When designing products, there is always a delicate balance between speed, quality, and cost. But if you have an optimised product design workflow, it helps balance the three significantly. A well-oiled machine can impact the overall productivity, final product, and user satisfaction.
In this article, I will highlight 10 key workflows that are beneficial to your product design and development. These tips will help you create better user experiences, and hopefully, a more positive environment for everyone to work in.
Firstly, let’s get to the difference between a process and a workflow. A process is a set of stages or tasks that you need to do to achieve something, like designing a product. A workflow is a set of steps that happens in a stage or task. It is more detailed and granular than a process.
In my product design consultancy, I use an iterative, rapid, highly scalable product design and management approach to bring an idea to market. It is a variation of design thinking and agile strategies, based on incremental improvements, user feedback, and collaboration. As you’re reading these tips, keep that context in mind.
Tip #1: Get clear on your goals, priorities, and scope
When you are dealing with designing and building a product that requires cross-functional collaboration between multiple teams, it is critical to have crystal clear goals, priorities, and scope. This is your North Star, what you go back to when everything’s messed up.
It’s also why I advocate doing design sprints because you’re less likely to have the dreaded “scope creep”, where more things get added to the project as you go along. You’ll end up burning money, time and wasting resources building a product that will end up complex for the users.
Tip #2: Collaborate and make it easy to do so
The best ideas usually come from a group of heads working together. Get designers, developers, marketers, customer support, and other stakeholders working together in designing and developing the product. Having a variety of ideas and approaches will significantly improve the product
Of course, having too many people can drag the process and make you lose the original intention. The best middle ground I’ve found is to have a person that is the final decision maker. He or she is responsible for the outcome of the decisions. This person is typically a leader in digital or customer experience.
Tip #3: Get designers and developers in the same room
Speaking of collaboration, the minimum you should be doing is getting designers and developers working together regularly. It shouldn’t be a factory-line setup where the design comes first and then gets passed to the developer. Rather, the two need to understand each other and work hand in hand.
In many instances, I’ve seen designers design things that aren’t technically feasible, or developers build something that strayed from the original design intention. In both cases, the product becomes complex, bloated, and doesn’t meet the user’s needs.
Tip #4: Collect user feedback regularly
Implement a place and time for a quick user feedback at critical points of the product process. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes, you end up producing something that has skewed from what was discussed. You are also able to spot errors and loopholes before you are knee deep in development.
Feedback shouldn’t be a one-time thing. It should be regular throughout the whole process. You don’t need to run a big-bang usability test. The maximum number of users you need is around 5. Any more than that and you will be compromising on your time and resources.
Tip #5: Make changes during the prototyping stage
A well-planned product process and timeline should have allowances for refinements and product changes. The best time to make changes – even though it feels tiresome – is during the ideation and prototyping stage, before you commit to production. You’ll save time, resources, and money if you go with this approach.
Thus, make sure every box is ticked before you delve into development. If you do need to change something during development, only add it in if it is necessary to avoid breaking the functionality. Otherwise, it can go into the next product iteration.
Tip #6: Document everything and get the brief right
I know it’s a pain sometimes to put everything in a document. But you need it so that nothing gets lost in translation or missed out. Also, people come and go in an organisation, or things get outsourced, so you need that one central source of truth.
The product or design brief is a living resource where every team can get clarity, and speak the same language. Whatever was discussed, prioritised, de-scoped, or agreed upon, write it down somewhere. It doesn’t matter how you organise it, as long as it is organised.
Tip #7: Use the right tools that can be integrated
You’ll need the right tools to support collaboration and the product workflow. If possible, stick to one software or app for one source of truth. It’s hard when your data, design and code are segmented in different sources. If you can’t do this due to legacy or budget issues, make sure the tools can be integrated.
Assess your current product management, design, analytics, and development software, and see where you can merge and integrate. I know it’s a pain, but if you do it right the first time, you’ll save a lot of headache and money.
Tip #8: Reuse, reduce and save
Don’t create things from scratch. You need to heavily rely on design patterns, code templates, and pre-saved components to build a product faster. You’ll achieve consistency in your product, branding, and overall customer experience.
Establishing these things may be time consuming at the start, but they save a lot of time over the long run. Build a library of reusable elements, and you’ll have less to worry when your team structure changes or people leave the company.
Tip #9: Automate repetitive and manual work
Eliminate mundane, manual, and repetitive tasks in your workflow. Invest in plugins that can automate data transfer, reminders, updates, reports, and emails… you get the drift. Automation helps in reducing human errors in the workflow.
You can use AI now for a lot of things, from ideation to design and development. Generative AI tools can work brilliantly for you the more you use it, as it learns from you. Some of the popular tools have incorporated AI in them, with more companies planning to. Embrace AI to help make your workflow smoother.
Tip #10: Organise everything
Establish rules for naming conventions, folder structures, and file paths. Use logical and descriptive names for them, such as project, time, team, and versions. Utilise labels, tags, and subfolders appropriately to make things searchable.
You’ll need to implement a system for storing and backing up your files too, whether external physical drives or in the cloud. And most importantly, make sure everyone adheres to these rules. The rules are only as good as people complying to them.
Tip #11: Allow space to experiment and learn
You should embrace continuous learning to build a culture of innovation. Allow time and space for them to experiment with new technologies and trends. Encourage sharing sessions internally where people have the opportunity to share the lessons they’ve learnt. Give them access to relevant learning opportunities.
You will also learn more in the process of optimising your product workflows. The best advice I can give is to find the biggest thing that is blocking the workflow, or dragging the time and overloading the resources available.
Get feedback on how to improve it or work around it, and then implement and document it. Do this, and soon, you will have a well-oiled machine producing products that meet your customers’ expectations.