God I love Shazam, the app that lets you “identify the media playing around you, explore the music you love”.
Everything about it, the premise, the design, the usability, makes it feel like it just.. works. Hell, Shazam-ing songs has even turned into a verb.
But how does Shazam succeed in creating this feeling? And what can we learn from it?
If you haven’t used Shazam, on opening the app a logged-in user is met with the instruction “Tap to Shazam” and a large stylish button. Nothing else. Tapping the button, they are told that the app is “Listening”, and there is an animation indicating background activity.
Within a few moments it tells you the name of the song and offers purchase options. Or you can just do nothing and go back to Shazam-ing the next song.
Speeding value into the hands of users
One of the ways it ‘just works’ is that Shazam delivers value to users fast. User needs are met easily and quickly.
So what can we learn from Shazam and how can we speed value to our users?
1. Reduce the steps the user should take to start accessing value.
In Shazam, the actions are clear within the first seconds of opening the app.
2. Have the UI limit options to users
In Shazam, the instruction and the single big button call attention to the core utility of the app and nothing else.
3.Cut user effort
In Shazam there’s absolute minimum effort from the user. One button press, then automation does the lookup of the audio.
4. Allow users to undo actions
Okay, now this isn’t very obvious in Shazam but it kinda does it..
Basically, cutting user effort passes things over to the system to do. So you always need to allow the user to be easily able to understand what happened, understand what went wrong, and undo things if the outcome isn’t as expected.
With Shazam, not much can go wrong, but it’s clear that if the audio isn’t recognised as a song I can one-press Shazam agai, and I’m invited to do so. “We didn’t quite catch that. Try again.”
Signalling value creation
Shazam demonstrates another couple of concepts that we should embrace when building our own products:
1. Signal that value is coming
In Shazam, the background pulse animation when “listening” and “sending” audio for analysis demonstrate the system state, sure, but they also indicate that you’re about to receive value.
2. Reduce the path to delivering value
If the system took half an hour to return results, I would be disappointed. Equally, if I had to head over to my Gmail account to see a result posted out via email, or even (heavens!) click through to another screen, that would be waste. Results are returned here and now.
3. Make the path to potential future value obvious
With Shazam, at this point the path to complete the users goal (of identifying any song in the future) is obvious.
Users now know that, if they ever hear a song in the future that they like/recognise but want to know the name of, they need only whip out their phone, open the app and press the button, and receive the answer. It becomes part of their toolkit for the future, kept on their phone because they know that they’ll likely be in a situation where they would benefit from this functionality.
I’m not going to assume that team Shazam just focused on these principles and made a great experience. They surely have paid close attention to how users have used the product over the years and they’ve continually focused on simplicity, based upon delivering on the main user need.
Shazam is also a great example of a product that performs a dedicated function. These are resistant to feature stuffing and certainly easier to keep lean, rather than those products which are more nebulous (e.g. LinkedIn: “Manage your professional identity. Build and engage with your professional network. Access knowledge, insights and opportunities.” Bleurgh…)
So there we are. Thank you Shazam for demonstrating some great product principles. Let’s play out with one of my recent Shazams (dang, you know it’s good when it becomes a noun as well as a verb!).
Recently I’ve been reading the truly excellent ‘A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide’ by Cyd Harrell. And it’s got me thinking about how we can best work with organisations who are trying to achieve social impact but are early in their digital and UX journey.
Meanwhile, I am a huge advocate for Google Analytics. From a UX and product ownership point of view it gives you fantastic insights into users’ experiences, and it can truly help you understand how your digital activities help deliver your organisation’s mission.
However, so often I have struggled to get client organisations to embrace it.
Helping organisations embrace data and Analytics
This is because I have been making a fundamental mistake about how to upskill social impact organisations to use data for making product decisions.
This is because people need to be in charge of their own development. And our job as technical “experts” is to facilitate the curiosity and growth of others, whilst creating the conditions for their gradual development.
Many organisations working in the social impact space are understandably not data mature.
They may not have thought about collecting data on experience, let alone be interpreting it to inform product or programme decisions.
In the midst of their busy frontline work, their reporting and their donor management, they have minimal space to think about working with data.
