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Strategy and Facilitating Good Decisions

In this post we talk about how designers and strategists can respond, prod, encourage, guide, coach and teach as they guide individuals and groups to make good decisions that are critical in the business.

In a previous post, I’ve argued for the Need of Facilitation in the sense that — if designers want to influence the decisions that shape strategy — they must step up to the plate and become skilled facilitators that respond, prod, encourage, guide, coach and teach as they guide individuals and groups to make good decisions that are critical in the business world.

That said, my opinion is that facilitation here does not only means “facilitate workshops”, but facilitate the decisions regardless of what kinds of activities are required.

TL;DR

  • It is crucial that designers engage with their business stakeholders to understand what objectives and unique positions they want their products to assume in the industry, and the choices that are making in order to achieve such objectives and positions.
  • A compelling vision should be easy to explain to everyone, specific enough to provide guidance for decision-making and flexible enough to allow for individual initiative as well as changing conditions (Kourdi, J., Business Strategy: A guide to effective decision-making, 2015).
  • (Don’t) Trust Your Instincts: limitations in our thinking (Riel, J., & Martin, R. L., Creating great choices. 2017) easily produce problem-solving approaches that are implicit, narrow, and flawed, they tend to create an insular mindset that discounts other people and their alternative points of view. And they tend to produce bad decisions.
  • Sometimes the simple act of setting out your problems, objectives, alternatives, consequences, and trade offs will fully clarify the decision, pointing the way to the smart choice (Hammond, J. S., Keeney, R. L., & Raiffa, H., Smart choices: A practical guide to making better decisions. 2015).
  • What slows progress and wastes the most time on projects is confusion about what the goals are or which things should come before which other things.
  • Priorities Make Things Happen (Berkun, S., Making things happen: Mastering project management, 2008).
  • What is your prioritisation policy and how is it visualised? How does each and every item of work that has prioritised helps get us closer to our vision and achieve our goals? (DeGrandis, D., Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow, 2017)
  • It can be frustrating (and expensive) to make changes in projects after execution has begun. And the closer to the end of the project, the more expensive — or less room for — changes can be.
  • By building, measuring and learning, designers are able to get closer to great user experiences sooner rather than later (Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J., Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience, 2013).
  • Don’t make the mistake of executing business ideas without evidence; test your ideas throughly, regardless of how great they may seem in theory (“How to Get from a Good Ideas to a Validated Business” in Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation, Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, A., 2019).

Good Decisions versus Chance

In the second post of this series, I’ve mentioned that I’ve found that — more often than not — is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate, but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve.

photo of people near wooden table
Lean more about Creating Shared Understanding at Strategy and the Need of Facilitation (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood — as my colleague Anton Fischer usually says — it doesn’t matter at that point if the team lacks a vision or the vision is just poorly communicated, the result is the same: team will lack engagement and slowly drift apart.

How to Make Good Decisions

We all want to believe that all decisions are made with care and consideration, even though we know it can’t possibly so. There is limited time and limited brain power, and not all decisions can be made equally well (Berkun, S., Making things happen: Mastering project management, 2008).

A good decision helps the person get closer to their goals; was made with the most relevant information available; is based on priorities that the person cares about.

“Weapon of Choice” in Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change, Bucher, A, (2020)

The first step to making good decisions is to stop relying (too much) on instincts and challenge our own biases. Are you aware of your own biases? Let’s find out!

(Don’t) Trust Your Instincts

Humans tend to place a lot of value on instinct. Especially as the pace of modern life forces us at times to think quickly on our feet and make immediate decision, we believe that having superior instinct helps us get along. That’s certainly true to an extend. But the problem is that sometimes we confuse instinct as a substitute for good judgement. Instincts — otherwise knowns as gut feeling or hunches — are probably wrong the vast majority of the time (King, P., The Art of Clear Thinking, 2019).

Creating great choices start by recognizing that (Riel, J., & Martin, R. L., Creating great choices. 2017):

  • our thinking is implicit and rarely questioned.
  • our models of the world can be influenced by forces we are unaware.
  • we default to simplistic models of world and rely on basic heuristics to get through the day.
  • we tend to seek out the single right answer to any given problem.

These limitations easily produce problem-solving approaches that are implicit, narrow, and flawed, they tend to create an insular mindset that discounts other people and their alternative points of view. And they tend to produce bad decisions.

