Use this method to align your product team

Conflicts of opinion within a product team is inevitable. The different points of view that multiple people have are going to cross paths at some point. While this is integral to a team’s creativity and flair, without one person’s desire to go off-piste and explore an angle yet seen, the best solution won’t have yet been found.

Simple differences can often be worked out quickly through daily stand-up meetings, or team huddles; however, more significant challenges can take a lot longer to resolve. Sustained conflictions can increase employee anxiety, decrease job satisfaction and damage relationships. As a result, conflict negatively affects individual and team performance and especially decreases the productivity of the team.

Instead of going against the grain, how can we harness the different ideas people have and get everyone to ultimately decide on one shared vision? Well, first of all, let’s think about what an aligned team looks like before we understand how to achieve it.

“Alignment is the unified and engaged backing of an idea rather than sporadic acceptance of it.”

While this sounds simple to achieve, in reality, it’s not. People who have quieter personalities or have a lesser interest in the working subject might decide to “go with it” as the easy route to “unified” progression.

Obviously, this isn’t the optimal mindset for an individual to have, but we can help!

Let’s build an example of a project in action:

A product team builds an app for the nightclub industry. Their main goal is to allow customers to book their entire night out in advance. From drinks to food and even what decorations are laid on their table as they arrive. The challenge? What is the best way to display this UI to the user while reducing the number of clicks the user has to make?

Now some of the product team think the best idea is to have the user select all of their options on one listed screen. Others believe that while we are looking to reduce clicks, it’s more digestible for the user to go through a step-by-step process to minify cognitive overload and reducing clicks overall.

This is one big challenge. From deciding how many orders are taken to the likelihood of the user bouncing, this part of the app will determine the success of the service.

This scenario is the perfect challenge for a Design Sprint.

The Design Sprint is a five-day structured process where your product team becomes aligned as well as solving your most pressing problem. The activities are intensive and timeboxed, so you get the most from having your product team in the room. By producing solutions individually then prioritizing them as a group, this shortcuts endless back and forth discussions, which is often the result of an overstretched timeline.

We will be talking about day 1 in this post, which is where most of the team alignment exercises take place.

The things we want to achieve for the day go as follows:

Identify the issues. Be clear about what the problem is.

Vote on the most pressing problem.

List the possible solutions (options).

Vote on the best solutions.

Generate ideas for a possible solution.

Vote on the winning idea.

The initial task for the day is to get everyone in the room speaking about what is currently going well as part of the application and what is not going so well. While people take notes, you learn about what the common viewpoints are.

The next activity - the “How Might We’s”, enable you to write the negatives down on post-it notes re-framed as questions. A great example of this could be “How might we ensure the user can see what they have selected”? 

Each of these written individually, the team then votes silently on which they think are the most pressing questions by using dot stickers. This method of working is called note-and-voting.

By allowing everybody to work individually but also collaboratively this ensures that people who have the biggest personality don’t steer conversations about topics down a path which loses time if it doesn’t turn out to be a great idea!

The Design Sprint then move onto the “Can We” activity. This generates solutions for the challenge. Everyone writes what they think the best solution is to the problem before once again getting together and silently dot-voting on their favourite solutions from the group.

The sketching part of the design sprint comes into play as each of the team members get the opportunity to sketch their ideas for how to best apply the solution. This is before again, the team place dot-votes on their favourite ideas: the result, either an outright winner or a tie between two sketches.

Regardless of the result, the winning idea (s) will go through the rest of the design sprint phase, which involves a prototyping and user-testing phase to reveal what actual people make of your creations. The best version goes on to be integrated into your product’s feature list.

What a result! Not only have you aligned your team through the noting and voting methodology, but you have also generated a watertight solution to the original problem.

Product teams around the world are already using design sprints to align their product teams and get their ideas to market faster than ever before.

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