So if you want to help people to use Analytics (or indeed any new tool), then consider this by Cyd Harrell:
“Remember that every change you push [read: introduction of a new process or tool] means someone has to deal with a disruption of their work – so make sure you make it worth it for them”
Cyd Harrell, ‘A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide’
In other words, as someone who is passionate about Analytics, data and UX, it’s your role to introduce the smallest possible changes to your clients work. Make the barrier to understand data and Analytics as low as possible.
If this means creating a simple emailed monthly report containing a couple of key metrics – say, as basic as number of users and acquisition channel this month – then that’s fine.
The goal is to make incremental improvements to an organisation’s working practice.
As such, in the early days, give people a small amount of Analytics insights and the most simple training about what it means.
If you have a budget for implementing Analytics, make room in it for iteration, no matter what its size.
For instance if you’ve managed to get just 2 days for Analytics work, split it up. Do the minimum amount of useful work that you can first (say, no more than a day), then produce those basic reports to the client. Save the rest of the time for a later check in with the client, to answer their questions and to add more to the reporting based on their curiosity and needs.
In the post Josh outlines the work he did transferring scores upon scores of print-and-post application documents into simple online forms, thus helping to streamline government services and saving thousands of person-hours.
For many of the teams he did this for, once their forms were made digital, they didn’t receive data submissions nor complex CRM data integrations. Instead they were very happy to receive something as low tech as a generated PDF of the form submission. Or at best a structured email with the submitted data.
In other words, there was minimum change to their current working practice of handling submissions manually. It just got a bit more efficient.
However, Josh put a lot more work into getting the buy-in and interest from people he was working for.
“On average, it took me about 30 minutes to make a digital form and five weeks to meet with, earn the trust of, and get buy-in from the employees who would use it.”
Josh Gee, ‘What I learned in two years of moving government forms online’
And when he had that buy-in and usage in place, and teams were getting their electronic submissions, soon his clients started asking for improvements.
“Early on I began to notice a pattern. A few weeks after I moved a form online, some departments would reach back out and ask for tools to help them manage digital submission, ‘This has been absolutely amazing. It would be great if I could approve it and then send it to Steve for his signature'”.
In other words, from a simple start they were onboard and had started on the journey of iterative improvement.
Sensitivity, iterative improvements and allowing people to own their own development. This is the approach to start with upskilling organisations clients who are not comfortable with thinking in terms of data and users.
Take a small step. Make it minimally disruptive to their work, their thinking, and their mental space. Let them get acclimatised to that, and then, when they are ready, they will be interested in taking it one step further.
“When should we include stakeholders in this project?”
We’ve all been there. You’re working up something new for your organisation, and you’re thinking about how to involve your key decision makers. You’re conscious that if you don’t handle them right, or include them at the right time, then they could be a massive pain in the neck.
The worry is they might kill your project or suck the lifeblood out of it. Because that’s what stakeholders do.
Okay I’ve stretched the Nosferatu metaphor as far as it needs to go.
Fundamentally what you are concerned about (and rightly so) is that the product you are developing doesn’t meet your stakeholders’ approval. Or worse still that it fails to meet their needs.
So the question should really be: when should you involve your stakeholders to help guarantee the success of your project?
What kind of stakeholders are they?
Product users as stakeholders
But the first important thing to do is agree who we’re talking about.
If the stakeholders are ‘users of the product’, they need to be involved from the start of the project.
They are the drivers of need, upon which your attempt to deliver a solution are based. They need to inform it, from research to inception to development and launch, and at every stage in the product lifecycle.
These are not the stakeholders I want to focus on in this post.
Sign off / power holding stakeholders
If the stakeholders are NOT the end users, and instead they’re ‘power holders in the organisation’ who need to greenlight the project in some capacity (for instance, line managers, a non-profit’s directors or board, interconnecting teams, etc), then this is a slightly different scenario.
And these are the stakeholders I want to talk about.
An unrealistic ideal
There is an idealised scenario here which you might have heard: that you agree with your power holders that they sign off the start of the project and then leave you alone, or that they have diminishing input as the project progresses.
But that rarely happens. I have yet to work in one role where a manager has said that they are comfortable to work in this fashion.
A more practical alternative
Instead, I advise that sign off stakeholders are involved at the outset and then their involvement reduced at a specific time, a time which both reassures them and aids the project.
In order to know when this is, we need to look at the creative process and how ideas lead to products.
The creative and decision making process
You include stakeholders at the early stages of a creative project to get their buy in. That much is obvious.
