What to look out for when you inherit a Pain Project
UX projects often go wrong because someone was not aware of, or did not plan to mitigate certain risks. I have inherited many such projects over the years, so here are my top reasons why the wheels come off.
Often the most well-run UX projects are that way precisely because the clients or stakeholders have worked previously on a project that went very wrong and there were Consequences.
But this time, they are willing this time to invest in Doing Things Properlyin order to mitigate risk and avoid pain.
In short, they’ve been hit by the bus before, so they now know to be careful when crossing the road.
Most of the projects I inherit where something has gone wrong, it’s because the project has been designed or run by a team who do not understand, or do not perceive the types of risks inherent in UX projects.
Somewhere along the lines someone has said “hey, let’s do it this way!” because they don’t know any better, or they don’t care because as far as they’re concerned, nothing can go wrong.
What’s the worst that can happen?
However if you know the dangers, you will assign the correct time and resource to ensure things don’t go wrong — because you know it’s much more expensive and career-limiting when they d
Each project is unique and has the potential to go very wrong in new and interesting ways, and I couldn’t possibly list every single one here.
However there are some situations which are, in my experience, the most predictable signifiers that something has gone or is about to go horribly wrong.
These are the things that will derail any UX project:
If you’re doing UX work, then you’re doing Science. And Science requires a methodology. No matter the size of the project — a day, a month or a year-long, you need to have an approach planned out.
How do you understand the project balance the various sets of needs? How do you define the approach to the solution? What is the design and how will it be tested or validated? The standard UCD method will allow you to do all of this, as will Design Thinking or whatever trendy, newfangled label on the same thing we’ve been doing for years floats your boat. But you need to set it up up-front, and follow it to the end. Not abandon it or skip it entirely because it’s not cool or exciting enough.
You know this is the problem when… No one knows where we are on the project. No one knows what happens next. No one understands why we are doing a task, how one activity relates to the next, or the value of any given exercise or deliverable.
The client and/or senior stakeholder and/or any other person who thinks they know better than the UX people involved can suggest random additional tasks and activities that add no value whatsoever because there is no rationale for why we’re doing anything. The project will drag on, money will be spent, no valuable outcomes will be achieved and everyone (including the user) will go home unsatisfied and possibly, without a job.
Related to the methodology planning above, another problem arises when you have a methodology but have not planned for appropriate deliverables at each stage. There needs to be an upfront plan on how the process is going to be documented, which deliverables are to enable the working team to move the design forward and which are for stakeholder engagement or sign off — and what levels of fidelity are needed for each.
You know this is the problem when… Stakeholders don’t understand the deliverables (i.e. can’t explain to their colleagues what they are, or what they are for), or are asking for different deliverables because they can’t use what you’ve given them. Sometimes it is as simple as mis-matched expectations. However sometimes it’s because there was not enough forward planning for large scale stakeholder engagement.
In this scenario, you will often see actual work stopping while practitioner time is spent re-cutting deliverables in new ways — building presentation versions of prototypes, making shiny promotional videos of the project, or endless Powerpoint decks. If it has been established up front that there are large numbers of senior stakeholders, then a separate strategy needs to exist with a parallel workstream to create politically-driven assets — and this is not part of the core UX team’s work.
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