How to execute a product, design or feature (on a budget)

Process article

I've worked with a couple of early stage startups and this is a process that cherry-picks methods I have used in variation. One common problem I run into is not having a big budget to work with, so I have included tips and resources that may help you deliver a stronger product without the €€. Having a small budget shouldn't stop you from taking a design thinking approach and validating designs early and often (not having enough time to carry out these methods is much more problematic).

Have a stakeholder meeting.

Kick-off a project the right way. Stakeholders are anyone that has an interest or concern in what is being executed. They will likely have the most information in regards to users, certain constraints that exist, and the overall business impact it may have. If this is a project/feature/design that was presented by a stakeholder, you need to start asking them questions immediately.

Use this opportunity to also ask the question "Is this really worth the outcome?" because some ideas cannot be executed within a specific scope, or the idea itself was not as good as it sounds. Appoint someone to write an agenda that covers all the main points of the meeting, then share it with everyone involved.

Research and collect user data

Research what you don't know about your users and start validating and discarding assumptions. This is a good opportunity to talk to people directly by asking questions (interviews) and really listen to their feedback. Also gather as much existing data as possible, such as going directly to your support team and reading all the tickets that users have submitted.

It's important to gather research from people that match your target audience as close as possible. This is difficult without a large budget, but it is possible. If the data you acquire is based on random users, the data is not reliable.

Define your user

This will help you empathise with your user and understand what their needs, pain-points and frustrations at a deeper level.

Do a user journey

Journey mapping helps you perceive user actions, scenarios and their emotions and thoughts from their perspective. Everything that you have gathered and worked on before is essential to create a successful user journey. It also uncovers unexpected surprises that didn't exist before, which is helpful to create a better user experience.

Form a POV and produce questions

This part is all about understanding what the problem actually is by making sense of who the user is, what their needs are, and all of the insights you have collected. You can then start to produce questions that will help you brainstorm ideas and solutions.

You'll want to collect everyone's insights and notes for the next step.

Ideate and brainstorm

Hopefully by now you will have a lot of questions that can produce some ideas and possible solutions. This part finally gets a little bit exciting and fun. Be sure to involve your stakeholders in this step as it helps align expectations.

Allow people to build on each other's ideas, as new perspectives can be achieved. Progress toward a more refined solution together and focus on one point at a time.

Start prototyping

You should now have a refined solution that leads you to begin your first prototype. A prototype is often used for testing (which is the next phase), but can also be useful in discovering underlying problems that were not there before or realising that certain critical interactions were not thought of during the ideation process.

Consider if you need to take a step back and brainstorm some new solutions, as prototyping usually garners more questions and ideas.

Test. Then test again.

Start validating your designs and make sure everything is working for the people who will use them. Test small interactions, features or full-fledged projects with low and high fidelity prototypes. Test often, early and with variation. This step is useful when done parallel to prototyping and ideation.

If you're on a tight budget, only consider quantitative testing if you need to prioritise issues or address a problem with your stakeholders quickly. You are much better off saving your resources and doing some qualitative testing instead.

Am I done yet? Maybe.

At this point, you should have enough data to reflect on all of your key points again. Does the problem need to be redefined? Are there new solutions and ideas that may impact the design? Are our users ill-defined? Were there some unexpected insights? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you probably want to repeat some steps to get more clarity on the product/project/feature you want to produce. Iteration is key, but no product is perfect. Keep in mind deadlines and other business factors that impact your decision to lengthen the product phase.

There are so many variations you can consider when you apply design thinking to your process, and these are just methods that have always worked for me. No two design processes are exactly the same. The important thing is creating a process that gives you the best outcome based on the product/feature/design you want to deliver.