4 Steps To Project Success

January 28, 2015
Matt Wallens

meetingWhen I work with a client, I put a lot of focus on doing discovery research before jumping into a project with both feet. In summary, UX Discovery Projects give us a much clearer picture of the project and help us give a more accurate prediction on cost and duration. Ultimately, this saves everyone a heap of time and potentially a lot of money that could have been wasted.

In this post, I’ll get into more detail about our process for running discovery projects. If you’re planning on working with us, be warned: spoilers ahead.

We basically want to do four things:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Review the landscape
  3. Talk to real people
  4. Report the findings

When I write it like that it seems so easy, but it’s not. It can take a fair amount of time and effort. Let’s start at the top.

1. Identify the problem

Doing research without knowing the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t very useful. Setting context and understanding the business goals prior to exploration will keep the rest of the project focused. We start by asking our clients some basic questions to get the ball rolling:

  • What are the goals of the project?
  • Who are your users?
  • What are their goals?
  • What problems will this project solve?

Answering these questions often leads to even more questions and discussions to really understand the business and its intended purpose. Is our client trying to innovate within an existing market? Are they trying to close a feature gap with a specific competitor? Maybe they want to increase sales to a particular user type?

For deeper exploratory research, we also seek out existing or potential customers and visit them in the environment in which they work. Sitting and watching people go about their daily routines often gives us insight to problems that they may not even know they have.

We use this information to create client profiles. Note that these are not personae. I won’t go on that tangent but I’ll say for most of our projects, personae are not required and we instead focus on client profiles. Our client profiles focus on user behavior and goals, not on demographics.

The critical point of this step is that everyone needs to be in agreement before moving to Step 2. We need to be on the same page as the client because if we’re going out looking for answers to a question that they don’t think needs to be answered, then we’re wasting everyone’s time.

2. Review the landscape

When we’re working with an existing product, the first thing we do is review it from front to back to look for opportunities. This includes looking at the product itself, associated marketing sites, and social media channels. When we can, we look at offline collateral as well. We want to get a sense for how this business communicates with their customers.

Often called Competitive Analysis, we also look at competitors in the space to better understand the market. We use the client profiles and project goals to focus on attributes of the competition and get a picture of what they’re doing, where they excel and how our clients can benefit.

3. Talk to real people

Ah, time to talk to humans and get some real answers. We can do this a couple of different ways. Typically we’ll start with a survey to the targeted client profile identified in Step 1. We’ll get a list of survey participants from the client (if looking for existing users) or gather participants from public lists. There are many great articles written on writing good surveys but to boil it down, we make each question relevant to our research goals.

We also work customer interviews into our process. Who do we talk to? Interviews are a great way to get qualitative data. It allows us the opportunity to ask the same questions we’d ask in a survey, but we can learn so much more. Asking follow-up questions lets us dig deeper to understand the needs of the participants. For a typical process, we can get enough data after talking to six people for less than an hour each.

Just to make this clear: No Focus Groups.

4. Report the findings

After we’ve completed our research we write it all up to make it easy to understand. We look for themes from across the steps and look for ways that they can be leveraged to solve our research problem. We also look for positive feedback. If there are things that are working well, those get noted as well as things to leverage or imitate.

The fun part of the Findings step is to recommend solutions. It’s not very helpful to just point out problems or opportunities without offering ways to improve. We then work with the client to think through our recommendations. We’ll help prioritize features by looking at value vs. effort to come up with a viable roadmap.

I hope this gives some more insight into the steps we follow when we start a new project. We try to keep it as light as possible and pick and choose the right steps that provide the most value for each project.

Photograph by Flickr user Just Ard