Connect Ideas to Goals

by Ian Dapot
For work to create lasting relationships with clients and to have impact, design decisions must be tied to larger project objectives.

Great design work typically involves balancing inspiration, opportunities, and real constraints. Team members need to understand the larger goals of the company/client to get started and to make decisions as issues arise. Designers who don’t understand how their work is connected to the success of the project or the larger ambitions of the client will be less likely to understand when compromises need to be made. Regardless of the level of the employee, individuals should be able to explain how their actions and decisions support the larger objectives of both the project and the client.

Set Goals
Once the brief is understood within the team, shape a plan for how to proceed. Beyond the expected objective of the project, look for ways to stretch goals to keep the work interesting—for both business and individual perspectives. It’s important for the goals to be attainable within the limitations of available time and budget, but also to challenge the capabilities and expectations of the team, clients, and if possible the market. Ask team members what personal stretches they’re looking to make. If they’re responsible for the outcomes it helps if they have a hand in setting goals themselves. At this point leaders need to make sure not to set the bar too low, and to have a sense of individual capabilities and experiences to ensure that overly ambitious stretch goals don’t wind up damaging confidence and team atmosphere.

Track Progress
Simple as it sounds, staying on top of project progress is critical. Reflect on how small decisions keep things moving towards overall project objectives. Don’t schedule reviews and discussions too far apart. Waiting until a final check-in can let teams work too long on the wrong things. Keep in mind feedback is most useful for teams when there is both a plan for how to address it and the time to do so. Though sometimes difficult, find ways to keep feedback and progress checks ongoing affairs. And keep an eye on whether teams are asking for feedback or not (in some cases struggling teams avoid feedback).

Plan Support
It’s not always going to go smoothly. There will be daily challenges, and frankly, stretching teams into new territory often comes with unforeseen issues. Hopefully many of these will be covered by the frequent progress checks you’re making, but when problems do arise it helps to restate the larger project goal, and asses whether the basic objective, the stretch goals, or both need to be reframed. Teams may need more than one channel of support. It may be easier to approach peers for help with certain problems, and seek senior advice or an outside perspective for others. Frequent feedback from a range of sources, honesty regarding team performance and realistic goal setting are the keys to turning a good idea into a successful project.

When problems arise it helps to compare ideas and goals to determine if one, or both, need to be reframed.

Image courtesy of Jason Bacher

Quick Tips
Here are some starter questions for setting goals and challenging teams:

Do It Faster. Can the team set a time-based goal for the work? Ask what the shortest possible time to do the work might be, and what the maximum amount of time could be. What is the difference between the two and what would change to make one or the other true? Can we accomplish the work in the minimum time?

Do It Differently. Are we approaching all projects in the same way and is it limiting our outcomes? What would happen if we started with the final presentation of the work and went backwards from there?

Do It In A New Medium. Is there something we’ve never made before? Could we learn a new skill at the same time we’re delivering on the requirements of the project?

Dig Deeper!
Agile Development is a software development methodology that promotes teamwork, collaboration, iterative design, and face-to-face communication. Learn more about how changing process can produce better results at the Agile Alliance.

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