Uh, who designed that?

13 Dec 2007 - 6:37pm
6 years ago
8 replies
502 reads
Darren Ellis
2007

Here's a work/process/confrontation scenario for the group that some of you may have experience with, and I'm seeking advice on.

I'm working on an important redesign project for my company and found out recently
that a project manager (not a designer and not directly involved in the project) spent some of his/her own time
coming up with a functioning wireframe prototype for this project. In fact, this same person has been "shopping it around" to our development folks and hasn't involved the core project team in these discussions.

Here are the issues:
- A core team was already assembled for this project that includes pm's (not this one), usability, user education writer, senior leadership, etc.

- The design this person created has been attempted in the past and failed usability testing. Not to mention, I explored the idea at the start of the project (sketches only) and determined the amount of design and interaction issues were too great for the time allocated and our give objectives.

- I have plenty of experience translating wireframes into real screens and there's no way this design will scale to live site material with our browser requirements/stats. Plus, once real world data is applied to the design it really becomes a mess.

- We are out of the concept phase. I've already progressed my designs beyond wireframes and have been through a round of usability testing. When I'm not dealing with issues like this I'm trying to iterate the designs and push forward.

- I respect the person professionally. This pm is smart and a good person to work with, but can be headstrong.

I'm particularly frustrated with the knowledge that this person is showing the designs around to the teams that will ultimately build out the project team's solutions. My initial reaction was to sit down and review the design, which I did. I looked at it through the PM's eyes, and then I critiqued it using best practices, recent usability tests, persona information, and historical data. The PM assigned to the project and I then had a conversation to discuss the design and my critique.

The challenge is how to approach the PM without feeling like we're laying the smack down. We want to keep these kind of ideas flowing through the team, but we can't have folks inserting their hand at random points in the project time line. I feel like directly talking to the PM in question and explaining the issues could help, but I also think his/her invested time could mean difficulty in dealing with them.

So how do you react to this? What would be your plan of action? Thoughts?

_________________________________________________________________
Get the power of Windows + Web with the new Windows Live.
http://www.windowslive.com?ocid=TXT_TAGHM_Wave2_powerofwindows_122007

Comments

13 Dec 2007 - 11:48pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> So how do you react to this? What would be your plan of action? Thoughts?

Oh, the joy of politics!

I've been in this situation many times, as I'm sure others here have.
Fortunately, I worked in customer service positions for about 8 years as a
youngster, where I dealt with all sorts of abhorrent situations, and I've
also had the benefit of learning some tricks from a couple of people that
are absolute masters at making you feel good about yourself when you do
something stupid (you know, not that *I've* ever done anything stupid ;) ).

It's obvious that you need to "smack down" the work he's done, so the trick
is in how to do it. If he's not a "superior" on the food chain, this will be
a lot easier. Here's what I've done that has worked like a charm on many
occasions:

As gracefully as possible, you walk through a 3-step conversation. First,
you compliment his efforts, telling him how much you appreciate his efforts
and passion for the project. You wish more people would go above and beyond
like that. Passion is infectious, and you're happy he's on your side instead
of the competition.

Second, you tell him that unfortunately, the work he's done doesn't fit into
the project right now. It may be something you'll be able to explore later
on, but the project has already been scoped and planned, and given the time
and resources you have for the project, it's simply too late to try to work
it in and do any meaningful design and testing on the idea. And based on
your initial heuristic review, you know it would need to be fleshed out more
before it could be added in a meaningful and effective way.

Third, you end by saying, again, that you appreciate his efforts followed by
something like, "You know, it's really not your fault. I mean, I understand
your desire to contribute to the project, but we've already done a huge
amount of work on it, and [we don't have the budget / this project is
important and it's being rushed / insert other valid excuses here],
and you couldn't
possibly have known all the details of what's been done so far. In the
future, you could try to get involved earlier on and make sure your ideas
get heard."

The reason this works is that the kind of person you have to say this to
*never* ends up getting involved earlier on projects. He'll continue doing
exactly what he's doing now.

