UI/UX and design thinking – how we just delivered the best project we’ve ever done

In November (this month as I write this) we have not long closed out possible two of the best custom software projects we have done. Sure there were bugs in the testing and there will be more found by the users I'm sure, but what made them so good? We hit the schedule to within a week on both of them and there were no scope changes over the entire project, so we hit the budget as well. This is particularly impressive for one of them because it was a completely new piece of software, written from scratch; taken from powerpoint to in production in 5 months.

What made these projects go so well is that we spent more on the design phase than ever before, and more importantly our customers were on board with doing this. 

Both these projects followed our new approach based on Design Thinking so let me share a bit more about the new software project in particular. 

We spent nearly 30% of the total budget designing the UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience).  What – 30%!  Yes, that’s right, 30% before we wrote a single line of code.  And as a result we no scope changes during the development and our estimates for the development phase were much more accurate. 

Here’s why: 

1. The users knew what they were going to get from the start 

Because we got all the key people engaged early on we got great engagement and we didn’t start the development until everyone had signed off on the design.  Now the end of each sprint wasn’t the first time the users ever got to see anything.  It merely gave people confidence that things were progressing well and they were going to get what they expected. 

2. No design on “on the fly” 

This was a big win.   We never found ourselves in the situation where we were having to down tools and scratch our heads about how something should work.  Our developers never had to design things on the fly, which always slows progress down and rarely results in an optimal design because the pressure is on to just get something working! 

3. Ideation process flushed out lots of hidden information 

It’s amazing what additional information comes out when the right people talk through things in detail.  Both the users and the developers learn more about each others world.  What seems like an obvious request from a user gets interesting when “what if” questions are asked.  What should happen if x happens?  Can anybody press this button or just administrators? etc.  Making sure all the ‘out of band’ functions like user administration and configuration are also discussed and agreed saves a lot of time later. 

Anyone who is familiar with the Design Thinking process may, at this point, be thinking “how did they convince their customers to lock some of their best people away in a room for a week!?”.  Well, the answer is we didn’t!  The full Design Thinking process is overkill unless you are talking budgets of 7-figures.  We distilled it down to a 4 hours workshop with some preparation and follow up sessions.  Anyone can manage a half-day session with a bit of planning. 

But surely everyone knows you have to plan projects before you start them!?  What’s new about that?  The difference here is that we went much deeper into the design phase and used collaborative UI/UX tools (such as InVision, Figma, Sketch) and sketched out the UI as we went, and in some cases went away to prototype things. 

This is more like a HAZOP that a brainstorming session – we use keywords and templated questioning to spark discussion and make sure everyone has thought through everything. 

So it costs more than a cursory survey or scoping session, but the results more than justify the cost.  Hopefully we can do this for every project from now on! 

written by

Murray Callander

posted on

November 23, 2020

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