– by Steven C Diaz –
A few years ago, while on a family vacation in Southern Utah, we were enjoying a nice short hike at Kolob Canyon, and learned a lesson that I have reflected on in many instances of my life.
As we approached a nice overlook of the canyon, I saw a rock that fit perfectly in my hand about the size of a baseball. Without my kids or wife seeing what I was doing, I went to the edge of the lookout and channeled my inner Clayton Kershaw, and let the rock fly as far as I could down the canyon. Because that’s what boys do, we have to show off and try to impress those around us.
Being Eagle Scouts, both of my boys yelled at me as if I just committed one of the worst acts in humanity. “Dad! What are you doing, you don’t know who or what is down there”. Of course, I knew better and I shouldn’t have thrown that rock. As I was trying to correct my dumb decision, my wise 14-year-old boy at the time said something that pierced my soul.
“Dad, even the smallest of rocks can move the biggest of boulders.”
And since that fateful day in July, I have always tried to keep those words alive in different aspects of my life. Sometimes the smallest things we do can have a large impact on things. Recently I jumped into a course from the Interaction Design Foundation course, “Agile Methods for UX Design” presented by Laura Klein, and the same lesson was learned that my son taught me years ago. Designers at times, need to force themselves to keep things simple and design small, and sometimes our deliverables don’t need to be perfect.
Keep Things Simple and Design Small
Designers who work in agile teams can feel a tremendous amount of stress and pressure to deliver what is expected, and sometimes with that pressure comes the lack of skipping research, cutting corners, and jumping straight to execution. Laura Klein stated, “If designers want to work agilely and still design great, user-centered products, we need to stop designing faster and learn how to start designing less.” To be able to do this, agile teams and designers need to change their mindset from designing everything at once to designing and focusing on the smallest thing possible that can have the biggest impact. (Queue the quote from my son)
But why start small if the project is so large in scale? I think we have all been in the position where we have put so much time and effort into a product or feature only to roll it out and fail. Think about how nice it could be to ship a smaller version of a feature, and hand it off to users for testing to make sure it is effective. Delivering small features early gives you information that can help your team decide whether the rest of the feature is worthwhile.
Delivering smaller chunks of features and information, allows you to deliver early and more often to get the feedback before assigning a ton of resources to something without knowing if it’s going to be a successful feature or product or not. The takeaway from this thought is, if designers want to get more agile, they should learn how to make small things, get feedback, and embrace experimentation, iteration, and refactoring.
It doesn’t have to be perfect
I have a background working in various corporate teams that have an agency model in the department where it is expected to push many different deliverables out quickly with short deadlines. This can become something that creates burnout in designers and teams, and I have been there many times. Moving over to an agile team and methodology I held on to the same mindset that I needed to create and push out perfect polished designs in those short sprints. This caused a lot of stress until I realized that sometimes it’s okay if I wasn’t pushing out the whole product or feature at that time.
Being a designer on an agile team required me to adapt my work to a new way of thinking. If I thought I was going to be able to push out major features and products in those sprints, I would for sure burn myself out in a short time. I knew I couldn’t skip or miss any part of research or discovery, but also wanted to design polished-looking prototypes, so I had to find a balance. But one thing that helped me was remembering the outside world doesn’t have the same definition of perfect that I have.
Being able to adjust my thinking and letting go of being a perfectionist is something I am still trying to learn. I can push out designs that aren’t perfect, but I also need to hold others accountable to make sure that we revisit and address polishing up those features I had a better vision for. And ultimately that’s what an agile team is expected to do.
This course and certification offered some very good ideas and best practices to put into place to allow designers to be as successful as they can in Agile teams. We want to contribute, we want to deliver, and we want to make an impact. And for at least myself, I realized I need to change a few ways of thinking.
Continuing to collaborate and get input from team members will help everyone understand the motivation behind suggestions and take the next steps accordingly. Being able to share progress early and often with small features and designs will help speed up your work and effectiveness, and involving and understanding customers early will allow you to receive data to make sure you are delivering the most effective solutions. Delivering small chunks and small low-fidelity features can help you and your team receive customer feedback and make sure you are not going down the wrong path.
And never forget that the smallest of rocks can move the biggest of boulders.