Design strategy is an interesting process. Subjective in nature and guided by objective research, creating the right design is really about what is most appropriate for your target user or audience. It’s not a science, it’s an art, and it should be allowed to evolve.
Why then are we always so concerned with achieving perfection? Spending all of our time trying to create the perfect strategy has diminishing returns. When we focus so completely on creating a perfect website or product, we sometimes lose sight of our goals and enter into a stagnant stage of “analysis paralysis.” What if we focused on incremental improvements instead?
Incremental Improvements Strengthen Long Term Performance
There is an entire movement dedicated to that method of thinking: Lean. One of the major principles of building lean is launching with a minimal viable product (MVP) and then measuring, learning, and iterating in short cycles for maximum impact. It is an effective way to get something out into the world quickly, while also avoiding getting stuck on trivial matters that can be worked out in the long run.
Think of it this way: In golf, there are all sorts of variables you need to contend with to make it to the green. There is wind factor, course layout, and club selection to consider. When I started playing golf, I didn’t really understand how to balance all of these – I really just wanted to get the ball as far down the green as possible, which usually meant I would end up somewhere I didn’t want to be. The pros, on the other hand, are smart; they respect their weaknesses and reduce risk by leveraging their strengths. They take the swings they know will land them in a good spot for their next move.
In doing this, they are effectively mitigating risk, making incremental moves to get them as close to the hole as possible within that turn. The pros look to capitalize on opportunities. Sure, hole in ones happen, but they are extremely risky and a miscalculation is likely to land you in a sand dune (making it even harder to make it to the green). And let’s face it, even pros have a 2,500 to 1 shot at making a hole in one – get what I’m saying?
Making smaller movements towards the end goal, rather than finishing everything and then testing, is how we in design mitigate the risk of “getting it wrong.” When we work on evidence, rather than assumptions, we have a greater chance of making it to the green.
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Use a Trigger System to Keep Projects On Track
But sometimes projects veer off track and the paralysis sets in as a result of getting stuck on one thing for too long. The best way to prevent situations like these is by building a system of triggers that will help keep the project moving forward. One key to success is maintaining momentum even when the target is moving. These tips will keep your team on their A-game.
Timebox Objectives: Some projects can spin out of control without some basic guard rails. The first is to timebox your objectives and focus on making decisions in smaller pieces to continue moving forward. For example, spend five days working on and discussing navigation orientation. At the end of that timebox, a decision must be made so that you can move on to the next task. By defining a schedule for segments of the project build, you can be sure that all decisions are made by a certain date. Analysis paralysis can also result from good ideas sparking new conversations that may not directly affect the objective. Timeboxing keeps people focused during conversations and meetings to ensure that the team continues working towards the MVP.
Limit Revisions: The second way to build structure is by limiting the number of revisions a project can undergo. At DT, we like to limit things to three rounds of revisions. If we are still getting feedback for changes after the third revision, it is a pretty clear indicator that something got off course. At that point, it is time to re-examine the project goals and decide if the changes we are making will have a significant impact on the goals.
Consider Effort Versus Impact: Analysis paralysis really results from one thing — fear of making the wrong decision. When I recognize this fear in clients, I like to ask the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen if we launch this MVP?” Usually what will result is a list of assumptions, such as “if we launch right now our user won’t be able to find x.”
This is where a rating system comes into place. Label each assumption as a hurdle, nuance, or distraction. A hurdle is something that is high impact and will completely prevent the user from accomplishing an action, nuance is just an “annoyance” and will make a smaller impact, while a distraction will make a low impact on the end goal.
Lastly, consider the level of effort it would take to test these assumptions prior to launching an MVP:
- Low impact items with high effort can be tested after launch.
- High impact items with low effort should be tested prior to launches, such as through a prototype or user interviews.
- High impact items with high effort (for example, a feature that has a perceived high impact on the user, but will take a year to test), consider going ahead with launch and test the assumption during the first iteration phase, prior to building it out.
- Don’t get sucked in by analysis paralysis. By using this method, you can ensure that the project accomplishes the goal, and assumptions can be validated after launch. Getting an MVP out into the world is far more advantageous than striving for perfection. Through an MVP, you can learn fast and make bigger strides towards the best possible design.