Many psychologies and neuroscientists have been converging on a description of the brain’s functioning that helps us make sense of our implicit, narrow and flawed thinking. The approach involves a distinction between two kinds of thinking, one that is intuitive and automatic, and another that is reflective and rational (Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein,.”How We Think” in Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness, 2009):

  • The Automatic System: Uncontrolled, effortless, associative, fast, unconscious, skilled.
  • Reflective System: controlled, effortful, deductive, slow, self-aware, rule-following.

Instincts and Biases

In part, we fail to make good decisions because of glitches in our thinking , including deep-seated biases that produce troubling lapses in logic. Each of us fall prey to these glitches to some degree, no matter how logical or open-minded we believe ourselves to be (Riel, J., & Martin, R. L., Creating great choices. 2017).

Cognitive Bias Codex in Every Single Cognitive Bias in One Infographic (Desjardins, J., 2021)

One way to avoid such traps is — obviously — beware of such biases and keep asking questions.

With regards to biases, here are a few to be aware of (Hammond, et al. The Hidden Traps in Decision Making, 2013):

  • The Anchoring Trap lead us to give disproportionate weight to the first information we receive
  • The Status-quo Trap biases us towards maitaining the current situation – even when better alternatives exist
  • The Sunk-Cost Trap inclines us to make choices in the way that justifies past choices, even when these were mistakes
  • The Confirming-Evidence Trap leads us to seek out information supporting an existing predilection and to discount opposing information.
  • The Framing Trap occurs when we misstate a problem, undermining the entire decision-making process
  • The Overconfidence Trap makes us overestimate the accuracy of our forecasts
  • The Prudence Trap leads us to be overcautious when we make estimates about uncertain events.
  • The Recallability Trap prompts us to give undue weight to recent, dramatic events

With these biases in mind, you should ask yourself some questions before making any big decision (Berger, W., The book of beautiful questions, 2019):

  • What am I inclined to believe on this particular issue? Start by trying to articulate your beliefs/biases.
  • Why do I believe what I believe? The “jugular question” per Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, forces you to consider the basis of these beliefs.
  • What would I like to be true? A “desirability bias” may lead you to thinking something is true because you want it to be true.
  • What if the opposite is true? This question is inspired by “debasing” experts and Seinfeld’s George Contanza.

In a group context, trigger team discussions before they make any big decision (Kahneman, D., Lovallo, D., & Sibony, O., “The Big Idea: Before You Make That Big Decision” in HBR’s 10 must reads on making smart decisions, 2013):

Questions that decision makers should ask themselves
  • Check for the self-interest bias: is there any reason to suspect the team making the recommendation of errors motivated by self-interest. Review with extra-care, especially for overoptimism.
  • Check for the affect heuristic: has the team fallen in love with its proposal? Rigorously apply all the quality controls on this checklist.
  • Check for groupthink: were there dissenting opinions within the team? Were they explored adequately? Solicit dissenting views, discreetly if necessary.
Questions that decision makers should ask the recommenders
  • Check for salience bias: could the diagnosis be overly influenced by an analogy to a memorable success. Ask for more analogies, and rigorously analyse their similarity to the current situation.
  • Check for the confirming bias: are credible alternatives included along with the recommendation? Request additional options.
  • Check for availability bias: if you had to make this decision again in a year’s time, what information would you want, and can you get more of it now? Use checklists of the data needed for each kind of decision.
  • Check for anchoring bias: do you know where the numbers came from? Can there be unsubstantiated number? Extrapolation from history? A motivation to use a certain anchor? Reanchor with figures generate by other models or benchmarks and request for new analysis.
  • Check for the halo effect: is the team assuming that a person, organisation, or approach that is successful in one area will be just as successful in another? Eliminate false inferences, and ask the team to seek additional comparable examples.
  • Check for the sunk-cost fallacy, endowment effect: are the recommenders overly attached to a history of past decisions? Consider the issue as if you were a new CEO.
Questions that decision makers should ask about the proposal
  • Check for the overconfidence, planning fallacy, optimistic biases, competitor neglect: is the base case overly optimistic? Have the team build a case taking an outside view.
  • Check for disaster neglect: is the worst case bad enough? Have the team conduct a premortem: imagine that the worst has happened, and develop a story about the causes.
  • Check for loss aversion: is the recommendation team overly cautious? Realign incentives to share responsibility for the risk or to remove risk.

Strategy and Stakeholder Management: Who Decides and How?