After this point, you should picture a diamond. When you are the initial task of coming up with a solution or formulating a response, you are at its point.
As you launch into the creative process all the options become available. Research and discovered needs stimulate ideas, which are thrown into the ring. The possibilities and options widen.
What are you going to be actually making? Who knows yet, but it’s very exciting and there’s loads of ideas on the table.
This is divergence.
After a period you reach the point where the breadth of options is at its widest; and it’s now that the team realise:
these ideas are increasingly distinct and incompatible
the clock is ticking and you need to make some decisions
So now you need to hone in your ideas, reject some and consolidate others. The range of options shrinks until eventually you reach the final concept. This is the point at the other end from where you started and the diamond is complete.
What you went through was convergence.
It’s a diamond of idea generation, opening and then closing.
Convergence is all about making choices and eliminating options so you can decide how to proceed.
But how it relates to stakeholders is this.
Implicit in convergence is the act of commitment. As you move along convergence you are saying, based on what we know now: ‘we commit to say that these ideas are good enough to keep working on’.
So the important thing to do is to include your sign off stakeholders both at the outset AND as far along the convergence process as you can.
At least get them to the point where convergence begins, where decisions are made about what to cut or consolidate and some ideas are moved forward.
Get them involved in convergence. Get them to hone down the choices. And in doing so you’ll get them to commit.
Risks of non commitment
If you include stakeholders only in the divergence, the creative steps, then they are always going to ask
“What happened to my idea,” or
“What happened to that idea I heard which sounded good,” or
“It was a great process, and that tells me that maybe there is more to be done and more great ideas to be found. Let’s run this again and bring in more people [etc]”
When should you bring in stakeholders?
At the start, and definitely at the point of idea generation. Take them through the process (divergence) to the point where decisions have to be made and ideas consolidated or culled to move forward. This ensures their commitment.
At this point risk of them killing or delaying your project starts to decrease. The longer you can keep them involved from here, the better. But make sure you can get them to hear at least.
This is the third part in a series of three posts, focusing on teams. The first post focuses on users and society, and the second on businesses.
They are derived from a workshop I ran in June to look at what Covid-19 (and the future thereafter) means for products, users, teams and society.
The resulting How Might We… questions are designed to be a stimulus for others to come up with solutions in their own context.
We’re going to be building a new everything. So we might as well build it right.
Right now, there’s an increased uncertainty in our team-members’ availability. Childcare, sickness, isolation and more all stand to have an impact and reduce their ability to contribute important work.
So we have to ask:
How might we… work and plan our projects to account for possible absentee-ism?
How might we… ensure flexible working is built into our operational core?
How might we… support team members who are less able to contribute?
How might we… ensure equity between those in the office and those who are forced to remain remote / at home?
How might we… ensure that our remote workers are being trained, upskilled and are excited about their futures?
A lot depends on our culture and our organisations’ support mechanisms. Maybe now is a good time to improve them.
Our team members’ private lives and available resources are affecting their ability to contribute.
Morale is being hit.
How might we… address inequity (i.e. avoidable differences) affecting our team members?
How might we… ask questions to find out what our team members need, whilst being aware of sensitivities and worries about how this information might be used?
How might we… collaborate with other organisations on a response to employee/contractor mental health issues?
How might we… help organisations and team members return to ‘normal’ in a way that feels natural rather than forced?
How might we… prevent Zoom burnout?
Whilst our teams are being affected, our team cohesion getting weaker.
However, team members don’t necessarily want to spend more of their free time checking in with managers and colleagues.
I have a line-manager who I haven’t always had a great relationship with, and I’m exhausted by the constant “mental health check-ins” with someone whose intentions I don’t entirely trust and would much prefer to only interact with on work-based topics. Now I’m expected to discuss my mental health challenges with near strangers who aren’t paid professionals?!
So, in light of constant check ins:
How might we… protect people from good intentions?
How might we… provide mental health support, whilst admitting we are not impartial, mental health professionals?
How might we… just help people focus on the work?
How might we… allow people to opt out, without penalty? (Thanks, Slate).
How might we… enable our team members to communicate when and how they want ‘to talk’?
Teambuilding is hard. Right now, new joiners are even more on the outside. Because it can be harder to integrate into an established group.
