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Design Sprint Cheat Sheet

February 25, 2017
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The guys over at Google Ventures are pretty smart! They unveiled their process of design sprints in a book aptly named Sprint. The full title succinctly describes its benefits —  How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days. I read this book over last summer, it’s an easy read and remarkably insightful. Design sprints actually do help you solve big problems and test new ideas.

It’s not enough to just have a process anymore. Everyone, every agency, every firm has a process that’s guaranteed to be better than all the others because it’s “integrated.” In order to rise above the competition and have your clients really connect with their users, you need to get insight from…who else…the users. But in order to do that in a really efficient way, you can’t build out the website or mobile app first. So… you prototype.

The Theory…

Here’s the theory: when working with any company or business, you can solve really big problems in one week by getting together in a room with the right people, the right tools, and the right challenge and performing exercises like design-thinking, rationality, empathy, creativity, prototyping, and testing.

Now, in the words of John Maeda, design-thinking is just another phrase for business execs to feel good about doing design stuff. LOL! But I think there is something to getting in a room with your clients and doing these different exercises to uncover the answers to some really hard questions when it comes to your digital properties.

I’m going to walk you through an abbreviated checklist (or cheat sheet). It’s changed a little to mimic a process that I’ve used in the past and I’ll go over pre-sprint activities, the sprint itself, and post-sprint wrap-up.

Remember: you need the right team, the right tools, and the right challenge

  1. The Team:
    • Agency Side – it’s usually two designers, a strategist, and a project or account manager.
    • Client Side – at least one decision-maker. Someone who has the authority to call the shots relating to your challenge.
  2. The Tools
    • Conference room, post-its (lots of them), colored circle stickers, whiteboards and/or canvas paper, markers.
  3. The Challenge
    • Usually something that’s super expensive, like your client wants to spend $500k on a mobile app that has no users yet (challenge: to see if it’s even viable in the market). Or maybe your internal team is stuck on a big project and needs to get some creativity flowing.

Let’s begin…

Pre-Sprint Activities

You’ll need to do some research and collection before you go in and do the sprint with your client. The first thing you’ll want to do is an intake sheet. An intake sheet is simply a “worksheet” that gathers information on your client.

Some things you’ll want to know are obvious, like, client overview. Company name, number of employees, etc. But then you’ll want to know major markets, regional hubs, who are their competitors, what are the long-term business objectives and/or vision. Something like this:

Client Intake Sheet

You’ll also need to do some research on your client’s competitors so you know what they’re doing. Look at their websites or mobile apps and make note of what’s cool, what’s not cool, certain functionality or features, etc.

And also look into your client’s users. Who are they, what do they do, where do they hang out online, etc. This pre-sprint phase is pretty intensive. There’s a decent amount of upfront work that needs to be done. But then we get into the fun part…sprint week!

Sprint Week

Every day working hours will be from 10am to 5pm with a one hour lunch at 1pm. So, 6 hours a day – that’s how much you’ll work with the client. But you’ll find that the internal team is working much longer especially on the day you prototype.

Day 1: Understand


day one

  • Team Intros & Agenda
  • Client Talks (Vision, Functionality, Future State)
  • Innovation Talks / Expert Talks
  • “How Might We”

Day 2: Explore


day two

  • Morning Review
  • Personas: Day in the Life
  • Raw Ideas / Big Ideas
  • Crazy Eights / Solution Sketches

Day 3: Focus


day three

  • Museum Art / Dot Voting
  • Disucssion / Decision
  • Wireframes / Storyboards

Day 4: Prototype


day four

  • “Just Enough” Mentality
  • Prototype Tools
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Prototype

Day 5: Present


day five

  • Finish the prototypes
  • Present to the client
  • Wrap up / Next steps

Once the sprint is finished, it’s time to test and survey your users, which brings us to Post Sprint Week

Post-Sprint Week

You’ll need to fill out a survey (I use Google forms, super easy) and set the stage for the users. The prototypes won’t be totally functional, so let the users know that! You will usually do some baseline questions to get a gauge of your users, and asking them about who they are demographically never hurts. Then you’ll want to ask the same questions about each prototype, but it’s really helpful to send half of your participants Prototype 1 then Prototype 2, in that order. Then the other half of the participants send Prototype 2 first, then Prototype 1. Many times users will latch on to the first prototype they see, so this technique helps mitigate that risk.