Have you ever made a decision by asking for advice from your friends or by observing what others are doing? Have you picked the clothes to wear to a party based on what your friends were wearing? Can you think of a time when you changed your beliefs or behaviors because a person in authority, such as a teacher or a religious or political leader, gave you ideas about new ways to think or new things to do? Or perhaps you started smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, even though you didn’t really want to, because some of your friends were doing it.

Your answers to at least some of these questions will be yes because you, like all people, are influenced by those around you. When you find yourself in situations like these, you are experiencing what is perhaps the most basic of all social psychological processes—social influence, defined as the influence of other people on our everyday thoughts, feelings, and behavior (Hogg, 2010).

Understanding the culture and principles behind how teams and stakeholders make decisions becomes critical for designers to know when, what and how to influence in order to drive design vision forward. If some team members are using principles-first logic and others are using applications-first logic to reach a decision, this can lead to conflict and inefficiency from the beginning.

Both consensual and top-down decision-making process can be effective. But members of a global team often have expectations about decision making based on the norms of their own societies.

Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014

While leaders have always had to understand personality differences and manage how people interact with one another, as globalisation transforms the way we work we now need the ability to decode cultural differences in order to work effectively with clients, suppliers and colleagues around the world (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014).

Mapping out Cultural Differences on Teams in The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, Meyer, E., (2014)

When these cultural differences collide, it leads members of global teams to respond emotionally to what they see as ineffective behaviors of others on the team. Worse still, most of us are not even aware of the system of our own culture uses to make decisions. We just follow the patterns without thinking about it.

group of people sitting in front of table
Learn about about Strategy and Stakeholder Management (Photo by Rebrand Cities on Pexels.com

It’s been my experience that — left to chance — it’s only natural that teams will stray from vision and goals. Helping teams paddle in the same direction requires not only good vision and goals, but also leadership, and intentional facilitation.

photo of people near wooden table
Learn more about becoming a skilled facilitator (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Systematic Approaches for Making Good Decisions

The connection among decisions you make lies not in what you decide, but how you decide. An effective decision-making process will fulfil these six criteria (Hammond, J. S., Keeney, R. L., & Raiffa, H., Smart choices: A practical guide to making better decisions. 2015):

  • It focuses on what’s important: does your decision-making process helps the team keep vision, goals and priorities in mind?
  • It’s logical and consistent: in the context of work group, how repeatable is the decision-making process? how “workshopable” it is?
  • It acknowledges both subjective and objective factors and blends analytical with intuitive thinking: does your decision-making process helps keep instincts and biases in check, but leverage on hunches, gut feelings and emotions when needed?
  • It requires only as much information and analysis as is necessary to resolve a particular dilemma: how does your decision-making process helps you to comprehensively understand the problem, its contexts, and create choices?
  • It encourages and guides the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion: how does your decision-making process helps you weigh your options without running into analysis paralysis.

With these criteria in mind, here are How let’s look at some systematic approaches for making good decisions.

Good Decisions and Vision

I know that product vision might not be the most exciting topic in the Product Development industry, but my experience has been that a clear and well communicated product vision gives answers to core questions and give everyone a tool for making good decisions in their own work.

A compelling vision should be easy to explain to everyone, specific enough to provide guidance for decision-making and flexible enough to allow for individual initiative as well as changing conditions.

Kourdi, J., Business Strategy: A guide to effective decision-making (2015)

The design team needs to assess the extend to which the challenge at hand is driven by a vision that is shared by asking three questions (Calabretta et al. “Designing Transitions: Pivoting Complex Innovation” in Strategic Design: 8 Essential Practices Every Strategic Designer Must Master. 2016):

  • Is there a project vision? Does the company have a clear view of the project direction, and where it fits into the raison d’être (the “why”) of the company? How exactly will the project help the company fulfill it’s why? A satisfactory answer to this question should emerge during the early stages of a strategic project, when the brief is formulated. Lack of clear-cut answer to these questions usually signals the absence of a strong, cohesive project vision.
  • Is the project a good fit with the wider goals of the organization? Sometimes the project vision does not align with the KPIs or primary goals that the organization has expressed elsewhere. This usually happens – for example – when a trend emerges and organization may act impulsively because they are afraid to miss out on what they see as an opportunity for growth.
  • Is the vision shared across the company? If there is a clear project vision, is there widespread awareness and alignment within the company? Can various department move in the same direction during project setup and implementation?
beach bench boardwalk bridge
Learn more about creating product vision in The Importance of Vision (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Good Decisions and Outcomes

In the old days of engineering, setting project goals wasn’t that hard. How have we historically given teams a goal that they can work on? Mostly, we simply asked teams to build features—but features are the wrong way to go. We often build features that create no value. Instead, we need to give teams an outcome to achieve. (Seiden, J., Outcomes over Output, 2019).

