Brainstorming

So how do you hold a brainstorming session that does not suck?

  • Invite the right people: Get a good group of people that are from a diversity of departments that have experience in different aspects of your product, company and customers and can bring those view points to the table. Make sure the group is not too big and not too small 6–10 is about right. Avoid inviting people just because.
  • Find the right space: Find an open space with plenty of space to write on — white boards or walls to add sticky notes to do the trick. Make sure the setup is conducive to moving around preferable with a big round table in the middle so people can face each other or the presenter.
  • Send an agenda: Make sure people know the objective for the session
  • Assign roles: Most of the attendees will be the brainstormers, however, your meeting will be that much more structured if there is an un-objective person whose sole role is to keep it moving, and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard — this is usually the facilitator. Assign ahead of time the note taker whose role is to keep track of the top ideas by writing them on the board and then sharing out the learnings and next step as a wrap up of the conversation. 
  • Introduce Brainstorming rules:IDEO’s 7 rules are clear and to the point and will help level set the group on what is brainstorming. Although design and product might be used to the sticky note exercises others might not be.
  • Get a facilitator: To ensure the session is truly unbiased and to learn yourself get a facilitator. This person, as an outsider, will not have baggage with the company and will allow you to be a part of the process.
  • Kick it off right: Get the data qualitative or quantitative to ground the conversation and why you are taking the time out of your day to have it. Prepare the high level anchor question for the group that will set the stage for your session “How might we….”, and then articulate any sub-themes that you know are already focus areas.
  • Start with a simple exercise: Get people out of their comfort zone and into a brainstorming mood with an easy opening exercise. For example ask the people in the room to spend 5 minutes drawing 5 others in the room. You’ll get a few “I don’t know how to draw” followed by laughter and people getting open to the idea that it’s not about the drawing ability but expressing the idea. 
  • Use tons of sticky notes and sharpies: Sticky notes are effective because they are fun and not like work so it allows every person to get out of their day to day and start thinking creatively. Why a marker and not a pen? Because this is about high level themes and ideas the more the better and what ifs rather than solving the how. If it does not fit on a sticky note using a sharpie it does not belong in this meeting as you have slipped into solution land. Don’t do this electronically if you can.
  • Remote team members: Try to get them in the room if possible. If you have a team member that is remote make sure they are paired with a scribe in the room. Make an effort to let them be heard and get them to see the boards and ideas getting generated.
  • Time constraint: Set a clear time for the sessions and keep the tempo moving (back to the need for a facilitator). Make sure there are stretch breaks and people stand up and walk around during the exercises as much as possible or you will start to loose people.
  • Take care of the people: Make sure there are nutritional snacks in the room. Brainstorming consumes enormous amounts of mental energy and sucks us into itself because like a game it’s fun. Make sure to take care of the people in the room and their brains will remain productive.
  • Focus the second half on getting to decisions: It is easy to get into a flurry of things you can do and ideas. That is the point of a brainstorming session. However, set aside the second half on clustering, grouping and getting to the focus set of things you will act on.
  • Accountability and next steps: Assign who is taking the next steps and sharing out what you uncovered in this brainstorm and the next actionable steps. Make sure that follow up is sent the next day so the energy you uncovered in this session continues and the ideas that made it get the right start. Share your findings with the rest of the company to get the others focused on learning and aligned with you.

Alternative brainstorming approach

  1. Set the ground rules and goals
    • Quantity over quality
    • No critiques
    • Build on ideas. Replace “yes, but…” with “yes, and…”
  2. Distribute sticky notes, sharpies
  3. Pose a question, user need or topic.
  4. Participants have 5 min to get as many ideas on sticky notes as possible. 1 idea per sticky note. Sharpies help because they are nice and thick — legible at a distance, and they prevent fine detail work.
  5. At the end of the 5m mark, go around and have people share their ideas.
  6. Put the ideas up on the board.
  7. Do this for 3 rounds. Toward the later rounds, new ideas tend to emerge, synthesized from others already shared.
  8. Cluster ideas by theme, topic, approach.

From https://medium.com/@elena.luneva/brainstorming-sessions-that-don-t-suck-23b12e7ccbd7 and http://gordonbrander.com/pattern/brainstorming/

Create Choices, Make Choices

The creative process…

Divergent thinking:

  • Yields options and choices
  • Suspend judgement and analysis
  • Focus on breadth not depth
  • Test competing ideas against each other

Covergent thinking:

  • Eliminate options – trim and edit
  • Make choices – polish
  • Practical way to decide among existing choices
  • Not good at probing the future

These 2 stages also map to problem-solving methodologies used by design and engineering.

