Avoiding design bottlenecks

One of the most frustrating parts of the product cycle is when the design is seen as a bottleneck. Sure, if you are over designing something in the early stages of your product, then it can become a blocker to your team. Often it is not the actual design work that is holding you up but the lack of a strong vision of where the product is going.

Some designers will sit on their hands and wait for other stakeholders to give them this vision. Great designers will be proactive in collaborating with their peers to help discover and flesh out the product vision. Here are a few techniques each stakeholder can use to help define the vision and keep the design process moving.

Product Managers

Don’t set unrealistic deadlines

Set deadlines but don’t be a pushover

What does 80% complete look like?

Does your feature map back to the vision?

Don’t spread your designers too thin

Don’t forget a system level designer

Designers

Don’t wait to be told what to do

Don’t over promise

Participate in customer calls

Encourage the team to use design sprints

Try story mapping

Shoot for 80% done

Imagine if you had spent several hours making your design just right. You’ll naturally be attached to your direction and not as open to change, which is an approach that won’t work in agile. Secondly, if you’re not worried about putting in the extra polishing time, you could’ve moved onto your next design task. This will help you build a backlog of design stories your team can pull from and avoid bottlenecks from forming. Product managers will love you if you have five 80% complete designs ready for them to groom with the team, versus one 100% complete design.

Don’t worry, you will still get to polish those designs. Once the team has accepted the design and estimated it, go ahead and push the design over the goal line before the actual sprint starts.

What does 80% done look like?

The more fuzzy parts are the fine details. Should we use a one column or two column layout for the text? Do we have all the required form fields for the form? Is their a secondary action or flow that needs some conversation before it can be completed? Everything doesn’t have to be on the grid and you can fix all the small stuff later.

Double down on collaboration

Building trust with non-designers is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your personal design agenda. Product design is a two-way street and if you’ve built trust with your team, the next time you feel strongly about a design decision, you may not get the same pushback that you have in the past from your peers. In turn, they may provide you with a unique viewpoint that you can take back to your design process.

All of this increased collaboration will allow the team to run in a smoother manner. The design team is no longer a bottleneck holding up the larger team. In reality, there is an issue within the product that the entire team needs to work on together to solve. If you can achieve this level of trust, you can effectively eliminate the blame game and remove the roadblocks.

Developers

Don’t be afraid to talk shop

Involve designers in development meetings

Involving designers in grooming meetings will allow you to address problems immediately when they pop up. Also, take the time to explain why something won’t work and you’ll avoid arguing over counting pixels or why 15 shades of grey are a bad idea. Less arguing leads to fewer blockers.

Participate in customer calls

It's also important for you to hear the motivations of your users from them directly. When product or design deliver a feature, it will help you to understand the underlying rationale better if you have heard the validation from the customer firsthand.

Build your design system early

The key to avoiding design bottlenecks is collaboration. Bring product and development team members into your design process and build the trust that is needed to design and deliver awesome products. When design becomes a blocker it is not a design team problem, it is a problem for all stakeholders. If you’ve successfully built bridges with your co-workers, product bottlenecks are a problem you can all solve together.

Head of Design @ Stellar Labs

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