Notes from Andy Budd’s UserTesting Webinar


My notes from Andy Budd’s UserTesting webinar entitled Defeat the status quo - how to run the perfect digital project.

Deconstructing project failure

  • The difficult part is the doing
  • Project kick off is already too late, seeds have already been sown for failure
  • Starting is crucial
  • Define the problems early

Problem: Selling the project

  • e.g. time since re-design
  • “this time it’s going to be different”
  • Overselling is a risk – stakeholders expectations are high

Problem: Estimation bias - humans are terrible at estimating the potential issues (failure)

  • resources
  • design blockers

Solution: Become product rather than project centric

  • learning cycle is too short with large/long projects
  • start moving budgets into smaller changes - opex rather than capex
  • shorter iterations, continuous cycles
  • manage expectations more easily

Problem: We estimate at the point in the project when we know the least

  • ballpark figure becomes the budget
  • ballpark referred to later on

Problem: We didn’t have the right people in the room

  • understanding organisations
  • different value places into the involvement in the process
  • involve the right people - the product team; developers, designers etc
  • planning poker exercise{:target="_blank"} for user stories
  • timing is key

Solution: A good scoping phase

  • explain the discovery stage
  • talk to customers, stakeholders
  • use personas, user journey maps, user stories
  • trial and error
  • sell back to the organisation
  • manage expectations

Problem: Technology is surprisingly opinionated

  • generic technology is opinionated
  • opinions are baked into technology
  • this has a knock-on effect

Problem: Selecting your technology platform too early can paint you into a corner

  • added too early from a list of requirements
  • CTOs love shopping and tech
  • suppliers are great at selling tech
  • miss-sold tech is rampant - once invested the flaws start to show
  • hard to turn back once invested

Solution: Design from the outside in

  1. design user journeys
  2. prototype
  3. then approach tech

Problem: Agile isn’t a cure-all

  • you have company buy-in but …
  • challenging in it’s own right
  • successfully modern waterfall approach can work
  • huge commitment going full-agile
  • agile is an all-in company approach
  • certainty to stakeholders on delivering
  • difficult for ‘command and control’ teams
  • referred to as “fragile”
  • agile is cross-team and consensus agreement

Solution: Try being agile (lowercase a)

  • start with critical project
  • start slow and small
  • develop stakeholder understanding
  • building culture
  • refer to the agile manifesto{:target="_blank"}

Problem: Scope creep

  • agile allows for scope creep
  • new priorities, market change, timeline change
  • bloated if not controlled

Solution: A kick-ass product manager with real authority

  • being there 100%
  • real ownership of the product and decisions
  • continuous feedback to the company
  • needs to be in-house
  • hard to find
  • sits between UX design, tech, business
  • understands goals, budgets, user experience
  • mediator between teams
  • unique and valuable
  • clear governance structure/program in place
  • senior stakeholders own the outcomes but not the output - decides on the what not the how

Problem: Organisational silos

  • improve efficiency
  • breeds knowledge gaps
  • design » dev handover void and process misunderstanding
  • demoralising for any group within the organisation

Solution: Product teams and cross functional pairing

  • work as product teams
  • involve everyone
  • user stories - a snapshot of a conversation and decision as a group
  • shared understanding

Question: How should cross functional pairing change over a project duration or multiple sprints?

  • Use your best judgement
  • It depends on the project, stage and team
  • Irrelevant if the teams are already committed to the culture

Problem: A talented but inexperienced team

  • soft skills matter
  • broad experience make great designers

Solution: Get external help and perspective

  • bring in freelancers, agency, coaches
  • share the risk
  • bring in and work with the internal team
  • mentorship
  • extract the talent

Problem: You select the agency on pitch

  • pitfalls when working with them
  • big pitches = big promises
  • underquote to please - sometimes intentional, sometimes not

Solution: Try working with them first

  • they challenge you
  • paid pitches
  • solve a problem together
  • bring teams together to discover relationships
  • try a design sprint and integrate teams

Design is a culture problem

  • change the way you do business
  • hard for one person to change the whole culture
  • find allies

Thanks for a very insightful talk Andy{:target="_blank"}. Thanks to UserTesting{:target="_blank"} for hosting the free webinar.