And if you’re a new joiner to a company, course, or other community, you carry a lot of anxiety about how you might be perceived.
How might we… best onboard people into a team?
How might we… do the ol’ induction process office walkaround, when there’s no office?
There’ a loss of spontaneity and chanced upon discoveries, which always used to contribute to a project
As Pedro in our session pointed out, when we were all based in an office, a project in development would happen to be glimpsed, overheard about or generally stumbled upon.
The conversations and inputs from an ‘outside’ eye then would often contribute to a project.
This was so regular an occurrence you could even say these hallway and kitchen inputs were a part of the collaborative project development process.
So, now everything is remote…
How might we… formalise processes to include steps and occurrences that would have happened organically before?
(This has crossover with our first post on users and society: HMW… better replicate the chance meetings that allow for shared human connections?)
Lastly, above and around our teams, traditional hierarchies make it hard to work in this new normal (e.g. Leadership team / senior managers)
How might we… move towards more flat structures, collaborative ways of working?
How might we… find new ways to work with the Leadership team?
That’s it. That’s the last of this series of articles focusing on products, users, society and businesses post Covid-19. Hopefully some of those will have inspired you and given you thoughts about how to adapt and move forward.
This is the first part in a series of three posts about products and innovation in the New Normal, focusing on users and society. The second post focuses on businesses, and the third on teams.
In June I ran an online workshop to look at what Covid-19 (and the future thereafter) means for products, users, teams and society.
The impact of Covid-19 on products, UX and people, has been on my mind a lot since the lockdown began. I didn’t have many answers, but I wanted to bring people together to share what we know and see how we might make things better.
Basically, since the pandemic everything has changed. In particular, around these key areas:
How can we research, innovate and launch new ideas when there is so much uncertainty?
How are people’s behaviours changing? And their needs and expectations?
And, most importantly, how will society change (for the better?) and what can we do to help build it anew?
Because we’re going to be building a new everything. So we might as well build it right.
“How might we…” questions as a springboard for your solutions
Together we identified some of the challenges and (in true Design Thinking style) captured stimulating How Might We (HMW) questions that, I hope, will act as a springboard for others to adapt their products, to improve their team-working and to craft a new society in light of the pandemic.
I hope they are of some value.
Since the pandemic’s arrival, our users’ needs are rapidly changing.
How might we… assess whether users’ needs right now will be the same in the next month, or post-Covid?
How might we… adapt to user needs now, but protect against over-correction?
Meanwhile, working remote, we’re extremely separated from our target users.
How might we… increase the time we spend and learn from actual users, even though we are remote?
All the while, our user groups are changing and fragmenting. So….
How might we… identify and create new user segments in this time?
How might we… improve our data gathering to identify new user segments?
On the loss of contact with each other
Users themselves are missing the small, real-world interactions with their colleagues, peers and wider networks.
How might we… replicate real world interactions in the products and systems we’re building?
How might we… better unite humans and technology, in order that we might better express ourselves?
How might we… better replicate the chance meetings that allow for shared human connections?
(The last of these a really interesting one.
During the workshop, one of the attendees pined for the the random yet productive conversations that might occur say, at a conference during in a queue for coffee.
This led to the discussion of someone’s experiences at a recent online workshop on Zoom. There, in the breaks, the hosts used breakout meeting rooms, putting everyone randomly into rooms with one other person.
This facilitated the chance conversations that otherwise rarely happen in the online world.
This also has crossover with the question of “How might we… formalise processes to include steps and occurrences that would have happened organically before?”. This featured in our discussion on Teams.
Anyway, I digress.)
How might we… build more informal communication into our digital products?
How might we… use mixed modes of communication to diversify the way we stay in touch?
How might we… we build play, fun and creativity into our core online communication?
Our users are facing a precarious and uncertain future…
How might we… acknowledge the uncertainty around the information we ourselves are providing, in order to engender trust?
… and those of us who are self employed or work in the gig economy are less secure than ever.
How might we… build products that help users find each other and find opportunities.
Users are finding themselves overworked in their wider lives, and it is hard for them to focus. Nor maintain progress in the things they start.
How might we… build products that engage learners and help users focus?
How might we… build products that convey clearly to users where they’re at within a product?
How might we… build producers that give new users an idea of where to start?
