Written by Rob Humphries

Why sometimes it’s good to throw a spanner into the works

At one time or another, as a project team, we will have all experienced that familiar situation when the client introduces someone new, fresh-faced, mid-way, into a project —usually invoking raised eyebrows from the project team.

The scenario happened to us recently and it certainly wasn’t for the first time but it occurred to me, whilst I welcome it, I have in past experiences witnessed some who perceive this interruption as a hinderance, a risk of potentially derailing, or at the very least stalling a project based on someone’s new opinions.

So why the fear? 

Is it that there is the risk of a spanner in the works? Someone else to now convince, stimulate and explain your thoughts and rationale to? Or simply just another barrier to launch? But by putting all this to one side, unbeknownst to them, these ‘new’ people have potentially become the most important people on the project. 

They are the fresh, new spark of inspiration, the new slant of consideration into the feedback loop.

The key here is not be discouraged by this. You see, the truth is, unless you are already in an ongoing, long term relationship with a client, they will rarely, one hundred percent, trust a design team. After all, why should they and can you blame them? 

Let’s get back to cold hard facts. 

Account managers, project managers, directors, designers or whom ever it may have been, have sold someone a promise. In this case it’s a promise of a site that will cost them thousands of pounds and at best they’ve seen a scoping document, perhaps a prototype with some wireframes and, if they’re lucky, some conceptual designs. None of which is actually a fully fledged, revenue making application (yet). And it’s up to the digital team to bare the burden to ensure it is delivered. So it’s understandable a client will be nervous and rally as much support to ensure that, by employing your services, they have made the right decision for their company.

So it is for this reason we often see new faces appear mid project. But it is these such people that we almost certainly overlook when developing websites. As it is these people, who pop-up seemingly out of nowhere, that will ultimately become the type of user your client’s site will expect as visitors.

Why? Because they are invariably fresh and vague to the project, yet still have a strong opinion. And perhaps, more importantly, on what both the design team and the client have already discarded.

It’s very easy when designing to get caught up in a designer vs client and as such it’s easy to overlook the user’s needs. For example, how many users visit the site and gleefully drag the browser window around to play with a site’s responsiveness. I can make a good guess that it’s a lot less than the developer or designer thinks it is when they show their client.

Through years of experience we can all make best guesses and educated decisions but ultimately the best determiner of the user’s experience is with the user themselves. Get them in front of the application or website as early as possible and figure out those pain points or stumbling blocks early on.

And that’s the point, UX needs to be unseen. Good design goes unnoticed, users don’t need to be aware they are being targeted, after all we don’t want anything to get in the way of a conversion.

As so we always recommend actively inviting fresh people into the project to throw those curve balls and ask the awkward questions, by all means implement some control over the meeting — this isn’t an exercise in a free-for-all, but at the same time it’s important not to trivialise them or their opinions. For these people are more likely to be similar to the users and visitors of the site than the project team themselves. So, if they have something to say then listen to them, and listen to them good.

For us, this is fairly common place in our processes and we implement this technique internally for brainstorming, project scoping and prototyping, and throughout product testing. It’s helped us to create better, more accomplished projects from start to finish and ultimately forged better teams both internally and with our clients.

So the next time you’re pulling a project team together, don’t fear the unknown, learn to love, embrace and develop it. It might just make your project a whole lot better.