If this is a person who really appreciates honesty and respects your opinion
and work (and likewise), do all this in a conference room, by yourselves, to
avoid crushing him in front of his peers. If he's more of a social wet towel
type, do it as a drive-by at his cubicle/office. Walk right up like you just
came out of a meeting, lay it out, and bail. He'll be thrown off by the
suddenness of it all and will completely forget to argue with you.

If all else fails, you can blame the management. If your boss (or your boss'
boss) is willing to take these kinds of blows for you, you can usually get
away with just blaming that person. Can't argue with executive decisions. :)

Of course, if this person is higher up on the ladder than you, you'll need
more proof to kill the idea. Proof of low usability, proof that the timeline
and budget doesn't support it, etc. But even then, the same approach usually
works.

When all this is said and done, find the first opportunity you can to credit
him for something good in front of other people.

I'm convinced someone will be offended by my reply here, but I'm not worried
about that. I don't care if it's a dirty word or not - the fact is,
manipulation works. It's not insincere, either. When it comes down to it,
it's the polite response.

Of course, now I can never use this technique on anyone on this list. :)

-r-

14 Dec 2007 - 1:17am
cfmdesigns
2004

On Dec 13, 2007, at 3:37 PM, D E wrote:

> I'm working on an important redesign project for my company and
> found out recently
> that a project manager (not a designer and not directly involved in
> the project) spent some of his/her own time
> coming up with a functioning wireframe prototype for this project.
> In fact, this same person has been "shopping it around" to our
> development folks and hasn't involved the core project team in these
> discussions.

Sounds to me like there may be a teaching opportunity here for the
team, if you can broach it so that it doesn't become a public
smackdown of this person. If the Dev team is vested in the methods of
the current team approach, then every last one of them he approached
should have known "This isn't the way things should be done", and they
should have told him and (gracefully) brought you into discussions.

If they didn't do that:
* Maybe they aren't being kept in the loop on "how things are done"
* Maybe they don't agree with "how things are done" and were willing
to go along with an alternative
* Maybe they don't care and will just take whatever is fed to them by
someone "in power"
* Maybe they don't feel that they have the right/ability to say "This
is wrong"
* Maybe how you think "things are done" isn't how he thinks they are
* Or worse, maybe how you think they are done is just something they
let you think while they go and keep doing things their own way

(Of course, you did find out what was happening, so someone must have
spoken up somewhere.)

Can you tell I've hit each of those situations at some point in the
past?

The problem here isn't so much that he put together a flawed design,
or that he put together a design at all, but that he felt that it was
okay for him to do so. There's some root failure here; perhaps on the
individual level, but likely quite a bit more pervasive.

-- Jim Drew
cfmdesigns at earthlink.net
http://www.soundskinky.com/blog/

14 Dec 2007 - 6:58am
bminihan
2007

I've been here too, done that, and designed the T-shirt.

I agree with Robert and Jim's responses, pretty much verbatim. There are
more than a few reliable ways to handle this situation. I too had a stint
as customer service in retail and corporate tech support for several years,
so I've learned to "help people find the right direction" in certain
projects over time.

One technique I've honed over the years in this situation: Talk to the PM
to find out what's at the heart of his design, that he keeps pushing for.
There has to be some nugget that he thinks is being overlooked, and I'm sure
his design is just a vehicle to push that through. Once you find out the
2-3 things he's really pushing for, cave on one of them. Build it into your
design, somehow, and let the PM know that you're incorporating the most
usable elements of his design. Then (as Robert says), tell the PM that
you'll build in the additional elements in the next phase of the project, as
soon as he can document how to overcome X, Y and Z implementation problems
with the design. You just discovered those, so feed them back to the PM and
have HIM figure out how to solve them - after the project.

Along the "manipulation lines", I don't mind being self-deprecating a little
to help the PM know that not everyone is perfect. This doesn't work well if
the PM already thinks you're an idiot, but if he seems down on himself for
not being able to accomplish his goal, relating more directly to him or her
will usually help.