“What are the changes in behaviour that drive business results” in Outcomes over Output, Seiden, J. (2019)

You might be asking, “what you do mean by outcome”. Joshua Seiden defines as outcome “a change in user behaviour that drives business results.”

Using outcomes creates focus and alignment. It eliminates needless work. And it puts the customer at the center of everything you do

Seiden, J., Outcomes over Output, (2019)

In the second post of this series, I’ve mentioned that I’ve found that — more often than not — is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate, but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve. Outcomes creates focus and alignment.

You can help the team start thinking in terms of outcomes by asking three simple questions (Seiden, J., Outcomes over Output, 2019):

  • What are the user and customer behaviours that drive business results? If the team gets stuck on trying to answer that question, there is a good chance that working on alignment diagrams will help.
  • How do we get people to do more of these things?
  • How do we know we’re right? The easiest (and the hardest) way to answer that question is to design and conduct tests.

Having a strong vision, clear goals, and shared understanding of what problems teams are trying to solve, and focus on outcomes helps reduce the friction, create focus and alinagment. That doesn’t mean that all decisions that need to be made during the project lifecycle are easy or simple. So how do we ensure we make good decisions that ever so bring us closer to our vision and goals?

Good Decisions and Creating Choices

Designers may have naively believed that the user perspective can be provided at one point of the product development lifecycle (e.g. during project/backlog/sprint planning phase).

In reality any product that makes into the the world it’s actually the outcome of a set of dozens, hundreds or thousands of decisions along the way. Each decision building upon each other, informing and influencing all aspects of the user experience (Garrett, J.J, Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond“, 2010).

Strategy is a set of choices about winning that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.

“How Strategy Really Works” in Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (Lafley, A.G., Martin, R. L., 2013)

It is crucial that designers engage with their business stakeholders to understand what objectives and unique positions they want their products to assume in the industry, and the choices that are making in order to achieve such objectives and positions (for more on ensuring decisions align with objectives, check the PrOACT approach later in this article).

Six Strategic Questions, adapted from "Strategy Blueprint" in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020).
Six Strategic Questions, adapted from “Strategy Blueprint” in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020)

The effectiveness of the team in making good decision by picking the rights choices depends on their ability of generating alternatives.

Design is about exploring and comparing merits of alternative. There is not just one path, and at any given time or any given question, there may be numerous different alternative being considered, only one of which will eventually find itself in the product

Buxton, B., Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design (2007)

Without multiple solutions to any question, the process is highly vulnerable. Without the ability to see all the work at once, spread out, relationships will be missed, and the conversation and subsequent designs will suffer. (Buxton, B., Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design, 2007).

Your decision can be no better than your best alternative.

“Create imaginative alternatives in Smart choices: A practical guide to making better decisions, Hammond, J. S., Keeney, R. L., & Raiffa, H. (2015)
aisle architecture building business
Learn more about how to create great choices in Strategy and the Art of Creating Choices (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Teamwork can make or break a collaborative project and affects all of the design activities, particularly in the selection of design alternatives and resolution of conflicts (Cross, N., & Cross, A. C., Observations of teamwork and social processes in design in Design Studies,, 1995)

Visual Map of issues associated with Collaborative and Distributed work
Visual Map of issues associated with Collaborative and Distributed work (learn more from Distinction Award in the MA Design Practice, 2009)

Beware of Analysis Paralysis

As you probably noticed, all the methods I’ve mentioned above involve creating options. While having alternative help increase our chances of making good decisions, it also creates the danger of team being stuck with Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis will most likely happen when teams have too many options to consider. The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. (“Hick’s Law” in Universal Principles of Design, Lidwell, W., Holden, K., Butler, J., 2010).

The degree of satisfaction with a decision has little (or no) correlation with how long it takes to make that decision .

Jon Innes

From that perspective, I find it incredibly important that — while designers need to ask good questions that foster divergent thinkingexplore multiple solutions — probably one of the most the most critical aspect of facilitating good decisions is to help teams converge and align on the direction they should go (Gray, D., Brown, S., & Macanufo, J., “What is a Game?” in Gamestorming, 2010).

