Exploring the Problem Space: A Key Principle for Robust Product Design and Project Success
Ever wonder why many product designs fail or why projects don’t always come out as planned? The answer might lie in how we approach the ‘problem space’ versus the ‘solution space’.
We’re celebrating two and a half years of Quality During Design podcast by revisiting the fundamental principles that guide our product design processes, and exploring how we can apply these principles to avoid common pitfalls.
We talk about the importance of staying longer in the problem space, using quality tools for teamwork, and understanding the power of pre-work in meetings. Listen-in to challenge our thinking and push us to rethink how we engage with new projects. Plus, gain insights on how questioning, investigating, and experimental approaches during project planning will empower you to refine your design processes.
We’re inviting you to consider how the Quality During Design methodology can streamline your design process, reduce product failures, and create more meaningful customer experiences. This isn’t just about designing products; it’s about redefining how we perceive and approach the entire design process.
Many of us skip half of the problem space when we’re getting introduced and involved in new projects. We jump from an idea to a solution space and we miss half of the project planning opportunities where we’re experimenting and questioning and investigating, really developing the design inputs that we’re going to need in order to make great designs in the solution space.
Quality during Design is about using quality tools for facilitated teamwork to stay in the problem space a little longer, to do that experimenting and that investigating, to research the problem space, for design inputs that are going to feed into whatever your product design decisions are going to be later. And when we are building and designing and prototyping, we can take those analyses that we did earlier and iterate them in further detail or with a different quality tool, an analysis tool that can help us and our team further make decisions about what it is we’re designing.
When we’re using Quality during Design, it’s not that we are designing and creating the final product in a meeting. It’s a way for us to choose useful activities so that we can understand more about the problem space and the user, so that we can ultimately design great products.
Explore the blog at QualityduringDesign.com Throughout this podcast and on the podcast blog at QualityDuringDesign.com, we’ve explored a lot of these quality tools and their uses for product design. Using these quality tools for design purpose will certainly help you communicate with your team about your design concepts within this problem space, this questioning and experimentation space.
If you think Quality During Design may be a good fit for your organization or for you individually, contact Dianna.
Talk with Dianna to consult. Dianna consults with companies on how to incorporate these techniques within their existing product development process. Quality during Design is a supplement to your existing product development process to help your teams do more upfront concept work and to better integrate your usability and risk management programs.
Ask Dianna to be a coach. Dianna also offers her services as a coach to individuals Anyone who wants to learn these techniques and better their positioning as a product designer by working more closely with their cross-functional team.
Welcome to another episode of the Quality During Design podcast. I was surprised to figure out not that long ago that this podcast is about two and a half years old, so there’s a little bit of celebrating going on over here at Quality During Design. Since that first episode, we’ve gone on a bit of a journey with you, our listeners. We’ve had some special series where we’ve introduced quality topics in a versus series. We did cross-functional collaboration series. We also have an interview series where we invite people from other cross-functional disciplines that work in product development and talk to them about how they would best be utilized as part of product design decisions. Our overall goal and vision for Quality During Design hasn’t really changed that much, but we have developed over these last two and a half years. We now have better frameworks that we can communicate our ideas and help people with implementing ideas. We have more services and more ways to interact with you, our listener. I am proud of all of those things, but after two and a half years, I think it’s time to kind of get back to our roots, really talk about some of the foundations and frameworks that we use for product design. Today I want to reintroduce you to Quality During Design and get you to think more about how all the things that we’ve been talking about over the last few years how you can implement that into your product design decisions and when you should do it. Let’s talk more about the big picture right after this brief introduction.
Hello and welcome to Quality During Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. Each week, we talk about ways to use Quality During Design and product development. I’m your host, Dianna Deeney. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join us. Visit QualityDuringDesigncom.
I have a question for you that I want you to take a moment and consider how do you engage with new projects?
Let’s say that you are assigned to a new project. Someone’s already come up with an idea. They see a problem in the field that they want to solve and they’ve identified some needs, which is that gap between where customers currently are and where it is they really want to be, what they want to have accomplished with our product design. But we got this big question mark in the middle of where our customers are now to where they want to be, and that question mark is our product.
Now you’re being asked to join a cross-functional team to develop and design a product that fills that customer’s need. Where do you start your task? With being the product designer. So at some point during the development project you’re going to be making decisions daily about what this is going to look like, what components to choose, what materials to pick, the layout of it, the different interactions that it has. There’s a lot of fun stuff that has to do with design and at some point you’re going to be having to make those decisions. So how do you get started with making those decisions?
And, as you’re designing, how are you making those decisions? Do you get involved with actively planning the project or do you wait for somebody to tell you when to jump in, when it’s the right time in the project to provide your input? Do you wait for information from other people in order to be able to move forward with your next steps? I mean, we’re part of a cross-functional team so other people from different backgrounds have input into what it is we’re designing.
What most of us do is we jump from the product idea. Hey, we’ve got an idea. It’s going to solve a problem. Our customers are going to be so excited about it. This is a real market opportunity. Let’s design something about that.
And then what we do is we immediately jump right into the solution space, where we start designing, we start doing engineering designs and layouts, we start building prototypes. And we do that because that’s what we do. We have a problem, we start solving it, and then we reach out to our team and ask for feedback. Hey, I designed this, took me a couple weeks, maybe three. What do you think about it? And they say, wow, that isn’t what we were expecting at all. This isn’t exactly the way that we want to go. This isn’t going to meet our customers’ needs. I call that scenario the ta-da flop, because ta-da, here it is, and flop nobody likes it.
