Work Smarter: Managing UX Projects — 18 Tips for Success
There are many approaches to a UX project, and no single one is ‘correct’. Instead, I want to share 18 tips that I have found useful over the years to keep your projects from going off the rails.
1. Identify and Engage All the Stakeholders
Before you begin work on any project, you need to be sure you are aware of and engaging with, any project stakeholders. That is especially important if some senior individual is likely to swoop in later and poop all over the work you have been doing.
Uninformed and unengaged stakeholders are among the most common ways a project is derailed, so find them early and try to get at least some opportunity to speak to them.
Ensure you understand their goals for the project and regularly inform them about decisions made and the thinking behind them.
2. Communicate More Than You Think
Many UX professionals tend to forget that they cannot deliver a great user experience by themselves. They need to work closely with a range of stakeholders from developers to management.
One disgruntled or ill-informed stakeholder can quickly derail a project and undermine its effectiveness. Not to mention that without stakeholder insights, it is easy to make poor decisions while planning and designing an experience.
To avoid this from happening, communication is important. Stakeholders need to be kept regularly informed about what is happening and feel engaged with the process, even if it will slow progress slightly.
3. Explain Stakeholders Roles
Talking of stakeholders, another essential part of running a smooth UX project is to ensure everybody is clear on their roles and responsibilities during the project. That is particularly important for those who have more poorly defined roles, such as senior stakeholders or those responsible for sign-off.
For example, as I explained in the lesson on making design approval painless, encourage your stakeholders to identify problems rather than suggest solutions.
Discourage clients from making comments such as “can you change the blue to pink” as this is a solution, rather than a problem. Instead, ask them to explain the underlying problem, which might be “I am worried our pre-teen girl audience will respond poorly to the blue.“
Explain that you, as the designer, can suggest alternative approaches that could be more appropriate if you understand the underlying problem.
4. Establish Clear Objectives
As well as defining their role, it is also important to establish clear objectives with stakeholders for the project you are working on.
Without a set of objectives agreed upon by all parties, it is easy for a project to get bogged down in politics and endless revisions.
Just as critical is the need to prioritize those objectives, a long list of goals that have not been prioritized is as dangerous as no objectives because it can lead to arguments about what elements are prioritized in the interface.
5. Understand the Audiences Needs
Do not only think about organizational objectives; there are also user goals to consider.
Unfortunately, all too often, organizations make assumptions about user goals, without taking the time to validate those assumptions. That can be dangerous as user needs often change as the market shifts.
Another element of user needs is their expectations. These change incredibly fast as other experiences online shape what they expect from your organization. If you fail to learn what people expect from your digital channels, you can quickly lose them. That is why user research is not something that can be skipped.
6. Focus on User Needs, Not Functionality
Sadly, even when organizations research their audience’s needs and expectations, they often ignore or forget them in the heat of a project.
The conversation quickly turns to functionality, rather than meeting user needs. Admittedly this functionality is supposed to meet those goals, but assumptions can be made that a particular functional approach is the best one for meeting those needs.
Instead, teams need to be focusing more on what needs they are trying to fulfill, rather than fixating on the method by which they want to achieve it. Often this can lead to more straightforward solutions that are easier to implement while delivering a better experience.
7. Don’t Debate, Test!
Even with a clearly defined set of organizational goals, user needs, and stakeholder roles, there will inevitably be debates about the best way to resolve particular challenges while working on a UX project.
Many person-hours can be wasted on endlessly debating designs and other project challenges instead of carrying out testing.
Although there is a perception that testing is expensive and slows progress, the opposite is actually true when considering the wasted time spent arguing about approaches.
I would therefore encourage you always to test whenever two parties disagree about what should be done. It will save you time in the long run.
8. Iterate, Even Post Launch
Another reason to avoid endless debate is that not everything needs to be perfect on the first attempt. Digital projects are not like print projects in that regard. Instead, it would be best if you encouraged iteration throughout the development cycle and beyond.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes I see made when people plan a UX project is to have their project plan end at launch. That post-launch period is the perfect time to refine a design based on how people interact with it in the real world.
Make sure you allow time throughout the project, but especially post-launch to tweak and refine things. It will lead to a better user experience and remove the pressure to make everything perfect during the build.
9. Work in the Open and Include Stakeholders
Many teams fear debate derailing a project so much that they work largely in secret, extremely careful when engaging stakeholders. However, in my experience, this is only putting off the disagreements later in the project when it is a lot more expensive to change things. It also makes stakeholders resentful, and that inevitably leads to more criticism.
By working in the open and regularly engaging with stakeholders, you catch potential issues early when they can be easily fixed. However, more importantly, you give stakeholders a sense of ownership because they have been involved in the creation process. The more ownership they feel, the less likely they are to reject the final deliverable and the more likely they are to defend it to others.
10. Designer and Coder Should Be Inseparable
One of the most important stakeholder relationships is between the designer and the coder. Together these two are often the most influential in shaping the experience of users.
It is, therefore, vital that they work closely together, continually reviewing each other’s work. It is not enough for a designer to hand off work to the developer and move on to the next project.
