First of all, let's talk about who's on the team. We have 2 UX designers, Jessi Shakarian and Justin Kim; a UX researcher, Priyanka Sanghavi; a data scientist, William Lage; and an information architect, Grace Lau, who's also doubling as a project manager. Our educational backgrounds are all over the place, from cognitive psychology to library and information science, data science and organizational psychology to technical writing.
For some of us, it's our first or second job after graduating from college. For some of us, it's our first time working on a team as large and varied as this. For others, it's a brand-new domain space. Some of us are connected because of the SGVUX meetup; some of us have never worked together before. This is a realistic depiction of project work in a design agency.
We had our internal kickoff a week before the project actually started and spent the time doing background research about the company, trying to understand the company based off of its public website and product videos on YouTube. The project timeline is divided into 4 main phases: kickoff, discovery, synthesis, and recommendations. If we're looking at a double-diamond process, we're covering the first diamond of understanding the problem first before the recommendations lead us to hopefully more project diamonds further down the line.
Pacing to understand
As we check-in with fellow research and design compatriots, we've been hearing that such 2-week discovery sessions are a luxury on agency projects. Design agencies tend to allocate a big team meeting to kickoff the project and expect the team to prepare a one-shot, comprehensive discovery workshop to understand and gather requirements. The team isn’t given adequate time to work on preparation, planning, listening, and analysis on projects, resulting in subpar research and design work. The team ends up burning out or even feeling that they're regressing in their career, barely given time to recover between projects. In fact, we even heard that cutting out this upfront time to understand the domain space has cost their designers years to design a solution well enough.
Meanwhile, we paced our project carefully from the beginning to make sure that we set up a comfortable amount of time to digest what we learned. During our kickoff week, we met with the team as a whole and separately with each product owner to kickoff each of those workstreams. From those, we followed the conversation trajectories to learn more about each of those products, their users, workflows and processes, and governance practices (or lack thereof). This brought our discovery phase to 3 weeks, with time to synthesize our notes and findings.
This week, we start the final week of discovery sessions and prepare for stakeholder check-ins and a team readout at the end of the week. There's a lot going on, including heuristic evaluations, competitive analysis, user experience audits, and a journey map of the current state. So far, the team's still feeling rather good, if not still a little anxious about the amount of notes we've gathered in the past 2 weeks.
Team safety first
Hearing this, we're doing great leading the project so far and allocating more time for the team to learn about the client's 4 products. Our pacing is good. Our team dynamics have been jiving so far. No one's feeling overwhelmed or at least as lost as before the project started.
We’ve figured out the collaboration tools that are working best for us and adjusted our work habits, even if we are learning new tools (Hello, FigJam!). We have co-working sessions twice a week to figure things out and co-create, a weekly sync on Mondays, and debriefs after every stakeholder session. We have sometimes dissolved into late-night shenanigans during our debriefs after stakeholder sessions with client stakeholders in India. We will not speak of the person who passed out in front of the camera.
As a team, we’re asking lots of questions of the client, of ourselves, and of each other. Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat here; we have many cats on the team, including Lucy 🐈⬛, Oliver 🐈⬛, and the ever-elusive Mimi 🐈.
At the end of every week, we're asked to reflect on how we feel about the project and to make sure that everyone feels supported in what they're doing. Building in that awareness to look out for burnout is a hard-learned lesson.
While this project is still in mid-flight and there's lots more to go, this model of an apprentice team working on a client project is working so far. Once this project ends, we'll share another progress report on what went well, what could be improved, and what lessons we learned to apply to the next engagement.
Thank you again to the project team and the client for taking a chance with us. We’re halfway there and we can’t wait to share with you what we’ve been working on.
Written by: Grace Lau
Edited by: Priyanka Sanghavi
Reviewed by: Jessi Shakarian, Justin Kim