The value of communication in large UX design projects
- Robin Nash
Simple communication processes in a team facilitate the sharing of decisions and designs, and are a key, but often overlooked element of a successful project. Clear communication reduces uncertainty, the chance for misunderstanding and repeated decision making. At the bottom line, it reduces the risk of a project slipping in both timescales and cost, allowing any problems that do arise to be caught and dealt with at an early stage. But how do you ensure that you have an effective communication strategy in place to benefit from all of this? The importance of simple and clear communication methods became clear to me following work I have recently done as part of a large interdisciplinary project. It involved people with skillsets ranging from backend and frontend development to user research and design.
The project was based in Swindon but consisted of multiple suppliers from locations including Sheffield, Bristol and the Netherlands, totalling over 50 active team members. If communication methods were not focused on, the project could have easily become disjointed due to the disparate location of team members.
Designing good communication
The communication processes used were defined at the beginning of the project and iterated based on feedback as the team grew, ensuring methods continued to be appropriate throughout the project. We mainly used a combination of instant messaging (Slack), Video Conferencing (Webex) and project tracking software (Jira and Confluence).
The outcome was that it enabled all members of the team to communicate easily with each other whilst overcoming individual preferences. It also ensured that every team member was accessible and had visibility of discussions from teams working on different sections of the system. This allowed for relevant input from different people to help with the success of the wider project.
By giving thought to the shape and function of communications within the project we ensured that initial decisions or clarifications could happen quickly and easily, reducing the chance of misunderstanding from the off.
Transparent by design
All communication that led to a decision being made was either stored against that issue in Jira or if it was relating to a wider decision, a document management solution (DMS) was used. This reduced repetition and also helped with the onboarding of new people to the project when there was a change of personnel - saving time and effort.
The use of a DMS proved a valuable resource, as it ensured that all team members could stay up to date with current processes, decisions and progress from their individual locations.
Transparency delivered strength
Focusing on clear communication methods created a shared ownership of the design and helped a multi-site team stay as one. It enabled practitioners and developers to understand how decisions had been reached and what the limitations in a system were. This allowed the creation of the most effective solution, generating efficiencies and reducing waste.
This deeper understanding of each of our processes and working environment enabled conversations to accurately take place across teams as the project continued, reducing the time required when handing over designs. The communication created a framework that helped the teams understand each other’s needs and ultimately, ensured that the prototypes were developed on time and on budget. It also ensured the product owner understood why a design decision had been made, and the commercial implications.
Effective communication delivers
As an agile multi-site project involving the transformation of a business’ key processes, the stakes were high for this project. Clear communication processes facilitated its success. It reduced the chance of repeated work, ensuring the correct people were involved in discussions, enabling faster decision making while helping the whole team in feeling ownership of the product. Most importantly, communication ensured a technologically feasible design in the time available, whilst meeting a diverse user requirement.
At Nomensa we have clearly defined roles within our teams and use a variety of techniques to keep clients informed throughout our projects. This ensures that clear communication channels are made between internal teams and our clients to ensure successful delivery.
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