Design strategy is an interesting process. Subjective in nature and guided by objective research, creating the right design is really about what is most appropriate for your target user or audience. It’s not a science, it’s an art, and it should be allowed to evolve.

Why then are we always so concerned with achieving perfection? Spending all of our time trying to create the perfect strategy has diminishing returns. When we focus so completely on creating a perfect website or product, we sometimes lose sight of our goals and enter into a stagnant stage of “analysis paralysis.” What if we focused on incremental improvements instead?

Incremental Improvements Strengthen Long Term Performance

There is an entire movement dedicated to that method of thinking: Lean. One of the major principles of building lean is launching with a minimal viable product (MVP) and then measuring, learning and iterating in short cycles for maximum impact. It is an effective way to get something out into the world quickly, while also avoiding getting stuck on trivial matters that can be worked out in the long run.

MVP

Think of it this way: In golf, there are all sorts of variables you need to contend with to make it to the green. There is wind factor, course layout, and club selection to consider. When I started playing golf, I didn’t really understand how to balance all of these—I really just wanted to get the ball as far down the green as possible, which usually meant I would end up somewhere I didn’t want to be. The pros, on the other hand, are smart; they respect their weaknesses, and reduce risk by leveraging their strengths. They take the swings they know will land them in a good spot for their next move.

In doing this, they are effectively mitigating risk, making incremental moves to get them as close to the hole as possible within that turn. The pros look to capitalize on opportunities. Sure, hole in ones happen, but they are extremely risky and a miscalculation is likely to land you in a sand dune (making it even harder to make it to the green). And let’s face it, even pros have a 2,500 to 1 shot at making a hole in one – – get what I’m saying?

Making smaller movements towards the end goal, rather than finishing everything and then testing, is how we in design mitigate the risk of “getting it wrong.” When we work on evidence, rather than assumptions, we have a greater chance of making it to the green.

Use a Trigger System to Keep Projects On Track

But sometimes projects veer off track, and the paralysis sets in as a result of getting stuck on one thing for too long. The best way to prevent situations like these is by building a system of triggers that will help keep the project moving forward. One key to success is maintaining momentum even when the target is moving. These tips will keep your team on their A-game.

Analysis-Paralysis_ShootingGallery

Timebox Objectives: Some projects can spin out of control without some basic guard rails. The first is to timebox your objectives and focus on making decisions in smaller pieces to continue moving forward. For example, spend five days working on and discussing navigation orientation. At the end of that timebox, a decision must be made so that you can move on to the next task. By defining a schedule for segments of the project build, you can be sure that all decisions are made by a certain date. Analysis paralysis can also result from good ideas sparking new conversations that may not directly affect the objective. Timeboxing keeps people focused during conversations and meetings to ensure that the team continues working towards the MVP.

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Limit Revisions: The second way to build in structure is by limiting the amount of revisions a project can undergo. At DT, we like to limit things to three rounds of revisions. If we are still getting feedback for changes after the third revision, it is a pretty clear indicator that something got off course. At that point, it is time to re-examine the project goals and decide if the changes we are making will have a significant impact on the goals.

Consider Effort Versus Impact: Analysis paralysis really results from one thing — fear of making the wrong decision. When I recognize this fear in clients, I like to ask the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen if we launch this MVP?” Usually what will result is a list of assumptions, such as “if we launch right now our user won’t be able to find x.”

This is where a rating system comes into place. Label each assumption as a hurdle, nuance or distraction. A hurdle is something that is high impact and will completely prevent the user from accomplishing an action, nuance is just an “annoyance” and will make a smaller impact, while a distraction will make a low impact on the end goal.

Lastly, consider the level of effort it would take to test these assumptions prior to launching an MVP:

Do you have different methods for safeguarding against thinking too much?

Comments
  • Great post! I am so guilty of this, and am still figuring out how to work on it. I think related to your suggestion of considering the impact of different potential problems, is just keeping the entire endeavor in perspective as well. One project is never the end-all-be-all.

    • David Nguyen

      Totally… perspective is everything. It’s a matter of letting go of our paradigms of the past where you only have one chance to do it right.

  • I love love this post. Solid Gold Info as always. I have always thought these things.

    I have seen projects and people get stuck in “analysis paralysis” I have also seen a product get launched with “Road Blocks” not hurtle. This Article really puts it all together. Need to share this with everyone!

    • David Nguyen

      As long as you and your team follow an agreed upon vocabulary to describe impact & effort, you’ll be much better at prioritizing and keeping that ever so important focus on top of mind.

  • Love it, man. Going to put this into practice in as many endeavors as I can!

    • David Nguyen

      That’s awesome.

      Let us know how you implement it and how well it created alignment among your team. We love to hear success stories.

  • Paul

    You need to have a place where you can ship your shit.

    If no one sees you/hears you, then you’re launching to crickets

  • Applying the proper iteration steps is the greatest challenge of the iteration process (you might end up spending too much time on some steps, or skip some steps altogether etc.), but if properly balanced, the results are going to be very rewarding.

    Thanks for the article.

    • David Nguyen

      That’s what’s great about creating triggers that help you to see the bigger picture… so that you don’t overlook those steps or spend too much time thinking about a step that doesn’t offer as much value at the time.

  • Maybe you’ve seen a lot of posters like this, but:
    http://www.startupvitamins.com/products/startup-poster-fuck-it-ship-it

    • David Nguyen

      I haven’t that’s awesome. Maybe it’ll end up in our office!

  • Joe Keehnast

    Awesome post David, I can identify with a lot of what you talked about here. Just to clarify, when you refer to low/high effort, are you referring to the effort it would take to design/concept/usability research before building something? Or are you referring to the effort to build something?

    I think after re-reading your section on impact/effort that you are rating “impact” based on the risk to the user experience that could occur from whatever you are building. Is that right too? I initially thought of impact as what would deliver greatest value to the user but I think you are using it like I just described.

    • David Nguyen

      Thanks Joe.

      In regards to low/high effort I mean all the above; -what’s it going to take to get this idea fleshed out and working (opportunity costs)?

      As for Impact, I see how it might read like that. There’s an assumption here that you’re spending effort to solve a problem (a user who’s experiencing a hurdle, nuance, or distraction) and a solution for removing a hurdle would mean your opportunity is to provide a high impact on improving the users’s experience.

      Impact is the value of your solution, while Effort is your risk.

  • Excellent timing on your article. We’re putting our merchant app together and it’ll be a hard-pressed time for us as we’re seeing an MVP launch in a so-called ‘below the radar’ move to test a narrow target segment first though it would be nice to fill up the rest of our other market groups in good time. p/s our site is still not up but will be soon enough. Everyone can check back after mid-March or latest by first week of April. Tq again for your MVP article!

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