Once the surveys are finished, you can start grouping themes (which is a whole other blog post – I’ll write soon!). And you’ve got real feedback from users and this helps your clients decide whehter or not to move forward with a project or mobile build before it drains all their resources for it.

 

The Theory of Strategy Entanglement

November 27, 2016
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I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners. Strategy entanglement image

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I am in the process of creating a PDF document called Strategy in Context. It will outline the delayering of strategy. If you think about the complexity of strategy entanglement, it’s almost too much to fathom. So, I’m creating a document that will break down each piece of what I wrote about in this post. But remember, it won’t be linear. Strategy is not a linear process, even though many people think it can be. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.

Honesty, Culture, and the Clash with Leadership

September 3, 2016
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I recently read a post on WP Tavern (one of my fav WP blogs to read) that brought up the question of the “us vs. them” mentality. And then I read another blog post that was a reaction to the original post.  And it got me thinking…but not about WordPress core leadership. To be completely honest with you, I’m not as involved in WordPress contributions as I’d like to be, but that is my fault and mine alone. However, it did make me contemplate leadership in general. It seems like we are seeing a rise in the toxic leader and employees that clash with leadership are finding new companies.

Lately, I’ve been starting a lot of my sentences with the words “to be completely honest with you..” as if I’m trying to get a point across that merits truthfulness. When, realistically, I try to be as honest as I can be when speaking about things like work and the environment we collaborate in. Yes…as honest as I can be…and that thought, that thought right there (you had it too, didn’t you!?), that thought makes me pause. I want to uncover that thought because it’s one that we don’t talk about. And it’s universal across all businesses, all industries.

That thought of being honest…

This is a really hard concept to capture, comprehend, and bring to light…because, let’s face it, we hold back. Quite. A. Lot. And to a certain extent, we have to. We are all professionals in a professional world, yet we don’t think that way about some of the people we interact with. I think we’ve all been in these situations where we’re casually talking with a new colleague when they ask the question “so, what should I know about our CEO?” Maybe they ask “what are your thoughts on the way she handled that meeting?” We all want to be honest with a new coworker about the flaws of our bosses or how we think our manager handled that last working session, but we hold back when they ask.

Then there’s being honest with your CEO or boss. Should you have to worry about whether or not you’re going to get fired for bringing up an issue at work. Or should you have to feel scared of retribution from a manager, director, or the CEO of your company for doing something you feel is right? Probably not, but it happens all the time. It happens because there’s usually a lack of communication in the hierarchy of an organization.  Or the organization itself breeds dishonesty. But what’s the one thing that affects communication more than anything else? Behavior.

“People leave managers, not companies.”

I forget who said it, but people leave their manager, not their company. For the most part, I believe this to be true. You have probably left a company because you lack faith in your leadership or are at odds with them. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. There’s no leadership school that you can send someone to to receive leadership training. Well, I guess there are leadership seminars and whatnot. But it’s a trait that a). people are born with, or b). (and more likely) people develop over time, or c). (most likely) people are committed to improving through team feedback, lessons learned, and the will to lead in a better capacity.

In my opinion, trust (or lack there of) in your leadership really comes down to behavior. Now everyone says it would be healthier to bring up your grievances, but whether or not team members actually do this is a reflection of how comfortable they feel with leadership and their behavior. How can employees feel comfortable airing their issues if their leadership is known for explosive behavior? On the flipside to that, if your leadership is known for not having explosive behavior, but more passive aggressive behavior, I ask again—how can employees feel comfortable airing their issues? My career has spanned many industries, and I’ve come in contact with many leaders, some good, some bad, and very few who have been phenomenal! It’s the leaders that instill a judgment-free, open-door, challenging environment that enables teams to shine. And the leaders that don’t, usually see a high turnover rate.

Behavior begets behavior…

Behavior plays such a huge role in leadership skills. I’m sure we’ve all had that Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde boss that we’re frightened to go to because we’re not sure what reaction we’ll get from them. That’s setting a tone for the entire company to not raise future issues. We’ve also probably all had the passive aggressive boss that shuts you out after a remark is made or an idea is mentioned that wasn’t well-received, and you end up getting the silent treatment for two weeks. Employees will feel like speaking up isn’t worth the effort or retribution.

