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Pushback is a Poison. Alignment is the Antidote.

by Jared M. Spool

“The dev lead looked at my prototype and immediately started finding problems.” The lead designer was puzzled by the development lead’s response.

After all, the designer knew their design was a good one. Other designers and two stakeholders had nothing but great things to say about the prototype. The design had done well in usability tests, and the head of support was convinced it would reduce a substantial number of daily tickets from customers. The cost savings from reduced support was justification enough to build the design.

Yet, the development lead was not impressed. It would be too hard. They didn’t have available resources. The prototype hadn’t considered the architectural changes that would be required.

The developer pushed back on the design. Pushback is a poison that kills designs.

The Doctrine of No Surprises

The development lead didn’t know anyone was working on this project until the designer showed up at their desk. The developer wasn’t aware of the vast quantity of support tickets. All the resources under their control were currently immersed in complex, important projects.

This project was a complete surprise to the development lead. They had no way to integrate it into their current objectives and priorities.

The Antidote is Alignment

The best teams avoid these problems by focusing on gaining alignment from all the relevant stakeholders, including product management and development. As they uncover research findings, they ensure everyone understands what they’re learning. They surface constraints early, such as architectural issues, so design concepts can account for them.

Alignment maps are a critical tool during the alignment process. They are representations of the current goals and direction of the project, encompassing the current thinking and recently uncovered details.

These maps become mainstay features of meetings and discussions. Comments are attached with sticky notes. New revisions integrate the latest thinking. They are simultaneously an overview of the strategic approach and a sounding board for the tactical efforts.

Had the design lead created alignment early by bringing the development leads into the process they would’ve eliminated the surprises. The developers would see the work coming their way, ensuring they had resources properly prioritized. They’d know what the benefit to the organization would be and could react accordingly. And, the designers would hear about the constraints of the architecture and could accommodate those in their prototyping efforts.

Alignment is a Learned Skill

Gaining alignment isn’t something that’s taught in school. It’s learned the hard way on the job. However, the skills for creating alignment maps are easily learned. Like many UX skills, there are tricks to doing them well and practice makes perfect.

 

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.