Design uses a range of strategies from both stages. Intuition, and creative strategies like moodboards, form finding, and brainstorming are used to create choices. Iteration, design reviews, critique are used to make choices.

Production engineering is typically a process of making choices for implementation. It uses a strategy of modularizing problems — breaking problems into smaller parts, then solving each part. It can also be exploratory. Prototyping can be a process of creating choices when you take the build to think approach.

7 habits for developing a Technical Architect Mindset

  1. Decisions are not dichotomies of either/or.
    It’s not clicks or code, its clicks and code, or clicks at first, and then replacement with code. Or too much code, for the wrong reason, or too many clicks, for the right non-functional performance requirements. Some questions aren’t ‘Should I do this in clicks or code’ its ‘Should we do this at all’ or ‘What happens if I do it this way?’
  2. Becoming an Architect isn’t a destination.
    It’s a progressive journey that does not end. It may reach an inflection point (with a job title), but it’s not a mountain you climb where you reach the top and gaze down on the world below.
  3. You can’t study all the answers, but you can seek the experience.
    There is no book of ready-made answers to every situation. There are only things you see and hear and read. Ideas picked up from colleagues, war stories told by clients or friends, that project that failed, that idea that didn’t work out, that thing that succeeded. You do it over and over and over. The study gives you ingredients but cooking the meal, that comes from experience.
  4. There are no right answers. There are principles to learn and apply.
    There are better or worse answers, depending on the circumstances. Do you know all the circumstances? Have you considered the options for the answers? Do you know the questions to ask?
  5. It’s not about being ‘right’
    Indeed, you might not know if the design has succeeded or failed until years later. What was a success could be declared a failure with changing business conditions, changing assumptions, changing politics, changing technology. Often the right answer isn’t easily seen, it is simply your answer, supported by the reasons you can articulate and accepting the trade-offs you know come with it. If you think you are the smartest person in the room… then you are on your way to failure. Staggering insecurity is a feature, not a bug.
  6. The idea is the easy part, the persuasion is where all the work is.
    Can you convince a room full of people they are looking at the problem the wrong way? Can you justify your choices with the right props? Can you use diagrams, analogies, examples, stories, a raised voice or a timely question to win over a group of people?
  7. More here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND-dX-__I1Y&t=528s

From https://limitexception.com/another-7-habits-for-developing-a-technical-architect-mindset-448c9f3fec13

Ten Principles of Simplicity

What does “simple” actually mean?

People can always tell when something is simple, uncomplicated, elegant, not overworked, or a number of other near-synonyms, but can rarely articulate why something is simple. Because simplicity is inherently subjective, achieving it pretty tricky.

Fortunately, the discipline of experience design has emerged as a means to help the world realize its need for simplicity and what it takes to achieve it.

