Kinda like snowflakes
Every project is unique, but here are some general principles I adhere to on every new endeavor, and how I lead myself and others in unpacking the question:
What are the problems we are trying to solve?
Get the lay of the land
Unless the team is starting from scratch, a product experience already exists. As an experienced leader, I know that in order to define a great product experience the team needs to start with due diligence.
This often requires learning more: conducting an audit or running a blueprint workshop of the primary use cases, heuristics, gathering data from analytics, talking to customer care agents, doing testing with customers in the studio or “in the wild.”
To get where you want to go, start by knowing where you are.
Doing the heavy lifting up front can have huge rewards. People often think they should start with their ultimate vision (“Otherwise we’ll get bogged down in the weeds!”) but I believe the opposite. Knowing where you are doesn’t prevent you from envisioning what’s possible. Instead, it shows you what it will take to get there. With this approach, your vision is more likely to become reality, not less.
What are the levers?
Depending on the current product experience, there are usually multiple areas with opportunities for both short- and long-term improvement. As a design leader I encourage my teams to look at a combination of touchpoints that should be addressed first, instead of finishing just a single thread of the experience.
Which levers should you flip across your experience for the biggest ROI?
Now is also the time for the team to develop their hypotheses, validate them through testing, and prove their assumptions, as well as determine how they’ll measure the impact (improved conversion, engagement, NPS scores, decrease in calls to care, etc.). If the team determines that a complete overhaul is needed, then it’s also time to figure out phasing, and where to focus first.
where do we want to go?
What’s our vision for the product experience in six months? One year? Three years? Where do we want it to go and how far can we push out the pendulum?
A vision can inspire a team to push further than they thought possible.
It’s important to develop a longer-term vision and not just focus on minor improvements. The latter can have impactful and immediate results, but the former can disrupt and change the product space forever. As a design leader my goal is help my teams do both.
When coupling a longer-term vision with a deep understanding of where you are today, the team is in a prime position to determine the first iteration of this vision — and what they need to do in later releases to get it across the finish line.