HMW… use our marketing, and onboarding and retention to help users figure out what to prioritise
Social equity and fairness
And as for the vulnerable, the excluded and minorities, they are suddenly finding themselves even more disenfranchised.
How might we… ensure our products and processes are as inclusive as they can be?
And as locked down product owners, who are (tbh) likely not to be counted amongst the disenfranchised, we’re even less likely to be interacting with the same range of people and places as we did before.
How might we… as product owners, identify and research the needs of diverse people who are now even further out of our (reduced) zone of contact?
Stepping up a level there’s lots of talk how the world and society will change after COVID-19.
How might we… build on the sense of change and optimism for the future?
However, our society’s inter-connectivity has taken a hit. Our access to each other is limited, due partly to social network effects and, in some places, the politicisation of the pandemic. So the pockets we find ourselves isolated in grow deeper.
The result? There is greater polarisation even the smallest differences between us.
How might we… design products that increase our contact with those who are now out of our typical zone of contact?
How might we… design products that find and build on commonalities, across the pockets of the internet.
How might we… go beyond the echo chamber?
And whilst we’re all working from home, it’s now recognised a legitimate thing to do. Even if we are working in the evenings and early mornings more, to make up for childcare.
How might we… build more flexibility into the systems in our society? (Flexible train season tickets for part time workers? I’m looking at you)
How might we… make more services available online and out of hours?
How might we… ensure equity for those for whom part-time, flexible working is not an option?
However in the rush to move online, to ‘construct’ safety and support the vulnerable, privacy issues are being overlooked
How might we… gather data on workers needs, to create more equitable systems, but better communicate the use of that data and guarantee its safety?
HMW… use biometrics in privacy-protecting ways?
HMW… apply better safeguarding / child protection in an online world?
HMW… avoid a step towards a new authoritarianism?
Hopefully some of these questions will have inspired you.
Recently I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s excellent Akimbo podcast on enrolment and possibility. And these two concepts are so valuable when you’re thinking about new campaigns, products and content.
The crux is, to change culture, to find your core believers who will support a campaign or use a new product, you need two things. Possibility, how you sell the potential to have impact and change the culture, and enrolment: the system to facilitate buy in and to take people on that journey.
Why are these important?
Going beyond the same-old, same-old
They’re important because all too often we forget about what we are really trying to achieve through our campaign or with our product and so we fall into habitual behaviour: we focus on employing the same old tactics that we have used before and are expected to do now.
As a result our campaigns and our products are not as effective as they should be.
For example, let’s pretend we are launching a new online campaign.
(And a quick note: I’m going to use “campaigns” from hereon in, but a lot of this is applicable to thinking about new products too.)
If we’ve done online campaigning before we might think it’s a good idea to daisy-chain calls to action together (“sign this pledge”, then “thanks for signing the pledge, now can you share the campaign on Twitter?”, then “thanks again, now how about signing up for our mailing list?” and so on).
By why are we doing this? And if we are going to offer different levels of participation – because that’s what we are doing – what’s the best way of doing it?
Moreover, how can we treat people who participate respectfully, and not repeat the same old tactics that are done to supporters by so many other campaigns?
Now is a good time to think about possibility and enrolment. By doing so we can refresh our attitudes and be more effective in our ways of connecting with people and mobilising change.
Possibility is the potential you have, your campaign has, to bring about real change.
Of the two concepts, possibility is the simplest to consider.
And of the two concepts, possibility is more important than enrolment because no matter how easy it is to take part in your campaign it won’t matter if it seems like the end change is an impossible one to achieve.
So ask yourself:
How might your campaign and the messaging around it sell the idea of possibility?
How might it evidence what is possible?
And how might the campaign make the possibility seem attainable? Because (and this is a glib example), a campaign that aims to “end world poverty” feels like it is overreaching. But a campaign that aims to, say, put a new kind of safety net in place “to help prevent vulnerable people from falling into inescapable poverty”? Well, that sounds like it might be possible. It’s a future that we can visualise and a campaign that we can back.
how might your campaign convey the increasing possibility of success as the campaign unfolds and people take part? In other words, how might it ratchet up its own chance of success?
If you can think about these questions when formulating your campaign, and if you can consider them when you’re crafting the language around it, then you can make sure you’re building possibility into your campaign for your audiences.
If possibility is the most important, enrolment is the most difficult to get working effectively. But done right it can be your engine to deliver the possible.