  1. Meet expectations – If someone goes to your product or website for a specific reason, make sure that you know the reason for their visit and the user can confirm they are in the right place, instantly.
  2. Don’t overwhelm people – Humans can (consciously) only process small amounts of information at a time, so if you don’t quickly make your point, their attention wanders. My favorite technique for not overwhelming people is progressive disclosure. That’s a fancy way to describe showing only a tiny bit of information at a time so people don’t become overwhelmed and confused. Here’s a fantastic example.
  3. Only present a few choices at a time – This is directly related to #2. Studies show that if you give people too many choices, they will “make no choice at all. So, it’s often better to remove features rather than add them. Why not focus on creating the minimum viable product, get it to market, then improve on it (or trash it completely in favor of a better solution)? Constantly adding features only ensures your product will never be complete and you’ll run out of money, all while confusing the heck out of intended users.
  4. No jargon or compu-speak – Talk to people like they are human, and don’t mire yourself in jargon. For example, rather than just label a form “Email,” how about making the label a bit more personal or in-brand? Wufoo does a great job with their form labels: “Enter your email address so we can get a hold of you. Don’t worry. This info is sacred to us. We won’t ever sell or abuse it.”
  5. Consider the abilities of different users – Dr. Jennifer Romano-Bergstrom has done some fascinating research on differences in website usability performance based on users’ ages. One thing I found particularly interesting is that older users tend to ignore content that is located in the periphery of a website. Take into account these differences and make sure your product accounts for them.
  6. Visual clarity – Clarity in visual design is critical for simplicity. Users assess the credibility of something very quickly, so if there isn’t a clear visual hierarchy, people will get confused. But keep in mind, just because something looks simple, doesn’t mean it is simple.
  7. Understand the problem – Mads Kristensen put it best when he said, “… if you cannot take a step back and get a good feeling for the problem, then you don’t understand it enough to see a simple solution … If you don’t understand the problem you are trying to solve, then you probably cannot solve it.”
  8. It’s been tested – If someone doesn’t want to test something, that person is probably cowardly, lazy, or arrogant (and don’t let them play the budget card, you can test things for next to nothing). Creation and objectivity usually don’t go hand in hand. You have to test with users.
  9. Account for context – How you use something differs greatly depending on the time of day, your location, and your culture. For example, try to think how someone might use your product while in a hurry, or perhaps on an iPhone, or while sharing it with a friend. They might also use it completely differently the second time than the first. Time of day, repetition, cultural nuances, and location all drive the context of how your product will be used. Understand it, it’s important.
  10. It’s not just usable – Just because someone can complete a task, doesn’t mean it was a pleasant or easy experience. Be careful not to put too much emphasis on task completion at the expense of a good experience.

How can We Shoot for Simplicity?

Everyone wants stuff that’s simple to use, yet simplicity can be very elusive. To find ways to streamline and simplify, it helps to take a look at a project’s framework; controlling the expectations and processes makes achieving the desired outcome much easier.

In the video The ROI of User Experience” by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, she highlights three causes for project failure (she also breaks down the value of UX much more eloquently than I can, so be sure to give it a watch). I’ve cited these (and added a fourth) below, with recommendations on how to address such challenges.

1. Communicate clearly

Lack of clear communication breeds confusion. Establish a project leader and communication process at the onset, be diligent about following it, and keep track of decisions that have been made.

2. Visualize success

Take the time at the front end of a project to define what a successful launch will look like. Answer questions like these to help keep you on the right path: What is the business goal we’re trying to achieve? Who is the user, and what are their goals? What does the product actually do and not do?

3. Align your stakeholders
  • Make everything matter. It’s your job to care about every detail, because if you don’t, who will?
  • Remove technical debt. The time maintaining an antiquated or poorly constructed system can hamstring future efforts to create simple solutions.
  • Keep things from getting bloated. If the people using your product don’t need or want something, isn’t it just a distraction? Streamline!
  • Plan for executive buy in. Stakeholders need to be heard; involve them early on in the process. Good communication and alignment on goals will assure a better end result.
4. Seek outside opinions, because we can’t do it all ourselves

I make music, and often I’ll write a song that I’m initially thrilled with. After a day or two goes by, I’ll return to the song only to be completely underwhelmed with the original recording. Things are always more exciting when we experience them for the first time; as we focus on something, we have less of a visceral reaction to it, second guess ourselves, and lose interest. Get your idea into a prototype quickly, and show it to others.

Why?

Perhaps the easiest thing one can do to ensure simplicity is to constantly ask, “Why?”

  • Why are we adding this?
  • Why are we taking this away?
  • Why would users care?
  • Why would people share this?
  • Why will people do this?
  • Why can they do this?
  • Why will they still do this?
  • Why aren’t we testing this?

The smallest details can make the biggest difference. If you come to an impasse, ask the person who’s been designated as the leader to make a decision and move on. You can always test your hypothesis later.

That’s Simple

Complex is easy, simple is hard. But, with intense focus, good communication, clarity, and bravery, getting there doesn’t have to be so difficult.

Einstein said it best: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”

From http://uxmag.com/articles/the-complexity-of-simplicity

Amazon’s Leadership Principles

  1. Customer Obsession – Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
  2. Ownership – Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”. 
  3. Invent and Simplify – Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
  4. Are Right, A Lot – Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
  5. Learn and Be Curious – Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
  6. Hire and Develop the Best – Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
  7. Insist on the Highest Standards – Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
  8. Think Big – Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
  9. Bias for Action – Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
  10. Frugality – Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
  11. Earn Trust – Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
  12. Dive Deep – Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
  13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit – Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
  14. Deliver Results – Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

From https://principles.design/examples/amazon-s-leadership-principles