Gray, D., Brown, S., & Macanufo, J., “What is a Game?” in Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers (2010)

Knowing when teams should be diverging, when they should be exploring, and when they should closing will help ensure they get the best out of their collective brainstorming and multiple perspectives’ power and keep the team engaged.

turned on pendant lamp
Learn more about how to steer a conversation by asking the right kinds of questions in Strategy, Facilitation and the Art of Asking Questions (Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com)

Good Decisions and Priorities

What slows progress and wastes the most time on projects is confusion about what the goals are or which things should come before which other things. Many miscommunications and missteps happen because person A assumed one priority (make it faster), and person B assumed another (make it more stable). This is true for programmers, testers, marketers, and entire teams of people. If these conflicts can be avoided, more time can be spent actually progressing toward the project goals (Berkun, S., Making things happen: Mastering project management, 2008).

Unfortunately, this sense of priorities might not always be clear with teams, either because leaders have not defined priorities, or priorities have not be clearly communicated.

A few reasons why not every leader practices prioritizing (Maxwell, J. C., The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you, 2007):

  • When we are busy, we naturally believe that we are achieving. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment.
  • Prioritizing requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what is important, to know what’s next, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.
  • Prioritizing causes us to do things that are at the least uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful.

Leaders understand that Activity is not necessarily Accomplishment

“Law of Priorities” in The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you, Maxwell, J. C. (2007).

The goal with prioritization is to determine what to complete next in order to get maximum value in the shortest amount of time and to avoid multi-tasking due to competing priorities (DeGrandis, D., Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow, 2017).

Priorities Make Things Happen

Berkun, S., Making things happen: Mastering project management (2008)

There are a few things you should ask yourself and/or the team when we keep coming revisiting and renegotiating the scope of work (DeGrandis, D., Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow, 2017):

  • What is your prioritisation policy and how is it visualised? How does each and every item of work that has prioritised helps get us closer to our vision and achieve our goals?
  • How will you signal when work has been prioritised and is ready to be worked on? In other words — where is your line of commitment? How do people know which work to pull?
  • How will we visually distinguish between higher priorities and lower priority work?

If you have priorities in place, you can always ask questions in any discussion that reframe the argument around a more useful primary consideration. This refreshes everyone’s sense of what success is, visibly dividing the universe into two piles: things that are important and things that are nice, but not important. Here are some sample questions (Berkun, S., Making things happen: Mastering project management, 2008):

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • If there are multiple problems, which one is most important?
  • How does this problem relate to or impact our goals?
  • What is the simplest way to fix this that will allow us to meet our goals?

In the next post we will deep dive on some of my favourite prioritisation methods.

Product Definition and Requirements Prioritization
Visualising the impact of user experience of any given use case based on its opportunity score, while helping in the product decision making process by providing a better sense of priorities.

Good Decisions and the Cost of Changing Your Mind

My dad was a Civil Engineer, building airports for the Brazilian Air Force back in the 1970s. He would tell me stories about how frustrating (and expensive) it was to figure out that something needed to change in projects, especially after construction has begun. And the closer to the end of the project, the more expensive — or less room for — changes to be.

Paulson, B. (1976), Designing to Reduce Construction Costs in Journal of the Construction Division, ASCE. Proceedings of the American Society of Civil engineers, Vol. 102, Dec: 587-594

There are many projects out there that fail because drastic changes were needed in the last moments, adding a huge strain on the finance of the product. In the world of UX, everybody knows that late changes can break a product design project. It’s all about spending money on decisions that were validated, so change happens quickly and early – while it’s still cheap.

Pivot, Persevere, or Stop

Once you have collected the relevant feedback or data, reviewed and analysed it, ask yourself is your strategy is valid. Your initial product strategy may contain plenty of assumptions and risks, and you may well discover that the strategy is wrong and does not work. If that is the case, then you have two choices (Pichler, R., Strategize, 2016):

  • stop and let go of your vision, or
  • stick with the vision and change the strategy, which is also called pivot.

Pivoting is attractive only if you pivot early, when the cost of changing direction is comparatively low.

Pichler, R., Strategize (2016)

You should therefore aim to find out quickly if anything is wrong if your strategy, and if you need to fail, then fail fast. While a late pivot can happen, you should avoid it, because the later it occurs, the more difficult and costly is is likely to be (Pichler, R., Strategize, 2016).

measurement-millimeter-centimeter-meter-162500.jpeg
Learn about ways to Pivot and Risk Mitigation in The Need for Quantifying and Qualifying Strategy (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

By building, measuring and learning, designers are able to get closer to great user experiences sooner rather than later (Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J., Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience, 2013).