In short… how can people get started? How might the system you create facilitate their participation? How might the system you build help people deliver the possible in an engaged and active way?
This is why the idea of enrolment is so important. To be enrolled means to be an active, contributing part of the system. Enrolment is a way better analogy than sign up. Sign up is passive. Sign up is ‘take my email and maybe I will do something with your newsletters and updates’.
Showing up and doing the work
Enrolment recognises people’s role in the change they want to bring. It rewards commitment and effort and encourages being part of an active community.
And if you think the word ‘enrolment’ evokes college learning and working together: that’s the point.
At its heart, enrolment is about connecting people.
Let’s take an example.
LendWithCare is a fantastic campaign that gets people micro lending to small, local entrepreneurs in the global south. You can lend people £5 to help them start a new brick oven, to buy a new market stand, to purchase a motorbike to increase their distribution, etc.
You can browse who to support, see their photos and read their life and business stories. You get updates on the progression of their repayments. And when they have repaid you you get your money back, ready to reinvest with another person.
It’s fantastic in connecting you to those you are supporting.
And it connects you to others like you. You can create groups of lenders and come together to back people you believe in. You can gift LWC vouchers to get friends and family lending (which is the start of some great person-to-person conversations about the campaign and its possibility) and the LWC team are always present and on hand to chat.
As a result, the people who support LendWithCare are a fantastically enrolled and passionate bunch. The team at LWC could run a ‘what shall we do next’ event next week and they would have a room packed full of supporters, many of whom would have gladly travelled far to contribute their advice.
Give supporters the value they expect from their involvement
Which brings me to my final point about why people support campaigns.
We must recognise that when people contribute to a campaign, even if it’s a charitable one, they rarely contribute freely.
People usually give because on some level they expect to get value back. Deep down it’s worth more to them to give than not to give. This is true whether they are making a pledge, giving time or donating £100.
The value they receive from giving is emotional, spiritual or social.
Value comes through storytelling
And the value returned comes via the story they tell themselves about their own contribution. About their impact on the world and their personal role in delivering the possibility.
If you’re struggling to see what I mean, think about the LendWithCare supporters and the stories they must proudly tell themselves (and those around them) about how they’ve helped people in developing countries grow their own businesses and build their own livelihoods. This is worth so much more than their £5 loan.
So, as campaigners, we have an obligation to recognise that supporters who give us their time or money hope for something in return, and that this is perfectly fine, normal human behaviour.
Going beyond the daisy-chain
Which brings us back to the idea of daisy-chaining calls-to-action.
It’s not enough to just escalate calls to action. It’s not enough to just say thank you in the web browser, and gradually feed supporters towards subscribing to your email list. What story can they tell themselves and others about that?
So be kind. Give them the value they seek. Whatever type of campaign you are running, ask yourself:
How might the system we are building give supporters the emotional, spiritual, or social value they seek?
How might it help them to tell the best possible story about their own involvement?
And most of all, how might the campaign help supporters to be enrolled, to reward their contributions, to actively connect with others and deliver a change that’s possible?
Recently I’ve been lucky to run a range of design and product workshops with Outlandish, the worker-owned tech agency. It’s something I love doing. From 5 day Design Sprints based on the Google Ventures handbook approach, to one day MVP planning, design sprint-in-a-day sessions and more.
Through this there are a few simple techniques that I’ve come to appreciate that can significantly improve the experience of those in the room and the output of the day.
Some of these have already been recommended by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz in their book Design Sprint. I reiterate them here because, when you’re reading the book prior to running your first sprint, it’s easy for their importance to be overlooked.
Others have been learnt the hard way or developed with input from Outlandish colleagues.
Okay, in no particular order, here we go:
If you say sketch, then sketch
In a design sprint there is a lot of sketching. There needs to be. However some people don’t feel comfortable sketching because they’re worried about presenting their drawing skills to their peers. Also they’re concerned they can’t capture what’s in their head.
They will want to write their ideas instead.
But you should avoid your participants writing instead of sketching at all costs.
A written response feels clear and complete. But the beauty of sketching is that it IS crude and unfinished.
A sketch invites more contribution and engagement. It leaves space for the idea to be explained by its drawer and interpreted or elaborated upon by the listener. Because of the space around a sketch the potential feels larger, and more gets opportunities are seen within it.
