Core design

Over the years I came to realize that product design is often neglected in IT.  Designing is regarded as too time consuming and a job that can only be done well by artists.  However, a well designed solution is all about reducing complexity making the further implementation easier while reducing the risk of making mistakes.  When you’re implementing new functionality you are being creative by definition, therefore you should take design seriously.  After all you are trying to make life easier for your customers.

I’ve coached caring people who where trying to make their customer’s lives easier they soon realized that this requires paying more attention to design. I have seen them adapt in amazing ways using newly discovered creative skills combined with their expert analytic skills. Witnessing my colleagues reaching out to customers shining light their on their needs inspires me to share this post.

Together we opted to look further than the superficial “how”, exploring customer expectations far below the surface. It requires for the team to iterate often talking to stakeholders persisting to know the deeper motivation of everything they do in their day to day work.

Doing so demands communication skills clarifying user needs and values but not only that, it requires the guts to continue to do so until you reach the core of the problem. A good amount of patience is to be combined with persistence, waiting to implement a solution until you truly understand the customer. Perseverance is the key word in achieving success, “hurrying slowly” may seem counterintuitive in a fast moving business world, yet we have very good reasons to do it…  Making sure we’re building the right thing.

By making sure we understood we had reduced the complexity of the core functionality by a factor >8 effectively reducing implementation time from a staggering 8 months to 1 month. Surely it had costed 3 weeks of headaches not only learning about customer needs but also learning more about our own creativity and the basics of product design, a skill that is left severely undervalued IT.  The investment was worth it if you ask me.

FunnelDid you ever hear about the product design funnel? It’s a very powerful concept I’ve learned about. Creating new products without such techniques is like trying to fill a bottle by pouring the content of a bucket into it, it can be done but you will spill a lot of water while doing so, it is an awful waste of effort for the team.  Effort that could be used for more valuable activities.

Some of the founders of the product design funnel are Wheelwright & Clark’s, they wrote about this in their book “Revolutionizing Product Development”.  My personal view on such product design funnel is probably more literal than they intended it to be. Just like a physical funnel one pours something into it.  In case of the product design funnel we pour in ideas.  In order to succeed in product development come up with a broad range of different ideas, it will probably make your product more interesting featuring a unique blend of innovative solutions.

In an early stage the team will form many ideas just to clarify user needs and validating their discoveries with reality.  By intense collaboration those validated needs will mature into conceptual solutions, While still in the investigation the different concepts will start transforming into potential product mock-ups that are again validated with the customer.   This flow is supposed to go smoothly without stages.  Ideas that appeal the most to the stakeholders will mature into the implementation of the product that so they can be delivered to them incrementally.  We were careful not to pour too many ideas into the funnel at the same time, this would have congested the funnel and ideas would have been wasted costing team energy.

DesignFunnelWhen doing traditional product development using this funnel concept one would filter out and mature all ideas at the same time moving all the matured concepts into implementation simultaneously.  Chances are that new insights that were discovered along the way wouldn’t make it to the end product because there’s simply no time left to make expensive changes to the product.  A more Agile approach is to only pour some of the most valuable ideas in the funnel giving your team some time to let them mature into a first product prototype, smoothly adding new “early ideas” along with promising new insights that may have been discovered after the first delivery to the customer.  It’s important that your product design team is fully aware about how ideas & concepts evolve into solutions as they move through the product development funnel.

We get to the core of product development by combining creative conceptual thinking with a highly iterative approach.

References: Wheelwright, S. C., and K. B. Clark. Revolutionizing Product Development: Quantum Leaps in Speed, Efficiency and Quality. New York: Free Press, 1992

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