I also agree with others - I HATE this situation, and others like it. It's
one of the reasons I left the big corporate world recently, and moved back
to start-up land. At least I get to invent my own politics for awhile.

Bryan
http://www.bryanminihan.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Robert
Hoekman, Jr.
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:48 PM
To: D E
Cc: IxDA
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Uh, who designed that?

> So how do you react to this? What would be your plan of action? Thoughts?

Oh, the joy of politics!

13 Dec 2007 - 11:52pm
Anonymous

Hello,

It would be a good idea to get this PM and other stakeholders on the project
in a room. Then on the white board list down Business Goals of the product,
and other the side list down the User Goals. Then put up the designs on the
wall----core teams design and this PM's design side by side. Start mapping
the business and user goals to each of these designs. He will see the light
at the end of this exercise, and you will also be able to show 'respect' to
his design and efforts, without killing his enthusiam.

Another exercise would be to put the two designs side-by-side on the wall.
Create a flow of the wireframes of these two designs on the wall. Then take
each of the designs and create a storyboard. "Reverse engineering" kind of
thing. The storyboard that best allows the user to achieve his goals, will
be the winner.

Hope this helps,

Chaitrali Dhole
Sr. Usability Engineer,
Persistent Systems, India.

On 12/13/07, D E <anttanant at hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>
> Here's a work/process/confrontation scenario for the group that some of
> you may have experience with, and I'm seeking advice on.
>
> I'm working on an important redesign project for my company and found out
> recently
> that a project manager (not a designer and not directly involved in the
> project) spent some of his/her own time
> coming up with a functioning wireframe prototype for this project. In
> fact, this same person has been "shopping it around" to our development
> folks and hasn't involved the core project team in these discussions.
>
> Here are the issues:
> - A core team was already assembled for this project that includes pm's
> (not this one), usability, user education writer, senior leadership, etc.
>
> - The design this person created has been attempted in the past and failed
> usability testing. Not to mention, I explored the idea at the start of the
> project (sketches only) and determined the amount of design and interaction
> issues were too great for the time allocated and our give objectives.
>
> - I have plenty of experience translating wireframes into real screens and
> there's no way this design will scale to live site material with our browser
> requirements/stats. Plus, once real world data is applied to the design it
> really becomes a mess.
>
> - We are out of the concept phase. I've already progressed my designs
> beyond wireframes and have been through a round of usability testing. When
> I'm not dealing with issues like this I'm trying to iterate the designs and
> push forward.
>
> - I respect the person professionally. This pm is smart and a good person
> to work with, but can be headstrong.
>
> I'm particularly frustrated with the knowledge that this person is showing
> the designs around to the teams that will ultimately build out the project
> team's solutions. My initial reaction was to sit down and review the design,
> which I did. I looked at it through the PM's eyes, and then I critiqued it
> using best practices, recent usability tests, persona information, and
> historical data. The PM assigned to the project and I then had a
> conversation to discuss the design and my critique.
>
> The challenge is how to approach the PM without feeling like we're laying
> the smack down. We want to keep these kind of ideas flowing through the
> team, but we can't have folks inserting their hand at random points in the
> project time line. I feel like directly talking to the PM in question and
> explaining the issues could help, but I also think his/her invested time
> could mean difficulty in dealing with them.
>
> So how do you react to this? What would be your plan of action? Thoughts?
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> _________________________________________________________________
> Get the power of Windows + Web with the new Windows Live.
> http://www.windowslive.com?ocid=TXT_TAGHM_Wave2_powerofwindows_122007
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

14 Dec 2007 - 8:21am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Dec 13, 2007, at 6:37 PM, D E wrote:

> We want to keep these kind of ideas flowing through the team, but we
> can't have folks inserting their hand at random points in the
> project time line.

So, just tell them that. This pretty much sums up what you want to say.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

14 Dec 2007 - 8:48am
Faith Peterson
2007

I'm not clear whether when the designs were considered early on if he
brought them to you and now he's trying to run and end-around, or if he
never brought them to you and you considered the same ideas generated from
within your team. I think that's an important difference and would tend to
affect one's choice of approach.

