Speeding Up Design Discussions

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Speeding Up Design Discussions

Have you ever found yourself in a discussion around design decisions, engineering decisions, or product direction? Have you seen these discussions go in circles or seemingly not get resolved?

In most cases, a straightforward question can save you a lot of time: “Out of ten, how much do you care about this topic [your reasoning]?”

When I first heard this question, it sounded absurdly simple. And it still does. However, you would be surprised at how effective this question is.

Yes, I am aware that it completely oversimplifies the access you may have to external validation practices (like market research, customer research, or behavioral data.) Even with all of this work and these signals, you will often find yourself in a discussion where there is no clear direction. In these moments, it is much more vital for you to create focus and momentum for your team and yourself than to be right at the moment.

The real goal is to develop shared knowledge and common ground between (often very smart) people who have different frames of reference, other goals, and different ways of communicating. It can allow you to save time and increase momentum, understanding, and mutual respect.

So what are some of the results of asking how much someone cares about the topic at hand or their take on it?

  1. You can completely short circuit an argument for argument’s sake. (If you find that you are unsure about your opinion and are only bringing it up for consideration, and score yourself at a 4/10, while your team member has thought this through diligently and scores themself at an 8/10, you just won your time back.)
  2. You create a common language and learn what every one of your team members cares about. (You can ask follow-up questions like: “out-of-ten, how probable is it that you’re right?”)
  3. You have the opportunity to calibrate the people with the loud voices (the squeaky wheels) against the quiet ones. And in turn, you can calibrate yourself. (Finding mechanisms to allow the quietest members on your team to be heard is deeply important.)
  4. You can analyze your relationship with others and identify potential pressures that would build up over time because of endless discussions.
  5. You can start predicting how specific arguments will unfold and guide other people on how to handle them.

This question is only one example of how to get there. In a healthy candid organizational culture, it is all about working together, leading with vulnerability, having a good escalation structure, etc. Ideally, you should genuinely be able to ask directly what someone’s angle is to get to a good resolution.

There is a more extensive set of questions that, on the surface, seem very simple but can have some very positive impact on communication within your team. Questions like:

  • “Related to other things we have on our plate, is this discussion the most important one to have?”
  • “How easy is it to revert the decision we make here?”
  • “Is there a specific signal that will help decide this? (ie. behavioral data)”

None of this is a silver bullet for every scenario, and if your organization fundamentally rejects these types of discussions, you have bigger fish to fry. However, please try them out amongst the collaborators you trust, and see how it works for you.

I plan on writing a few more of these, so if you have any stories you want to share or use help with, please reach out on Twitter or email me.


Contact

You can find me on the following networks, or drop me a line at hello@maykelloomans.com.