Blog 53

Andrew Daniels


Take a look at the well-known cartoon image below…

Funny, but it does happen...

An expensive game of Chinese whispers

The picture above is a perfect example of how a misunderstood project can escalate as it passes through different people, teams and departments. Any disconnect between what the project owner requires and how different people perceive it can turn into an expensive game of Chinese whispers. For anyone involved in project delivery it highlights how understanding the customer’s goals and requirements from the very start, has the power to either make or break a project.

Deliverables can be misunderstood, requirements can be too high level and lacking in detail, or the Designer can come up with a fancy solution that doesn’t exactly match what was intended in the first place, effecting timescales and budget constraints. These are some of the things that can go wrong.

The key to preventing this from happening is to keep the project owner involved at all stages, applying the preferred process below:

First, let’s start by defining what a customer is…

There’s many variations when it comes to defining a customer, but throughout this post a customer will be referred to as anyone that requires the goods or services produced by a digital delivery team. A customer can be an external client or an internal stakeholder on a company project.

1.   Discuss the project aims and record them.

The first few questions in any prospective project should be simple. “What do you want to achieve?” and “What is your budget?” 

Often customers have an idea of what they want, but sometimes they need help from industry or subject matter experts to fill in the gaps. At this stage it is important to really get into their minds and understand the vision from their point of view.

This can be best achieved by an open discussion. The relaxed nature of open discussions have many benefits for all parties, but is ultimately a way of getting a feel for who your customer is, their culture, personality as well as, what project they have in mind and any potential constraints such as budgets or deadlines.

At this stage, it is vital to ask lots of questions and make the most of the time you have with the customer. You shouldn't be leaving the session with any outstanding questions or assumptions.

2. Discovery

Dive deep, after all, the more you learn about  your customer the easier it becomes for all parties involved in the project

What is discovery?

Discovery involves delving into the details of what’s required based on the initial discussions with the customer. It’s all about getting more specific information about how the product should work and filling in any gaps.

It’s very useful to carry out a competitor analysis at this stage prior to having more in depth discussions with your customers. This can help you to provide your customer’s with advice and recommendations on how they can achieve a competitive advantage, as well as giving the team a greater understanding of the sort of product that is to be produced.

It’s not only about understanding your customer’s and other stakeholder’s requirements, but it is also about helping your customer to question their requirements to ensure that the end product is exactly what they need. 

For example, a stakeholder may know they want to collect and store information about their users. This is the time to question why this functionality is required, i.e. is this for marketing purposes? This helps to make sure you are not adding in functionality that may be an unnecessary cost to the customer with little added benefits to the end product.

By asking all of these questions at this stage ensures that all parties understand exactly what needs to be produced to fulfill the requirements, reducing the risk of  misunderstanding.

Depending on the preferred communication process, the Discovery sessions can be carried out using various methods including phone calls, workshops and brainstorming sessions. Depending on time and location based limitations, some or all of these methods may be applied.

3. Document the Discovery outcomes

Having requirements documented is key to a successful project as it harmonises the understanding between you, your customer and your stakeholders.

A requirements document should be produced as an outcome of the discovery phase. It is vital to get the requirements reviewed by all internal and external parties involved in the project to ensure that there is no ambiguity and everyone understands what features are being delivered.

You should always supply a customer with the requirements document, however, it is also imperative  to talk the customer through each section to ensure there is no misinterpretation.

Plan out a solution

After the customer’s requirements are documented, they should then be reviewed and approved by internal stakeholders and then by the customer to make sure everyone is on the same page.

This stage also ensures that the customer’s vision is reflected in detail to the team working on the project, so that decisions can be made on how best to build and design the product.

4. Design

Creativity is the process of bringing something new to the table. It requires passion and commitment whilst ensuring the customer’s brand identity and guidelines are the forefront of any design decisions.

Once the requirements have been agreed by the customer, the next step is to begin designing the product, these should be based on the discussions with the customer during the discovery phase. Wireframes showing the skeletal framework of a product as well as any branding and graphic/aesthetic design can be produced at this stage. This can be done using various industry standard and collaborative tools, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InVision and Flinto.

Referring back to the requirements is crucial and the designs should be checked against these to make sure that they are presented per the customer’s aims and include all requested features.These should then be shared with the customer to make sure that they are fit for purpose and any required amendments are highlighted early in the project.

The wireframes will specifically show the functionality of the product as well as the flow and user journey. A visual representation of the end product allows both the customer and the team to understand exactly how the product will work.

5.  Development

This is where the code gets written.

In my experience at Degree 53, a workshop has proven the most effective way of delivering this. At this stage, it is crucial for the project manager to thoroughly explain the product’s functionality and ensure that there is a clear understanding and any questions or concerns can be raised by the project team.

There are a number of different processes for managing the actual development process, all with their advantages as well as disadvantages, but we recommend Scrum, which is an agile methodology. By using this approach, development is split into short ‘sprints’, usually 2 weeks long. Within a sprint, a set of features should be developed and tested in accordance with defined acceptance criteria.

At the end of each sprint, a demonstration is given to show what has been produced. It is a good idea to actively involve the customer in these to give them a chance to review the product and give any feedback.

6.  Quality Assurance

Internal testing is all about ensuring the product works as expected.

It’s recommended that during each sprint the product is tested by a Quality Assurance team who test the product against requirements and acceptance criteria. By always linking back to the requirements and acceptance criteria, it means that the product is tested against exactly what the customer asked for and ultimately delivers what the customer ordered.

Anything which does not work as expected throughout development should be flagged as a ‘bug’ and fixed. At the end of development a full end-to-end test is carried out on a number of devices and browsers, once the team are happy with the product, it can be shown to the customer in a final demonstration session. 

7. User Acceptance Testing (UAT)

Finally, the finished product can be handed over to the customer for User Acceptance Testing.

The User Acceptance Testing period gives the customer time to review the product for bugs and to voice any concerns.

Once the project is complete, the relationship with the customer shouldn't stop there. You should always be actively looking for new ways and ideas to improve your customer’s app or website based on industry trends and new ideas. Modern users expect innovation and products to be constantly improving.

If you’d like to know more about our preferred process, please get in touch.

If you found this post interesting, you may also be interested in Which Platform Is Best For My Project – iOS or Android?

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