Sketches, crude flowcharts, stickmen – these are all fine. But written responses should be discouraged.
Reassure your participants that no-one is judging, we are seeking to be inspired. Use the explanation above if need be. Explain why sketching is so important.
Make them stand
There’s something about tables that puts lead in people’s butts and makes them want to sit. This is murder for a collaborative process.
Keep the space more space than table. Give plenty of room around the whiteboards.
Take as many tables out as you can. Leave enough for people to sit at and make notes, but ensure that it’s light on tables. Even a little cramped. People will feel inclined to get up and out of their seat.
Equally, direct them. Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask people to stand up. Ideally before explaining the rest of the activity instructions.
Tell them directly: “Okay, for this next activity I need everyone out of their seats. So, please stand.
“What we’re all going to do is take one sticky note, write on it a user type, and post it on the board. And we’re going to do that for as many user types as we can think of for the next 2 minutes.”
And know where to stand during their feedback
As the facilitator and someone who’ll probably doing the majority of the speaking during the session, attendees feel naturally inclined to address any feedback to you. Be aware of this. They need to be feeding back to their peers, not ‘reporting to teacher’.
So when people are feeding back, try to stand in the midst of the group. Even better, stand behind them, so others are between you and the person at the board explaining their work. This way eye contact is made with their peers, group engagement happens and feedback is taken board.
Be aware of the power in the room
The main client has a lot of power. They’re probably an important decision maker too and it’s important that they’re invested and involved.
However they’ve got a team with them, and some of them in that team have a very different status. The intern. The assistant. The new hire. The student help. And the reality is they’re likely to have just as valid input.
It’s probably imperative, in fact, that new thinking is required on this project – and perhaps even they’re closer to the product’s target user than the CEO.
However it’s easy for the CEO to have a louder voice and the intern to be excluded. So, ensure that everyone is given full chance to speak and participant. And make sure that the intern, the assistant don’t just get a turn at the end of an activity, after everyone else has spoken and now the clock is ticking to move on. But rather, mix them up. Mix everyone’s turn to speak up.
As an aside: Outlandish, where I spend much of my time these days, uses a consent-based decision making process on their projects called sociocracy. Using it in design sprints is a great way to help level the playing field. They offer training in how to apply sociocracy in your own work here.
Make those sticky notes work for everyone
There’s a reason why sticky notes are sticky, and that is so they can be unstuck. And moved.
The process of design requires that people form associations and take action.
Writing notes and sticking them to a wall allows us to immerse ourselves in the chaos of information. Our brains kick in and try to form associations, and soon enough we find ourselves making connections and spotting common themes.
Moving the notes and resticking them elsewhere allows us to spark ideas and conversation, and so on.
If an activity requires sticky notes (e.g. for an idea generation activity, or capturing insights and research), make sure that they go on sticky notes. And insist on one idea or insight per note. Then get them up on the wall.
Really, do push your team to do this. They’ll find it unusual at first, and you’ll need to guard against over-talking and discussion of the notes as they’re created, but soon they’ll see the value of doing this.
Use the board to cut down discussion
A simple yet effective trick: partition a slice of your board off at the start. Draw a line to make a column to one side of your board.
This is your park board.
Here you’re going to park any questions that are taking up too much time.
In my experience they’re usually questions about what-ifs. I.e. other things that the project may or may not need to connect with in the future and how this challenge might be resolved; what other stakeholders who are absent might say; and risks.
Although these can’t be resolved in the room right now, you will find that one or more people will start discussing it like it’s part of the output of the day. It isn’t
I like to capture these things as questions, and refer back to them in the Design Sprint How Might We…? session, if you’re running one.
And when the day is over, you should also refer back to the park board to see if any of the issues and questions parked are still valid and actionable after the sprint.
You can also use the park board to list vocabulary that your team might be unfamiliar with, key dates, or other headline insights, and so use it to reduce the cognitive load on your participants.
Show the running order
Let’s think about the setup for a minute.
In the Design Sprint book Jake Knapp recommends showing the agenda at the start of the day, indicating all the different stages and activities you’ll be running.
There is something so fundamental about doing this, but it’s easily forgotten as you strive to get everyone settled and to get going.
Sure you can just launch into the day and try to take people on a creative journey, but attendees derive confidence in you if they know there is a grand plan. That things are heading in a certain direction – even if they don’t understand what the items on the running order mean or what they’re going to be doing.
