The good ship Alpha

This week there have been many nautical themed analogies used in relation to work. Turning a big ship, paddling a flotilla of rafts (with loose barrels), shifting the iceberg. Fortunately nothing directly associated with sinking just yet.

Last week one of our product teams entered an alpha phase. The team are working in design sprints. Design sprints are structured so the team identifies a problem/s, collaboratively generate lots of ideas so solve the problem/s, then whittle them down to a prototype/s they can test all within 5 days. And then repeat. Alpha phases are the opposite of the above nautical analogies. Visible design shifts, pivots and progresses quickly, and despite some teething problems it really is a satisfying process to observe.

Starting is hard.

Picking a question to answer, a single problem to solve, is hard. When you are facing so many big questions it is easy to feel overwhelmed. And when you do start, it’s tough being hyperaware what you’ve chosen to start on is just a very small slice of a much bigger thing.

Being confident in the approach is key, because when doubts slip in it can affect the teams direction. A collaborative approach to design is something I feel very strongly about. It’s not just about knowing an idea can come from anywhere or anyone, ideas are transient. It’s about something a lot more solid. The whole team going on the same journey, understanding the problem, increasing knowledge and moving towards the solution together.

The ideation or sketching stage isn’t about coming up with user interfaces. It’s about probing the problems from a different perspective as a team. Back-end, front-end dev, research, data, content. An amalgamation of all of these different skills & experiences, putting down on paper what could work, realising together what won’t work, what is madness, what is brilliant. Together. So there are no shocks at the end. So a designer doesn’t hand a mock-up to a developer only to be told it’s utter fantasy.

Anyone can facilitate design sprints, but there is an advantage if a designer does, it is them after all that will have to translate all of the ideas into something that is joined up, meets user needs, and provides seamless user journeys.

These processes are something we are learning to adapt for us, we have already identified areas we can tighten and have reduced the sprint to 4 days. Process, like anything we build is something we will test, measure and iterate. These judgement calls are something that has to come from within the team, and something those outside, like me, should support the teams to deliver.



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