Now I know that we jump from idea to the solution space because it’s happened to me. I’ve seen other people do it, I’ve talked to other people and they’ve experienced the same thing, and it’s also in a lot of literature. Robert G Cooper publishes about this. He’s somebody that publishes a lot of books about product development processes. He gets a lot into why a lot of new product designs fail in the field and new product development projects fail because the cross-functional team didn’t do as much early fact-based investigation into their concept idea before they started designing things. This is also reflected in how big things get done by Bent Flyjug and Dan Gardner. They talk about how there is a lot of questioning, investigating and experimentation that could be done in planning that just isn’t, because people jump to the solution space too quickly.
Let’s think of the problem space in two parts. The first part of the problem space is the idea. That’s where we identify an idea for a product. That’s where we’re innovative and we do market studies.
That second part of the problem space is really where we start questioning and investigating. We’re doing research into the problem space, into our concept design, before we get to the solution space.
The solution space is where we start designing and building things, prototyping things, showcasing them to other people, maybe for more feedback.
When we skip that second part of the problem space that questioning and investigating space, we’re missing out on half of the project planning opportunities and we also may experience symptoms like this
- I create too many different versions of my product before it’s finally done.
- I have a hard time getting feedback from my team.
- My work is nearly done and then it gets picked apart by everyone,
- or the worst is that products fail so many validation tests with our users, we have to go back and redesign everything.
These are all things that we may experience as the product designers when we skip that second step of investigating within the problem space.
And this is where quality during design has a big effect. Quality during design is about using quality tools for team work, co-work, facilitated work with a cross-functional team to stay in the problem space a little longer, to do that experimenting and that investigating, to research the problem space, for design inputs that are going to feed into whatever your product design decisions are going to be later.
And when we are building and designing and prototyping, we can take those analyses that we did earlier and iterate them in further detail or with a different quality tool, an analysis tool that can help us and our team further make decisions about what it is we’re designing. Quality during design takes those tools and ideas that are normally applied in manufacturing at the end of the production line and we move them up front to help you with design inputs and design decisions before and when you’re designing.
Quality during design is not brainstorming, not your typical brainstorming sessions that you may have participated in before. With typical brainstorming, it’s considered free work and expansion of ideas, creative prioritization and unusual ideas and lots of questions. Instead, quality during design utilizes pre-work. We’re not showing up to these facilitated meetings with our cross-functional team with nothing. We do some pre-work with our quality tools ahead of time. During the meeting there is prompted discovery. We prioritize ideas based on criteria, which is usually related to the quality tool. We encourage creativity with co-work and, most importantly, the quality during design drives actions.
When we’re using quality during design, it’s not that we are designing and creating the final product in a meeting. It’s a way for us to choose useful activities so that we can understand more about the problem space and the user, so that we can ultimately design great products.
Quality during design concepts can be used by anyone on the cross-functional team to help develop concept designs. It’s most useful when whoever is designing the product, whoever is later going to be making those daily decisions about the details of the design. It’s helpful if they facilitate the meetings with the cross-functional team because they’re working with their team to develop those design inputs. This is a learning opportunity with your cross-functional team. Our goals with these working meetings is to get alignment with our team, to discover things that they know that we may not have even thought about, to examine the ideas that we have and then prioritize them based on meaningful criteria that’s associated with the user: how the user benefits from using our new product, what some of the symptoms could be if things go wrong, how they get from point A to B and how we can make that the best experience possible.
I’ve distilled a lot of information about quality tools and design and development processes and came up with the quality during design frameworks. I’ve taken my own experience as a quality engineer working on new product development projects, my work with other people who do similar things and then some of the best practices that people share with everyone. I created Quality During Design to be a very practical and team-oriented approach. There’s a focus on action and activities, getting to answers with a cross-functional team the kind of answers that a product designer would need to know when they designed their product. It incorporates elements of usability engineering and risk management that can feed into and coordinate with the kind of systems you may already be using for that. They could be a team input into your usability and risk management systems that you already have, and it’s scalable.
I never recommend that you do all the analyses on everything all the time. You pick what it is that you need to do. Take some time to figure out what questions it is you need to ask and, as questions arise as you’re working with your team, you can scale things again to focus in on the areas where you need better answers or that really need to have clarity. Over these next few weeks, I’ll be describing a little bit more about the methodology and some of the background of Quality During Design.
Today’s takeaway is that many of us skip half of the problem space when we’re getting introduced and involved in new projects. We jump from an idea to a solution space and we miss half of the project planning opportunities where we’re experimenting and questioning and investigating, really developing the design inputs that we’re going to need in order to make great designs in the solution space.
Throughout this podcast and on the podcast blog at QualityDuringDesign.com, we’ve explored a lot of these quality tools and their uses for product design. Using these quality tools for design purpose will certainly help you communicate with your team about your design concepts within this problem space, this questioning and experimentation space.
I also consult with companies on how to incorporate these techniques within their existing product development process. Qualityduring Design isn’t a product development process in itself. Each company has their own way of developing products. I understand and respect that, and QualityDuring Design is not a substitute for it. It is a supplement to your existing product development process to help your teams do more upfront concept work and to better integrate your usability and risk management programs.
I also offer my services as a coach to individuals Anyone who wants to learn these techniques and better their positioning as a product designer by working more closely with their cross-functional team.
So that is where Quality During Design resides with respect to the new product development process.
If you think Quality During Design may be a good fit for your organization or for you individually, contact me. My contact information is at QualityDuringDesigncom and you can find me on LinkedIn. I look forward to talking with you next week about cross-functional collaboration. This has been a production of Dini Enterprises. Thanks for listening.