Behavior begets behavior, and it starts at the top. What do I mean by that? Well, a company, agency, or startup, is usually a reflection of the leadership. If a CEO is transparent with his employees, they’ll most likely be transparent with the CEO. When a Director of Marketing is an innovative leader, her team will most likely become innovative themselves. If a manager wants their team members to go to networking events, then that manager should be going to them as well.  Employees will usually mirror the behavior they see leadership display. We’ve all heard the term “lead by example.”

A company culture will be defined by the behavior leadership teams exhibit. And without the support of leadership, then a company’s culture has no chance of actually changing for the better. Good staff don’t want to work in a company that breeds a culture of fear or mediocrity.

Ethics also play a big role…

I have a moral code that I live by, as I’m sure you do too. Companies have the same thing, they call them values. But I think some companies have values just for the sake of having values. Without standards that can help measure the commitment one has toward their values, then they’re just a punchline.

I’ve been involved in the retail, sales, construction, and technology industries. They all have a mixed bag of people who want to do the right thing, those that seem like they don’t care, and the others that are balancing between ethics and cutting corners. Individuals have ethics, groups have ethics, and at times they can be at odds. They can also be a glaring example of a leader’s backbone. Leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard because interpretations are dependent on those they lead. And too many times do we see leaders’ actions as “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy that begins to creep into an entire organization.

Finding that right mix…

What happens when you’re odds with your leadership? Or what happens when you can’t be honest with them? You start to hate your job, and essentially your life. No one wants to compromise their ethics for getting better results (or what may seem like better results) at work. But people do it. No one wants to be dishonest with their coworkers about the behavior of their CEO. But we do it. And we rationalize why. “Oh, I really need this job.” “The benefits are good, and it’s something I can tolerate for now.” Your inner self is screaming at you to leave now!!! And maybe you should.

Why do you think there are so many freelancers out there? How many times have you heard someone say “I’m going to open up my own business because I can do this better?” Many, I’m sure. But if you don’t want to be a freelancer or business owner, then what are your options? Finding that right mix of industry, coworkers, and leadership that’ll challenge you and make you feel at home.

Thriving with collaboration and innovation

Seek out industries you have a passion for. Seek out companies and other individuals that have similar values and standards. Check out Glassdoor Best Places to Work, GreatPlacesToWork.com, or any other rating site. When you find a company that looks good, check them out, check out their products, their reviews, their case studies, testimonials, etc. Talk with employees and former employees. Seek out the companies that are accomplishing things you’d want to accomplish too.

Bring your moral code to the team, bring your values and standards along too. When you start at a new company, bring your innovation, collaborate with team members in an open and honest way. If you can show your energy and enthusiasm, you’ll most likely attract those with the same energy and enthusiasm. Getting into a company where leaders openly challenge you to do your best work the right way is rare. When you find that place, it’s a place to stay.

I just started at a new company and so far, they’re super collaborative, innovative, and transparent. But I also have the added value of working with a leader I trust from years ago, so that’s a plus. Our portfolio is huge, we work with some really cool technology, and we have a global team. I’m looking forward to this next chapter and the team I’m doing it with. But what if you’re in a different position than me?

Co-existing with leaders you don’t necessarily agree with…

This has always been hard for me, even after I air my grievances with a leader. But if you’re in the throes of a shitty situation at work that stems from your lack of faith in your leadership, here are a few options:

  1. Confront your leader — I know that this might be a hard pill to swallow, but facing the situation head on is the quickest route to understanding if something’s fixable or not. If it’s fixable, awesome. If not, then maybe it’s time to move on.
  2. Work more with your leader — If you work closely with your leader, it’ll lead to a few things. A better understanding of each others’ roles. You can see how they treat other workers. And hopefully you can find common ground.
  3. Focus on things you can control — If you don’t get along with a leader, then focus your attention on your work and doing it really, really well. Producing great results will set you a part.
  4. Maybe it’s time to find something else — If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, then maybe it is time to leave. And there is no shame in that.

I’m positive that we’ve all been there. Working with leaders you can’t trust, can’t be honest with, or don’t agree with can make work a negative experience. Remember to hold on to your ethics and standards. and as long as you can be honest in a tactful and constructive way, you should be able to make your situation better, or find a better situation.