Of all the posts I have to agree most with Todd who just weighed in.

I have found that often people on the business side feel that they
understand what the customer wants better than anyone - and often they are
right! Trouble comes when, instead of articulating the gap between need and
application, they propose solutions. I agree with the person who recommended
trying to dig deeper to find out if there is something your team might have
missed that this person can't express except in software terms. I'd also dig
for sales/marketing concerns - often people are driven by what they think
will demo well for the people who write the checks. They can sometimes be
convinced by arguing from adoption effectiveness (how it will reflect on
your company if the customers' stakeholders can't get their software adopted
by actual users).

I have to say starting by flattering this person's initiative etc., then
moving into additional veiled steps during all of which the hidden agenda is
to deflect his input without him thinking that's what your doing, is an
approach that can backfire. If you can't carry out that conversation with
sincerity and respect, don't have it. He'll know you're partronizing him,
and if he has any power at all will only be motivated to bring in even
bigger guns.

Leading with the positive undermines the first message with the subsequent
criticism. This breeds distrust rather than strengthening the relationship.
Lead with the bad news, then enlist his help to resolve the problem. I have
found this to be more effective than leading with conciliatory expressions,
especially when I can't summon the necessary sincerity to deliver them
effectively.

My 2 cents.

Faith

--
Faith Peterson
f.a.peterson at gmail.com

On Dec 13, 2007 5:37 PM, D E <anttanant at hotmail.com> wrote:

>
> Here's a work/process/confrontation scenario for the group that some of
> you may have experience with, and I'm seeking advice on.
> <snip>
> The challenge is how to approach the PM without feeling like we're laying
> the smack down. We want to keep these kind of ideas flowing through the
> team, but we can't have folks inserting their hand at random points in the
> project time line. I feel like directly talking to the PM in question and
> explaining the issues could help, but I also think his/her invested time
> could mean difficulty in dealing with them.
>
> So how do you react to this? What would be your plan of action? Thoughts?
>
>

14 Dec 2007 - 1:07pm
Bill Fernandez
2007

Usually a project team like the one you describe has a project
manager: someone who's responsible for keeping the team on track,
making sure schedules are met, providing resources, acting as liaison
with the management structure of the company, and very importantly;
running interference for the team so that it can get its job done.

I suggest that this "competing" design is interference that it is the
responsibility of your project manager, not you personally, to
handle. It's certainly appropriate for you to bring this problem to
your project manager's attention, and to offer to your expertise and
assistance in handling it, but it's his/her job to address it.

I also suggest that whatever techniques are used (such as
complimenting initiative, encouraging ideas, and discouraging
divisiveness or competition) the fundamental objectives should be (a)
for your project manager to relieve your team from the burden of
interference, and (b) for the interfering party to learn how to work
effectively and appropriately within a corporate/team environment.
This last may require a collaboration between your project's manager
and that party's boss, and in my mind should be done in a firm but
constructive and professionally nurturing manner (your corporate
culture may vary).

FWIW,
Bill Fernandez

--

======================================================================
Bill Fernandez * User Interface Architect * Bill Fernandez Design

(505) 346-3080 * bf_list1 AT billfernandez DOT com *
http://billfernandez.com
======================================================================

14 Dec 2007 - 2:14pm
Darren Ellis
2007

Thanks for all of your responses. Each was very helpful in determining
a course of action.

That said, before I could think too much about it I actually ran into
the PM in the hallway this morning. Sensing s/he knew I knew about the
design I started of the conversation with some light humor about this
person joining the design team w/out going through the proper
interview loops, etc. I then dove into determining their motivations
and reasons for doing the work. After talking through the problems of
the design solution, s/he admitted there were flaws in the design and
saw why I hadn't taken that approach. I ended the conversation with
appreciation for the work and encouraged this person to submit
further ideas to the project team directly. I also mentioned how
we'd likely put the design into the R&D bucket and likely seek his
help in fleshing out the design flaws.

All in all, about 10 minutes of my time was used and it went very
well.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=23497

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