Equally, developers must see the designers’ work-in-progress before it goes to other stakeholders for approval. Failure to do so can lead to complicated revisions later or escalating development costs.
11. Identify any Constraints
One of the reasons the coder needs to be involved early is the technical constraints around a project.
It may well be that the existing platform sets limitations on design and functionality that need to be considered upfront.
In fact, identifying any constraints on a project is a fundamental step that should always be carried out before work begins — restrictions around everything from technology or compliance to time and budget.
12. Do Not Overlook Inclusiveness
One regularly overlooked constraint is ensuring that any digital service that is created is accessible to the widest possible audience.
That happens in part because the consequences of ignoring these constraints are often hidden. However, that doesn’t make it any less important. As I have written before, accessibility is not just an issue of catering to the needs of the disabled. It is also about building experiences that can be used by somebody with a situational disability (such as holding a baby) or temporary disability (such as a broken arm).
Then, of course, some older users have vision and even motor control problems. If you only build your digital services for fully-abled people (whatever that means), you will have a tiny audience.
13. Approach Aesthetics Separately
A critical time to think about accessibility is when developing the aesthetics of your site or app. However, another tip regarding aesthetics is to address it separately from content or layout.
I have often seen stakeholders reject a design direction because they didn’t like the content or rejected a layout because they didn’t like the aesthetics.
Instead, explore the aesthetics through mood boards, style tiles, and other design exercises, before considering applying it to wireframes and prototypes. Doing so will help stakeholders focus on the right thing at the right time.
14. Build a Content Hierarchy
Talking of wireframes and prototypes, be careful to ensure you have planned a clear content hierarchy for your site before getting into the layout’s details.
I am not just talking about establishing your information architecture, although that is part of it. I am thinking about the hierarchy within individual pages too.
Does everybody have a shared vision about what you want users to focus on within key pages such as the homepage or landing page? Without agreement on what messaging needs to be presented to users, designs can quickly become messy and get bogged down in politics over priorities.
15. Work as a Team
As you will have been able to tell by this point, most issues around delivering a UX project stem from poor communication and differing priorities.
These differences are often born out because the team does not work closely enough together and does not really understand each other's differing viewpoints.
If a designer is not sitting down regularly to discuss content with a content creator, they will not understand the challenges that the creator faces with the design templates. Equally, if a stakeholder is not spending time with the designer, they will not be educated about how design decisions are made.
The only way to address this is to encourage as much team collaboration as possible. That is where shared virtual spaces, daily standups, and sending regular updates to stakeholders become so important.
16. Break Bigger Projects Down
One challenge with larger UX projects, that don’t revolve around communication, is project planning. There is often an expectation upfront to plan the entire project and define timelines and budgets. However, in reality, any figures you come up with are works of fantasy.
It is simply impossible to accurately cost and plan larger UX projects while still maintaining the ability to adapt and iterate the service based on user feedback.
The solution is to break larger UX projects down into stages with each stage being treated as a separate project.
For example, start with a discovery project that will help establish the project’s viability before moving onto an alpha prototype to define the project in more detail. These can be easily scoped, and the information gathered in these two projects can help to price and scope the final build accurately.
17. Don’t Skip a Phase, Just Scale
Even with smaller projects, it still makes sense to carry out all phases of a UX project from discovery to prototyping, testing, and building.
There is a tendency when budgets or time is tight to skip stages, especially in discovery, prototyping and testing. However, this is almost always a mistake.
Instead, you should seek to scale these phases to be appropriate to the project’s size and complexity. For example, a discovery phase might be nothing more than a kickoff meeting, and testing could be some simple testing on a design comp.
18. Look Beyond the Scope of the Project
Finally, when working on a UX project, I would encourage you to consider factors outside of the project itself. It is essential to consider the broader user journey.
For example, what brought a person to the website in the first place? Did they come via an ad, search results or some piece of printed material? These are the kind of factors that should shape a website’s content and how it engages people.
It would be best if you also considered where the user is in the sales funnel. Are they just beginning to consider making a purchase or on the cusp of acting?
It would help if you equally considered what happens after the digital service you are creating. What interactions can they expect after they act, and are you adequately preparing them for them?
Learn Through Experience
So there you go. There are my 18 tips for smoother UX projects. I don’t claim it is comprehensive, nor do I promise they will lead to the perfect project, but they are what I learned over the years.
That is the key when it comes to running UX projects, learn from your experiences. After each project, take the time to ask yourself what went well and what went badly and learn from that experience. Even the worst project can prove a valuable experience that enables you to shape better future projects.
My only word of warning is to be careful not to learn the wrong lessons. For example, I know many designers that limit iterations or push stakeholders out of projects because they have had bad experiences. Instead, dig a little deeper and think carefully about what new problems you might end up creating by doing things differently next time.
Ultimately there is no magic approach to running a UX project. It depends on your style and the stakeholders involved in it. Don’t let anybody tell you how it should be done, but learn yourself through doing. That is almost always the best way to learn anything in digital.
Great job on reading, I hope you learned the correct dos and don’ts from this article. appreciate the support and until your next read
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