Guide #007: How to develop a framework for evaluating design solutions within a digital product team

See what went right and what didn’t, and then translate what worked into a process.

Decide which aspects of your team you’d like to improve

Before implementing a new framework for how your team will arrive at design solutions, first determine which aspects of your team you’d like to improve. Is it faster delivery, a less stressful process, smoother handoff or implementation, or a more productive team? What prompted you to consider adopting a new process in the first place? Discuss this with your team and gain consensus around the problems that are perceived as holding you back today. Document what an ideal state would be if these problems are overcome.

Understand how your team likes to work

Every project should start with team alignment on a business goal, user need, or opportunity. However, it’s important to understand how your team interprets these goals within the context of company culture. Ask yourself, “Is our company product-driven, design-driven, or engineering-driven?” Understanding the company culture and relationships between the different functional areas will be useful as you experiment with different tools and processes to develop a framework that fits your team.

Use retrospectives to understand what works and what doesn’t

The most natural way to codify a solutions framework is to do the work, see what went right and what didn’t, and then translate what worked into a process. This might be slow and arduous, but you’ll organically develop a process that fits your team. However, you don’t need to make every mistake on your way to learning what works. As a starting point, take a look at processes from other organizations like Spotify’s Thoughtful Execution Framework and apply the parts that seem to make sense for your team. Host retrospectives at the end of projects and document what worked and what didn’t.

Test the framework

Prototype the process to see how well it works for other teams. Give teams the opportunity to opt-in to testing a new framework so that they don’t resent changing their working style. Take two similar projects and ask one team to utilize the framework, and the other to do things the way they normally would. Gauge the outcomes of the project against pre-established benchmarks you identified as a first step. Did it improve productivity, happiness, speed, etc.? Note that it’s critical to establish these benchmarks before starting the test so that confirmation bias doesn’t creep into your evaluation of the outcomes.

Trust your team to apply the framework and discover the best solution

As a team leader, don’t short-circuit the time and effort your team has spent developing a solutions framework. Rather than impose your own solutions, give your team the creative space to apply the framework and work through the project goals, problems, and opportunities to land on the best way forward. With a clearly defined solutions framework, the team can elevate above personal preferences or surface-level considerations (for example: bright and colorful vs. flat and muted design) and apply the framework to determine if a particular solution gets them closer to their desired project goal or farther away from it.

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