How to know your Product Design team is truly doing its part
If you’re leading a product design team you have probably asked yourself, are we as a team doing enough for our users and the business? And you have likely been asked this question in one form or another by a senior stakeholder.
When I ask are we doing our part, I don’t mean just the bare minimum. But are we really, truly having influence within the broader company in a way that makes the best possible experience for our users? Are we using our skills as designers to the full potential and really making a difference for the business?
I believe there are two parts to answering this question.
The first is coming up with a model that covers all the bases for your particular context. The second part is getting buy-in from your key stakeholders. It’s best to approach it as a contract between our team and the business. If the business agrees on what you should contribute and you can deliver on that you’re golden (almost).
But we shouldn’t stop there. There is always opportunity to go above and beyond what the business requires. In fact, we often need to do this to have the strategic influence as designers that the business ‘secretly’ wants from us, but sometimes doesn’t know how to ask.
In what follows I’ll walk through the model we’re trying out, and the details of how we are tracking it.
Creating the model
To create our model we focused on two questions.
The first question is, how can we as a product design team ensure an optimal user experience?
The second question is, how can we as a design team create the most business value? This question is important because it supports the business case for why we should invest in product design.
We came up with four themes that I think cover all the bases.
- Getting the details right
- Moving toward the future
- Providing a holistic view
- Supporting product strategy
Below is an illustration of the model 👇
Applying the model
Under each of these themes are a number of initiatives we are owning as a team. We are tracking them in a spreadsheet (see below) and reviewing progress over a quarterly basis.
Each theme has a design team sponsor, who is responsible for process improvements, keeping on top of the theme and delegating tasks as needed. The sponsors meet every two weeks to check-in.
Next I’ll add a bit more detail about what we are tracking under each theme…
Getting the details right
This first theme is what will naturally come to mind for your stakeholders when they think about the role of a product designer. And for good reason. Doing well in this area means that we are taking care of the basics.
This area is focused on current initiatives. It makes sure that we provide the needed support to get us through our roadmap for the current cycle. This involves providing design direction for new features and feature improvements that we are already committed to delivering.
The main benefit to the business in this category (the business case) is risk reduction. When we deliver in this area we reduce the risk that features will fail because of usability problems or other issues related to the user experience. So if we fail to put adequate resources into these activities, the business increases its exposure to risk.
Below is a list of initiatives we are tracking under this theme.
Ensuring UX quality
- Weekly internal design review
- Ensure each deliverable passes our UX checklist
- Backing up our design decisions using our UX principles and data
UX perspective and recommendations
- UX Perspective Docs are one-off documents we produce to influence larger product decisions as needed.
Validation: A/B testing, usability testing, using data
Moving towards the future
This future-oriented theme is where we get to do our most creative work as designers. It’s where we get to think about how we can design our way to better solutions for our customers.
One of the most important considerations for this theme is to make sure ideation is not wasted work and that the ideas being created are actually supporting product development. Doing this requires that we work with our Product Managers to formulate the ideas in a language that can be understood by the business and that has a solid business case.
The business case for investing in this category can be made on account of competitive advantage and efficiency. When we deliver in this area, we contribute ideas that improve our chances of staying ahead of our competition. We also increase efficiency by helping to build consensus with Product Management and Engineer around the winning ideas.
Below are the activities we are tracking under this theme.
- This is a process we have developed in collaboration with our PMs and Engineers to ‘shape’ ideas prior to them going into prioritization. You can read about it in my article How we’re solving the Product Triad collaboration problem.
UX ideas backlog
- This is a way for us to record and improve ideas for features and improvements that we hope have a chance of getting built.
Feature recommendation business case documents
- When we think we have a strong case to build a feature and we need to create an argument that our stakeholders will find convincing.
Providing a holistic view
Providing a holistic view involves communicating about the quality of our UX across the product and surfacing important UX issues. This is crucial data that can affect product decisions.
To get this view we must think critically about the product and do our own user research.
The main business value of this area is efficacy in decision making. By delivering in this area we surface a unique perspective that helps with resource allocation and strategic focus.
Here is a list of initiatives we are tracking under this theme.
Regular heuristic reviews
UX issues backlog
UX health dashboard
Supporting product strategy
This final theme ensures that design contributes at the level of product leadership, and has influence in the longer term product planning.
In this category we are essentially summarizing the insights from all the other categories and putting them the into a language that can be useful for the business.
Some key aspects of this include representing the voice of the user in important conversations that are happening, raising risks that are related to user experience and helping to orient the team around the user problems we are solving.
Similar to the Holistic View theme, the main business value we provide here is efficacy of decision making, for example when it comes to resource allocation, feature prioritization and long term planning.
Another way to make the business case for investing is these activities is related to the value of investment in the Product Design team. The business can benefit greatly from the collective knowledge generated by the design team as an input into strategic planning. If the design team is not providing these inputs, the business is likely not getting the full value it should from it’s investment in design.
Here is a list of initiatives we are tracking under this theme.
Annual UX recommendations (supporting yearly planning)
Ad hoc strategic UX inputs to support key decisions
What’s working and what’s not
This is brand new for us. We’re going to be trying it out for Q4, 2022. I’ll keep you posted!