How To Break Through The Bottlenecks In Your Product Design Process
To avoid roadblocks, design teams must create a shared understanding of the task(s) at hand so expectations are clear to everybody. Otherwise the process turns into chess by mail, with long waits between meaningful moves.
So to beat the bottleneck, we’ve assembled a list of 5 areas that can create slow-downs if you’re not prepared. With thoughtful planning, even the most complex build won’t be able to impede your team’s momentum.
1. Incomplete Exploration
The problem: unclear expectations
Maintain an efficient process and avoid surprises by making sure everybody’s on the same page—nothing derails a project quite like a “Wait, I thought we were … ” during a final meeting.
The fix: host a kick-off meeting
The kick-off meeting seems to have fallen out of style lately. That’s a shame—it can be an invaluable tool for setting the goals and requirements of a project.
There’s a misconception about the kick-off meeting: that it’s the first time everybody thinks about the project.
It’s the first time everybody thinks about the project together.
Go to the meeting with a slew of thoughts, questions, and wild ideas—not just to listen and take up a chair.
Sure, that last jab is written with physical meetings in mind, but don’t let distance stop you. A remote meeting or whiteboarding session can be just as handy. Not a meeting person? Make a kick-off Basecamp, Trello board, or Google Doc. Get the discussion out of email and into a collaborative space. You’ll be glad you did when the build hits the nitty-gritty.
2. False Choices
The problem: getting stuck between options 1, 2, and 3
At some point during the design process, most teams hit a fork in the road: multiple design options but no clear winner. At that point, you might shoot an email around or upload the designs for feedback on Verify or Dribbble.
The fix: make an option 4
Sometimes the answer is none of the above, and the cake is a lie. When options 1, 2, and 3 don’t quite feel right, don’t spend time collecting votes—design another option.
Reframing the problem often leads to changing the design approach, which is great when you’ve hit a wall. You might not even have to completely abandon your work on the first few options. Simply picking the best part of each might Frankenstein something that’s closer to solving the problem than any lone solution.
A fork in the road doesn’t mean you have to pick from what’s right in front of you. It means it’s time to get the map out again.
3. Outside Timelines
The problem: waiting on someone
When you’re working with large or remote teams, delivery dates become increasingly important. When one group is late, it causes a domino effect where each subsequent task feels the crunch.
The fix: constantly collaborate, set firm expectations and milestones
Avoid roadblocks with consistent collaboration and communication. Knowing what others are working on and what problems are upcoming keeps everyone on track. Should delays arise, knowing about them early lets others plan alternate tasks so no time is wasted waiting around.
The only thing more important than hitting goals is the care with which you set them. Establish clear and firm expectations. Create a set of milestones that plots a clear path to completing the project. If a milestone goes missing, regroup and get back on track.
Shifting timelines and priorities are a reality of today’s demands, so you need to be ready for them. If you’re constantly shifting deadlines and regrouping, it might be time to evaluate the team’s process or the way tasks are estimated.
The problem: people agreeing just to agree
Things can get weird when you’re discussing complex problems—especially ones with financial repercussions. Pressure arises, people form teams, good ideas get discarded in the interest of safety.
The fix: explain all decisions, voice all concerns
It’s not always comfortable to have friction within a team, even when it’s constructive. But don’t avoid disagreement just to get consensus and move on.
As long as everyone stays level, it’s not arguing. Encouraging creative collisions can spark new ideas and lead to tighter solutions. When the majority of the people in the room can’t defend a decision, take the time to explore alternatives.
5. Launch Plans
The problem: finishing everything just right by the big day
Sprinting towards launch day can be invigorating—until you realize you’re 3 days away and have 5 days’ worth of work left. Even with the best-laid plans, smart teams can still find themselves with a laundry list of things to tackle while the deadline is looming.
The fix: be flexible pre- and post-launch
To stay sane through launch, allow wiggle room for small features and bugs to slide into a post-launch timeline. Smoothly moving tasks from nice-to-have to gotta-have-it to let’s-do-it-later is the best way to keep the focus where it belongs.
What gets the bump? Features that very few users might use, small bugs that affect devices that represent a small portion of your user base, and art or assets that might not greatly affect experience or conversion (do you really need that fifth full illustration on the page?).
Spreading too thin as launch approaches can mean important things can fall by the wayside. Worse, your team may start burning out—and that could have implications past the current launch.
Beat the Bottleneck
Avoiding complications during a complex build is a team process, but it requires each member moving quickly and confidently. With clear discussion, repeat work and wasted time can be avoided, leaving time for the good stuff: more kick-ass new features.
The design process is one long discussion. Don’t be afraid to get involved and don’t be afraid to argue—nicely. Colliding viewpoints are key to deciding the path of your product.
Spend months (or years) with a solid build team, and they start to feel like a family.
Just don’t let it get dysfunctional.