Showing a topline running order means they relax. They give themselves over more to the activity. And your day just got a lot easier.
Another simple win. After the introductions and showing the order, check the understanding of your guests. Then, explain your role and the desired outcome of the day.
Finally, ask your attendees to allow you to lead. That’s all. Just ask your attendees something along the lines of “if I have your permission, I will be running through these activities and taking us towards this goal. How does that sound?”
They will say it sounds good – yes, you have their permission. And of course they’ll say this. But in this moment there is a transaction that takes place and trust is imparted to you.
It’s scary to speak to a room, to lead a workshop. There is the fear that you won’t be understood. You feel a pressure to fill the air and over-explain. You feel that people expect you to have all the answers.
But that’s not true. It’s mostly in your head.
So breathe. Take a moment before you speak. Talk a little slower than you usually might in a conversational setting. Actively listen to yourself as you talk.
And when you’ve said what you have to say, lean into the pause. Leave it hanging in the room.
Generally your attendees will want to help you or rise to your challenges.
And as for questions: recognise that you don’t need to have the answers. If someone asks a question, open it to the room. You are there to help the day run beautifully and the attendees to be as productive as they can be.
When you do these things, you pay more attention to what you’re saying. You see where your tongue is taking you and how to finish the idea you’re halfway expressing.
Prepare. Prepare prepare prepare…
And finally, preparation is key.
When I was teaching English, I liked to have a running order, by the minute. For example, prior to running a class I’d make notes like this.:
3 minutes – warm-up activity the ‘eee’ and ‘i’ game
5 minutes – write past-perfect example sentence; elicit other examples; elicit grammar points
15 minutes – set questions
5 minutes – check answers and understanding
At every step I would also prepare what I needed say, almost like a script.
And I do the same thing with running workshops.
However I know that we will probably stray from this. I know that I can’t keep referring to the running order every few mins – it’s impossible. I accept that I will get sidetracked, or I’ll forget something.
But that’s okay, because the act of preparing helps me really get comfortable with the activities and feel relaxed. And in the room, it helps me have a better awareness of time.
So there you are! A few tips to help you run sessions. Hope they’re of use 😉
What version of operating system does your phone run? Is it the latest? If not, do you even care?
The change in life that an upgrade makes, is it even still noticeable? Compare that to how it felt when you first bought a smartphone. Or your first car?
The impact of successful products
As a product actually develops from idea to reality, the potential directions it could go in rapidly narrow. The potentialities evaporate as decisions have to be made and things start to be laid in place. Once build begins, the cruft – the assorted debris, the complexities, leftovers and impacts of design and build choices – increases.
Gradually it becomes harder and harder to improve upon the product, and the effort required to continue to develop new features or apply improvements increases.
Meanwhile, something worse is happening.
The addressable market for your product is shrinking. Or because I like to focus on people rather than market numbers, I prefer to phrase it another way: the potential emotional value that your product supplies is shrinking.
The product value / product development trade off
The users whose pain point you solved with the launch of your MVP and first few iterations, are still around, but their scale of problem has reduced. You’ve (hopefully) already addressed it somewhat and provided some level of solution.
And therefore the emotional value that updates to your product can deliver is steadily shrinking too.
Gradually, the effort to update your product is going to greatly outweigh the emotional value updates can bring.
So what’s to be done?
Innovating whilst managing expectations
As CEOs of product based businesses, you should be looking to diversify and innovate. Find new problems and deliver solutions.
As Product Owners, you should keep updating your roadmap but beware of the diminishing returns that your product is likely to deliver. Feed this up.
And don’t feel bad! Feel good for every bit of value delivered in this increasingly complex situation.
As suppliers and agencies building products, you’re in a difficult position.
On the one hand you’re trusted to improve a product on behalf of a client. On the other hand, you are at risk of being viewed increasingly unfavourably over time (quietly, unfairly blamed?) as your work fails to bring the same returns as those early, giddily successful releases.
The best approach for you is to be open and supportive of your client. Highlight the diminishing returns they will eventually face. Help them avoid the risk of ossifying, losing out to new, smaller, focused products whose teams can move faster and deliver more emotional value than your clients 18th update can.
Encourage your clients to diversify, look for new emotional problems and product opportunities, and work with them to ideate and build these new products.