user journey. This process can be repeated until all the goals are satisfied.

Match user journeys and features

This can be seen as a process that validates whether or not the user is able to reach their goal using the product features. With the features already defined, try to correlate them to the stages within the user journey. This can help you discover if you have any unnecessary features or if any are missing.

Prioritize your features

After you have the user journey and the features defined, you then have to determine how full of a product to build. Does it make more sense to develop an MVP (minimum viable product) or something more complete, but expensive? If our goal is to develop an MVP then we need to prioritize which features need to be developed first to create a functioning first stage, and how to phase in features at a later date.

Define what an MVP looks like

This acts a recap of all the previous workshops, making sure everyone is on the same page with regards to the scope of the first release. With the MVP fleshed out, you should now have a clear goal of where you need to go next.  

 

Deliverables and next steps

The discovery session is only the first step in a huge process. There will be further research that needs conducting after you’ve met with the client. Here are a few things that you may need to look into:

  • Surveys
  • Content audit (if there’s an existing product/content)
  • User interviews (if an existing platform)
  • Heuristic review(s)

With all of this information gathered, we would create a document that has all the user flows and product features laid out called a mindmap. This serves as a blueprint for the next stages in the process. From here, we can start discussing with developers about features that need developing and building lo-fi wireframes that we can use to begin user testing.

The research doesn’t finish when we hand over the mind map to the client. User testing is an integral part of product development and should be carried out at all stages of the project. I could go on for hours about user testing but that’s a blog for another time.

Starting your projects the right way will set you and your clients up for success and is a good way to make sure your cake turns out how you want it to.

 

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