Having & following a process is something I keep trying to enforce when I take on projects of all types & sizes. Following a process from start to finish gives us a way of planning our specific activities at any point along the course of a project and tailoring those activities to that specific aspect of the project. A process gives us a clear idea of what the next step is, and helps us assess what percentage of the project has been completed. Some processes can be as simple as: think – decide – do, or as involved as some design thinking processes used for more detailed projects. A nice design thinking process breakdown I found on wikipedia looks like this.
Design Thinking Process
Define | Research | Ideate | Prototype | Choose | Implement | Learn
Within these seven steps, problems can be framed, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen. The steps aren’t linear; they can occur simultaneously or be repeated.
Web Design Process
The latest web design proposal I’ve just written, included an explanation of exactly how the ideal process should play itself out, in order to successfully reach the desired result. This was to to help my client clearly visualize or conceptualize how I would go about developing the solution, and at what stage I would need their input in order to progress to the next phase successfully.
The link below is to a document I developed a few months ago to formalize our web design process. The purpose of the doc was to give us a loose format ,which could steer our activities in a more orderly and organised fashion, preventing scope creep from disrupting projects by ensuring that all issues were dealt with in their particular Phase.
These links below offer good insight into the the web design process and have played a major role in shaping the way I would ideally go about designing a website from scratch.
I’ve also spent quite a significant amount of time focusing on various brainstorming processes or techniques and developed a few of my own based on some research and reading. One of the best approaches I came across is “The Six Hat Technique” developed by Eduardo de Bono, which breaks up your thinking in thinking types each assigned a specific hat colour. I first learnt about this fantastic technique while attending a Brand Development Training Programme with the Ogilvy Africa Group. This is how the De Bono Group describes the 6 Hat Technique:
- The White Hat calls for information known or needed. “The facts, just the facts.”
- The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit
- The Black Hat is judgment – the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.
- The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.
- The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.
- The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking HatsÂ® guidelines are observed.
It comes down to everything having a science to it, a set of steps which if followed, are more likely to produce a successful result. This brings me to the whole point of this article, something which I am trying to figure out for myself at the moment. Having recently become an independent consultant who no longer works within the confines of a specific company, I need to completely change: the way I approach my work, spend my time, manage my tasks and how I prioritize things. Basically I’ve realized I need some science in my life to manage all the many aspects of it.
I can appreciate this concept on many levels including the spiritual level having adopted a new religion(Islam) a few years ago, which introduced me to spiritual sciences, and the activities necessary to solve certain spiritual ailments. One such prescription is that of fasting. If you’ve been following any of the many life coaches out there you’ll notice many have spoken about some kind of 20 – 30 day programme where one has to engage in a habit changing activity consistently in order to break a bad habit or inculcate a new good habit. Having recently come out of one such 30 day spiritual programme and have done so 5 years in a row now, so I have experienced first hand the value of such an effective process. Once a year “at least” I fast for 30 days staying away from many things which would normally be ok for me to indulge in, while refocussing my activities more so than usual on spiritual matters for the purpose of strengthening my God consciousness. I tell myself now if I can do this once a year what’s stopping me from doing the same thing for my business organisation and personal productivity which leads me to the next process I need to focus my attention much more closely on.
Getting back to the point, I bought the Getting Things Done book by David Allen not too long ago, the personal productivity guide which has reached somewhat of a cult status. I’ve been trying to implement some of the principles I’ve learnt in it along the way. For example, the 2 minute rule, which states anything on your to do list which takes less than 2 minutes should be done immediately. The rule of contexts which states that you when you are in a certain place where a specific task applies you should do it then. I’ve just set up my own “hipster PDA” which is a paper based organiser using some GTD principles to help organise tasks, projects, take notes etc. The concept of the hipster PDA was popularized by Merlin Mann, Author of a popular productivity blog 43 Folders. Another brilliant idea I recently came across while on my hunt for the productivity tools I’m in such great need of is the Pocket Mod. Following similar principles to the hipster PDA the Pocket Mod is a simple sheet of paper with a few templates printed onto both sides which can be folded into a small enough size to fit neatly into ones Pocket. The www.pocketmod.com website allows you to customize your very own tailor made Pocket mod and print it right there. GTD’s process in its simplest fom goes as follows:
One can only function properly on a mental level if all the random to dos, someday maybes and admin type thoughts get dumped into a system outside of ones head – Collect. The next step is then to give each thought a status and decide what to do with them, for example specify a time to be done, delete it as a useless bit of mind trash or delegate it to the person that needs to “get it done” – Process. I Recommend getting your hands on this book if you’re into streamlining how you go about organising yourself and your work. Check out the basics by doing a quick google search or read about it on Wikipedias GTD page. Be warned, this system/method is only for those who are prepared to inject a little bit of discipline into their lives(I’m still grappling with that problem) as it needs consistency to really be successful.
Tackling Procrastination & Distraction
At an entrepreneurs seminar recently I learnt the eating the frog first rule, which forces one to tackle the things we least want to do first. This should be done first thing in the morning in the same manner one would get out of bed and eat a frog from a Jar placed beside one’s bed – Just Do It no matter what. Horrible thought yes, I know, but it frees our thinking and prevents procrastination from killing our to do list. The speaker explained those items on the to do list which we least want to do were like frogs in a jar next to our beds. When we wake up in the morning and realize we have to eat them in order to progress, we invent all manner of excuses why we shouldn’t get these done first. This creates mental baggage which affects our productivity. Eat the frog now, go do it. I can see the value of this from a mile off as I have a few frogs on my to do list that keep jumping from one to do list to another and never getting done. In fact writing this post at the moment is a distraction from the croaking sound which visits me at random moments throughout the day.
One of the “frogs” which it seems many people struggle with when it comes to problem solving is actually defining the problem. Many times we need to achieve something but we’re not willing to break it down and analyse it as this seems to us to be too much of a mission.
Problem Solving the Einstein way – The Questioning Process
Every problem has within it the keys to its solution. The MD of the advertising agency I worked at a few months back in Cairo repeated over and over, “a problem well defined is 80% solved.” Part of any problem solving process then, should be defining the problem. I found this short but powerful comparison of different approaches to problem solving. Apparently Einstein said:
“If I had 1 hour to save the world, I would spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem.“
This is an approach many people tend to steer away from especially so when it comes to visual design. Many of my clients ask to see something visual before they have given much thought to what they are trying to achieve. Graphic design is very much a problem solving art form. The solution should be based on the desired outcome. This little snippet from wikipedia’s definition for design puts it into perspective nicely -
So when designing something it’s absolutely crucial to analyse the purpose, the why, the who, the what. To gather enough information and perspective so that the steps taken to developing the solution are perfectly suited to the problem. A good designer should be an expert at asking questions, asking the right questions and asking them in a way which would reveal the right type of information. This ties in very nicely with most of the processes which I’ve just spoken about and the 6 Hat technique is an excellent way of arriving at and answering the questions which need to be asked.
So, if you have any problems you think design could solve, and in the broader sense those are the majority of problems, then be prepared to answer many questions.