Guide #018: How to implement design-led product development

Increase speed and build trust among teams by utilizing visualization as a communications tool.

Visually interpret what is being discussed

Rather than relying solely on written or conversational methods of describing ideas, introduce drawing, sketching, diagramming, etc. to align cross-functional stakeholders on big ideas. For example, if a spec is being presented, on the side, practice interpreting this information in a visual format. Ask the team, “is this accurate, is this what you all had in mind?” Your representation doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to capture the most complex parts of what is being discussed.

Intentionally throttle the fidelity of visuals to increase speed and build trust among your team

From hand sketches, to storyboarding, to quickly pulling together components from a design system, give your project teams the opportunity to engage with visuals early and often throughout the product development cycle. The goal is to quickly gain alignment on the primary concept(s), to encourage engagement by giving teammates something to react to, and to complement written and verbal communications with visual artifacts that gesture toward the future.

Contextualize the purpose and intent of the visuals being shown

When introducing visuals as means of driving alignment, explain that the visual doesn’t necessarily represent the full or final interpretation of the solution. Once alignment is reached there will still be the need for deeper documentation, research, logic diagrams, technical specs, etc. Help your Content Designers, Researchers, as well as business and technical background team members become comfortable with contributing and reacting to visual ideas by inviting them into tools like Figma, Miro, Balsamiq, Lucidspark, etc.

Managers should create the conditions for teams to feel comfortable utilizing visuals

Managers should provide strong onboarding to set the right expectations for new employees joining the team by encouraging their direct reports to bring their own context and ways of approaching problem-solving to the work. If generating visuals early in a project is new for an individual, help them recognize that it will take time to become comfortable with contributing to conversations in this way. Help them see the value of a wide range of visual interpretations, from hand sketches to polished prototypes, and explain that it’s okay to be wrong at first and more importantly strive for an iterative process that brings partners into the fold.

Intentionally pair people from different groups together to do feedback or co-design sessions

Create teams of people that don’t typically work together. Encourage the sharing of ideas within groups that people are less familiar with. The benefit is threefold: ideas are refined and clarified as they get shared with new audiences; teammates build the individual muscle of sharing/presenting ideas, and the group or company culture develops the persona of being supportive toward new ideas.

Showcase progress

Encourage sharing at every phase of a project. When creating outlets for teams to share progress outside of their project teams, consider async tools like a Slack channel with the comments turned off. The goal is to encourage sharing while reducing any anxiety or fear of being bombarded with feedback.

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