Product #54

Product #54


Articulating Design Decisions · Tom Greever · 2015

I wish I’d found this book earlier. We don’t work in a vacuum, we work with people. Much of this advice is transferable to product teams and product managers communicating product decisions.

Key Highlights

Good designers can articulate how their solution solves the problem in a way that's compelling, fosters agreement, and gets the support needed to move forward. However, there are always people with the authority to dictate solutions who know little or nothing about design. Showing stakeholders designs can result in disagreements, design-by-committee, group think, or HIPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion) mandates. Different opinions and a barrage of feedback can make it hard to defend our own choices.

Communication is the job; we have to explain why we did what we did. It's unrealistic to believe the best ideas are the ones that will get picked. Present your work in a way that appeals to stakeholders' needs and expectations. What makes design good is that it solves a problem, it's easy for users, and it's supported by everyone.

To be successful at communicating designs, answer these three questions:

  1. What problem does it solve?
  2. How does it affect the user?
  3. Why is it better than the alternative?

Make your thought process into something real, shareable, and visible to uncover the words that will help you explain yourself to other people in a way that makes sense. Create an environment where everyone understands what you're doing, believes in your expertise, and supports your choices. We're looking for an agreement to move forward. You can win trust over time by being intentional and demonstrating your thought process. You need to express your designs to other people in a way that makes sense to them.

Relationships with Stakeholders

Good quality relationships with your stakeholders are key. Improve them to earn trust and establish rapport. Look at things from their perspective - and be driven to action by it - as you feel their pain. Shift from defending your work to solidarity. Ask good questions to get them to talk to you about what's important to them. Be direct and uncover their views by asking questions like, "What's your opinion on this project?" Stakeholders are individuals, but they often represent the concerns of their position. You can use Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD), personas, or even stakeholder stories to bring these to life.

Before the Meeting

Reduce cognitive load in your meeting by setting the context and removing anything that will be a distraction (placeholder copy and content). Write down objections you expect from stakeholders, write down your response, and practice saying it. Create and present alternatives and have a well-articulated explanation for your choices. Create a support network by getting other people in the room who support your decision. Do a dress rehearsal to make the meeting go as expected.

During the Meeting

Carefully listen to understand your stakeholder before responding. Let your stakeholders talk; they will feel valued, understood, and their concerns will become clearer. Work to uncover the real problem. If they propose an alternative, ask what problem they are trying to solve and what they're not saying. Match their vocabulary, take notes, ask questions, nod, and make eye contact. Rephrase their response in the form of a question that forces them to talk about it in a way that's more helpful. Convert 'likes' to 'work'; liking the solution isn't important, the solution working is important.


There is always someone else who can overrule us. You can't force agreement; you have to learn to influence people. Get out of your bubble, sit with your stakeholder, and get on the same team. Believe in your approach - but recognise it's not the only way. Always lead with a YES (the yes reflex) and establish a positive persona. Don't talk about what you like or don't like. Focus on what works and what doesn't work. Take what your stakeholders give you and deliver it back better than it was before. Use the response pattern: Thank, Repeat, Prepare.

Our responses will go back to our key questions:

  1. What problem does it solve?
  2. How does it affect the user?
  3. Why is it better than the alternative?

Decide which of these methods will create the best case for your designs and help you get agreement:

  1. Show a comparison
  2. Propose an alternative
  3. Give them a choice
  4. Ask others to weigh in
  5. Postpone the decision

Consider using the ‘IDEAL Response’:

  • Identify the problem: state the problem your design addresses
  • Describe your solution: connect your design to the problem, show how it addresses it
  • Empathise with the user: state how your solution solves the problem for a specific user
  • Appeal to the business: describe how your decisions are meant to affect goals, metrics, or key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Lock in agreement: ask for agreement. Do you agree? Put them in a position of needing to respond to you, and keep the project moving forward.

Make it clear what you believe the right choice is. Highlight the negative effect of disagreement or the positive benefits of agreeing. For example, "Do you agree that we should improve conversion by removing these fields?"

After the Meeting

Follow up quickly with your notes, apply filters, and remove the fluff. Make and communicate decisions when there is ambiguity.

If You Don't Succeed

A bad idea doesn't have to turn out poorly and ruin everything. Do the difficult work to make it better; don't miss a huge opportunity to improve the design in a way you didn't imagine. Making great stuff with constraints is what design is all about. See stakeholder requests as an opportunity for change or a challenge to solve.

The Bank Account of Trust: Their willingness to trust you when it matters most is dependent on having a positive balance. Sometimes you have to relent and allow your stakeholders to make changes even when you're opposed to them.

The outcome of the project is dependent on your ability to effectively manage these conversations and find the best solutions, given the constraints of working with real humans.

Full Book Summary · Amazon

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The 85% Rule for Optimal Learning · 2019

Researchers and educators have long wrestled with the question of how best to teach their clients be they humans, non-human animals or machines. Here, we examine the role of a single variable, the difficulty of training, on the rate of learning. In many situations we find that there is a sweet spot in which training is neither too easy nor too hard, and where learning progresses most quickly. We derive conditions for this sweet spot for a broad class of learning algorithms in the context of binary classification tasks. For all of these stochastic gradient-descent based learning algorithms, we find that the optimal error rate for training is around 15.87% or, conversely, that the optimal training accuracy is about 85%. We demonstrate the efficacy of this ‘Eighty Five Percent Rule’ for artificial neural networks used in AI and biologically plausible neural networks thought to describe animal learning.

Together with behaviour change, the ability to learn efficiently has always interested me. I’d heard of the Goldilocks learning zone before → that sweet spot of difficulty, not so hard that a problem is intractable and we lose motivation, not so easy that we’re going to succeed all the time and not progress. It’s interesting to see that appear in machine learning algorithms too. It aligns closely to what was seen in this study of classrooms.

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Book Highlights

At the end of a conversation, when you’re not sure whether you’ve been heard, there are a few things you can do. The first is a verbal confirmation: “Okay, let’s make sure we’re on the same page—what are your takeaways and next steps?” The second is to summarize via email what was discussed. Writing can clarify the points being made as well as be reread and referenced in the future. Julie Zhuo · The Making of a Manager
The solution is human-centred design (HCD), an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behaviour first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving. Don Norman · The Design of Everyday Things
We have conducted hundreds of segmentation studies for companies in dozens of industries and have concluded that the differences in people’s needs do not come from different demographics or psychographics. Jobs to be Done · Anthony W. Ulwick
The deployment of the code is not the measure of a Lean UX team’s success. It’s the positive impact you have on your customers. Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden · Lean UX
The flywheel, when properly conceived and executed, creates both continuity and change. On the one hand, you need to stay with a flywheel long enough to get its full compounding effect. On the other hand, to keep the flywheel spinning, you need to continually renew, and improve each and every component. Jim Collins · Turning the Flywheel

Best of X

When you build 0 to 1, it can be helpful to delete & restart. You can learn more from a prototype than a PRD. Dani Grant
I am always doing what I can't do yet in order to learn how to do it. Vincent Van Gogh