I get asked a lot to design new widgets and tools for our clients. They want something that will streamline a process and deliver a particular value to the user, making life better for both the user and the company.
"Can you give me a bit more definition and scope?" I ask.
"Uh, I just told you. I want an X that will do Y with B and eliminate D," the client answers.
OHHHKay. No, I didn't say that. Instead, I say something wonderful and reassuring like, "I've got a good enough idea to get started" Crazy and misdirected?
Maybe. But here's one thing I know to hold pretty constant: The client will not be able to explain in great detail exactly what they want. Not really. It's an intuition thing. A feeling about what needs to be fixed, changed or improved, but not a clear-sighted and fully developed concept. Even if they think it is.
I was browsing blogs this evening and read a post on Guy Kawasaki's blog that lined all this up better than I've ever seen it said,
"Design consists of creating things for clients who may not know what they want, until they see what you've done, then they know exactly what they want, but it's not what you did." Taken from the design matters blog.
All of you are nodding. I see you. This is true for projects and web design and process re-engineering and any responsibility given to anyone on the team. With or without explicit instructions. Here's the thing: Until you get something down, you won't spark that final idea that will be the killer one. Okay 98% of the time, I'll guess this is true. If you fall into the other two percent, consider yourself very lucky and don't fool yourself into thinking it will repeat consistently. As Brian indicates on the design matter's post - Once they see what they think they want, it's likely that it won't be what they really want.
Here's why: Possibilities are endless. People within an organization will tend to think like the organization they work with - well, unless they are new. But there really isn't anything to nail down until there's something there. Like the saying goes, A picture is worth a thousand words. Getting something down gives you a starting point for conversation.
As the designer of the project - whatever it may be - you are expected to lead. Yes, you need to do research and find out what they do now and why it doesn't do what they want or whatever the circumstances, but you also need to look beyond all of it and come up with something that not only answers todays problem, but that provides a path for future possibilities. This way you can go forward, instead of backwards, as markets change, companies evolve and processes extend.
What do you do to get and keep your projects on track in a way that makes sure they deliver value?