Design and Conduct Tests

Too many entrepreneurs and innovators execute ideas prematurely because they look great in presentations, make excellent sense in the spreadsheet, and look irresistible in the business plan… only to learn later that their vision turned out to be a hallucination (Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, A., Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation, 2019).

Don’t make the mistake of executing business ideas without evidence; test your ideas throughly, regardless of how great they may seem in theory.

How to Get from a Good Ideas to a Validated Business in Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation, Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, A. (2019)

You test the most important hypothesis with appropriate experiments. Each experiment generates evidence and insights that allow you to learn and decide.

If you only have one hypothesis to test it’s clear where to spend the time you have to do discovery work. If you have many hypotheses, how do you decide where your precious discovery hours should be spent? Which hypotheses should be tested? Which ones should be de-prioritised or just thrown away? To help answer this question, Jeff Gothelf put together the Hypothesis Prioritisation Canvas (Gothelf, J., The hypothesis prioritization canvas, 2019):

The hypothesis prioritization canvas helps facilitate an objective conversation with your team and stakeholders to determine which hypotheses will get your attention and which won’t (Gothelf, J., 2019)

To test a big business idea, you break it down into smaller chunks of testable hypotheses. These hypotheses cover three types of risk (Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation, 2019):

  • First, that customers aren’t interested in your idea (desirability).
  • Second, that you can’t build and deliver your idea (feasibility).
  • Third, that you can’t earn enough money from your idea (viability).

What’s important to understand is that testing rarely means just building a smaller version of what you want to sell. It’s not about building, nor selling something. It’s about testing the most important assumptions, to show this idea could work. And that does not necessarily require building anything for a very long time. You need to first prove that there’s a market, that people have the jobs pains and gains and that they’re willing to pay (Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, A., Testing business ideas, 2020).

A successful project is not deemed successful because it is delivered accordant to a plan, but because it stood the test of reality.

“Walk the walk” in The decision maker’s playbook. Mueller, S., & Dhar, J. (2019)

Experiments replace guesswork, intuition and best practices with knowledge. Experimentation is at the hear of what software developers call agile development. Rather than planning all activities up-front and then sequentially, agile development emphasises running many experiments and learning from them. Applying this tactic has a number of benefits (Mueller, S., & Dhar, J., The decision maker’s playbook, 2019):

  • It allows you to focus on actual outcomes: a successful project is not deemed successful because it is delivered according to a plan, but because it stood the test of reality.
  • It decreases re-work: because the feedback cycles are short, potential errors or problems are spotted quickly and can be smoothed out faster than conventional planning.
  • It reduces risks: because of increased transparency throughout the implementation process, risks can be better managed than in conventional project.

Recommended Reading

Berger, W. (2019). The book of beautiful questions: The powerful questions that will help you decide, create, connect, and lead. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Berkun, S. (2008). Making things happen: Mastering project management. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Bland, D. J., & Osterwalder, A. (2019). Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation. Wiley; 1st edition (November 12, 2019).

Bucher, A. (2020). Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change, Rosenfeld Media; 1st edition (March 3, 2020)

Buxton, B. (2007). Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Calabretta, G., Gemser G., Karpen, I., (2016) “Strategic Design: 8 Essential Practices Every Strategic Designer Must Master“, 240 pages, BIS Publishers; 1st edition (22 Nov. 2016)

Cross, N., & Cross, A. C. (1995). Observations of teamwork and social processes in design. Design Studies, 16, 145-170

DeGrandis, D. (2017). Making work visible: Exposing time theft to optimize workflow. Portland, OR: IT Revolution Press.

Desjardins, J., (2021), Every Single Cognitive Bias in One Infographic, retrieved September 13, 2021 from Visual Capitalist website: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/every-single-cognitive-bias/

Garrett, J., (2010), “The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, 192 pages, New Riders; 2nd edition (16 Dec. 2010)

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By Itamar Medeiros

I'm a Strategist, Branding Specialist, Experience Designer, Speaker, and Workshop Facilitator based in Germany, where I work as Director of Design Strategy and Systems at SAP and visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design of the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, I've helped truly global companies in several countries (Brazil, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, The United Arab Emirates, United States, Hong Kong) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles.

During my 7 years in China, I've promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

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