There’s no doubt that design research provides the base necessary to create products that drive business outcomes. But research is just the first step in the product development process.

The role of a design team isn’t just to conduct research or add aesthetics to a finished product. Design teams play a critical role in synthesizing research into tangible outcomes for a product and transitioning to the build phase.

Managing Design/Development Overlap Through Hybrid Waterfall/Agile

Designing for business outcomes means creating products that are validated throughout the development process. This may sound like designing for business outcomes hinges on an agile methodology, but that’s not the case.

We’ve spent time discussing the waterfall vs. agile debate in the past, but not necessarily from a design perspective. There’s a fundamental challenge with each approach that can make it difficult to design for business outcomes:

  • The issue with waterfall is that if you make everything perfect before moving into development, it could take so long that you fail to adjust to changing market needs.
  • The issue with agile is that you may not have a fully baked idea but it needs to be implemented. Agile tends to make a designer look at the piece rather than the whole which could cause a seamless user experience to get lost in the shuffle.

Following a hybrid waterfall/agile approach can help you compensate for the challenges of each individual approach.

Free eBook: Designing for Business Outcomes

Part of merging the waterfall and agile concepts is finding the point where design processes overlap with the build phase. Developers and designers should be working together throughout the product creation process, but it’s important to structure the processes to support positive business outcomes.

3 Steps to Shift from Design to Build

Developers should be involved in your initial research activities. At the same time, you don’t just go from researching market needs to building a product. These are the steps to consider when shifting from product design to the actual build:

  • Getting Stakeholders Involved in Concepts: When research is complete, you can go through different activities to get stakeholders to conceptualize the actual product. Story mapping can help you take a step beyond collecting a spreadsheet of user stories. Use story mapping to think about each particular piece of a product—the purpose of each screen, the goal of each development phase, the job of each person involved in the development process, etc.
  • Site Mapping: In this phase, you start to consider what you’re actually going to include in the product, whether it’s an application, a piece of hardware or something else. Start with a high level visual story, defining the site map through sketches. From here, you can build a schematic or blueprint of how the application will actually work—a high level perspective of application pages and where certain features or user stories will live. From here, you can start getting concrete.
  • Wire Framing (Where Build Overlap Begins): This is where you start putting structure and content into all of the screens of a site map. In wireframing, design works with developers to focus on product function rather than visual design. By combining waterfall and agile at this stage, design can keep the build phase on track and ensure that user needs are continuously met—even if that means refining the original concepts.

"Design thinking is really about driving new product ideas to a point where they can meet market needs and help you realize competitive advantages."

People often assume design is relegated to the high-level aesthetics of a new product, but design thinking is really about driving new product ideas to a point where they can meet market needs and help you realize competitive advantages. This is not just a high-level function.

Helping the product development process move from research to build to execution is a low-level function of design teams that is often overlooked—but is critical for realizing business outcomes.

If you liked this article, listen to Dialexa’s Head of Design Research, Sarah Reid, and Design Architect, James Utley, on Custom Made talk using lean design research to get to the ‘the why’ of your product: 

Listen to all episodes of Custom Made for insights and perspectives from industry disruptors and technology leaders.

If you want to learn more about the role of design in driving business outcomes, we have two resources for you. Our free ebook, Designing for Business Outcomes, will walk you through the Dialexa design thinking methodology and teach you how we approach the new product development process from a design perspective.

Free eBook: Designing for Business Outcomes

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