Design process | OKRs | Product management

Bulletproof Your Designs by Using OKRs and a Definition of Done for Flawless Launches

Checks and Balances when pushing design to production with OKRs

Bulletproof Your Designs by Using OKRs and a Definition of Done for Flawless Launches

Designing exceptional user experiences is a fundamental goal for UX and product designers. This journey, from initial concept to final launch, is fraught with challenges that can derail even the most well-planned projects. To navigate these challenges effectively, it is crucial to implement a structured framework that includes Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and a series of checks and balances. This approach not only aligns the design process with the organizational goals but also ensures a seamless transition through each phase of development. By integrating OKRs and establishing rigorous checks and balances, designers can enhance their workflow, ensuring that their projects are both impactful and align with the broader business objectives.

The Power of OKRs

OKRs offer a structured approach to setting goals and measuring progress, ensuring that every aspect of the design process is aligned with the overarching objectives of the organization. By defining clear, measurable, and achievable OKRs for each stage of the design process, designers can focus their efforts on tasks that directly contribute to the project's success. For instance, setting an objective to enhance brainstorming efficiency can lead to more innovative designs, while aiming to streamline prototyping can reduce time-to-market. Incorporating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) criteria into OKRs facilitates precise tracking and evaluation, enabling teams to adjust their strategies in real-time and maintain alignment with the project's goals.

Implementing Checks and Balances

The integration of checks and balances throughout the design process is crucial for maintaining high standards and ensuring the viability of the final product. This multi-layered approach involves collaboration with cross-functional teams, regular usability testing, adherence to design systems, comprehensive accessibility audits, and rigorous testing in staging environments. Engaging with diverse teams from the initial stages fosters a holistic view of the project, uncovering potential technical and usability issues early on. Meanwhile, usability testing and adherence to design systems ensure that the product not only meets user expectations but also remains consistent with the brand's identity. Accessibility audits and staging environment tests further guarantee that the product is inclusive and performs seamlessly across various platforms, ultimately leading to a successful launch.

Collaborating with Cross-Functional Teams

In addition to OKRs and checks and balances, successful design projects depend heavily on effective collaboration with partners such as accessibility experts, content strategists, localization teams, development, product management, design systems teams, and QA. These partnerships are crucial for creating products that are not only technically sound and visually appealing but also accessible, culturally sensitive, and aligned with the company's strategic vision. Designers should strive to understand and integrate the perspectives of these diverse teams, facilitating a collaborative environment where each stakeholder contributes to the project's success. This holistic approach ensures that the final product is well-rounded, addressing the needs and preferences of a wide range of users and stakeholders.

Defining what being "Done" means as a product designer

Creating a specific "Design Definition of Done" (DDD) for product designers is pivotal in ensuring that design deliverables meet all necessary standards and requirements before being considered complete. This concept ties directly into the importance of collaboration across various teams and stakeholders within a project. A well-crafted DDD not only serves as a checklist to validate the completeness of a design but also as a communication tool that aligns expectations among designers, developers, product managers, and other stakeholders. It ensures that every aspect of the design has been thoroughly considered, reviewed, and approved, encompassing usability, accessibility, adherence to design systems, and more. By establishing a clear DDD, teams can avoid the common pitfalls of misalignment and rework, facilitating a smoother transition from design to development and ultimately to launch.

The process of creating a DDD involves detailed collaboration and consensus-building among all parties involved in the product development process. This collaborative effort is crucial for defining criteria that are realistic, measurable, and directly aligned with the project's goals and objectives. For example, a DDD might include requirements such as "All user interface elements must be tested for accessibility compliance against WCAG 2.1 AA standards," or "Designs must be validated through user testing with at least five representative users." Incorporating input from developers can also ensure that designs are feasible within the project's technical constraints. By weaving these diverse perspectives into the DDD, product designers can establish a comprehensive benchmark that embodies the collective vision for the project's success.

Incorporating a Design Definition of Done as part of the project workflow encourages a culture of accountability and excellence. It drives the design phase towards clear, measurable outcomes, ensuring that every design decision contributes meaningfully towards the project's overarching objectives. This approach not only elevates the quality of the final product but also fosters a more harmonious and efficient collaboration between design and development teams, paving the way for successful project outcomes.

Here are some critical checks and balances to incorporate into your design process:

Cross-Functional Reviews:

At key points throughout the design process, schedule reviews with cross-functional teams, including developers, QA, accessibility experts, and content strategists. This ensures that your designs are technically feasible, accessible, and aligned with content and messaging.

Usability Testing:

Conduct regular usability testing sessions with representative users to identify any pain points or areas for improvement in your designs. This feedback can be invaluable in refining your work and ensuring a smooth user experience.

Design System Adherence:

Ensure that your designs adhere to your organization's design system, including guidelines for branding, typography, iconography, and interaction patterns. This consistency is crucial for maintaining a cohesive user experience across products and platforms.

Accessibility Audits:

Before launching, have your designs audited for accessibility compliance by experts. This ensures that your products are usable by individuals with disabilities and meets legal requirements.

Staging Environment Testing:

Before deploying to production, thoroughly test your designs in a staging environment that mimics the live environment. This allows you to identify and resolve any issues before they impact real users.

By incorporating OKRs and implementing strategic checks and balances throughout your design process, you can increase the likelihood of a successful launch and deliver exceptional user experiences. Embrace these tools as part of your design workflow, and you'll be well on your way to creating foolproof designs that delight customers and drive business growth. As a set of examples, you can pull from things I've either used or seen below for design systems that I've worked with.

Some things to consider for design:

  • Adding specific timeframes for achieving the key results (e.g., within the next quarter, within the next 6 months).

  • Specifying the accessibility standards to be met (WCAG 2.1 AA).

  • Clarifying the platforms and devices for testing and validation (web browsers, mobile devices, assistive technologies).

A well-structured OKR not only aligns with the strategic goals of the organization but is also Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART). Let's explore some examples to distinguish between good and bad practices in setting OKRs for design projects.

Good Examples of OKRs

Objective 1: Enhance the User Experience of Our Mobile Application

Key Result 1: Increase user satisfaction ratings from 3.5 to 4.5 on a 5-point scale within the next quarter by implementing user feedback on navigation and usability.

Key Result 2: Decrease the average user journey completion time by 20% within the next six months by optimizing UI elements and streamlining workflows.

Objective 2: Improve the Design Team's Efficiency and Collaboration

Key Result 1: Reduce the time from ideation to prototype by 30% in the next quarter by adopting a new collaborative design tool and streamlining communication processes.

Key Result 2: Increase the number of cross-functional workshops by 50% within the next six months to enhance early feedback and reduce iterations.

These OKRs are good examples because they are specific (targeting user satisfaction and efficiency), measurable (quantitative improvements), achievable (with focused efforts), relevant (to the organization's goals of improving user experience and team collaboration), and time-bound (with clear deadlines).

Less Effective Examples of OKRs

Objective: Make Our Website Better

Key Result: Get more likes and comments on our website pages.

Objective: Work Faster

Key Result: Do more design stuff in less time.

These OKRs are less effective because they lack specificity (what aspects of the website need improvement? What does "work faster" mean?), measurability (how will "likes and comments" or "more design stuff" be quantified?), achievability (without clear strategies or benchmarks, how can progress be determined?), relevance (how do these objectives align with broader business or user experience goals?), and time-bound criteria (by when should these objectives be achieved?).

Incorporating OKRs into Design Projects

When formulating OKRs for design projects, it's important to focus on creating objectives that are directly tied to improving user experience, operational efficiency, and alignment with the business's strategic goals. Good OKRs should encourage a cycle of continuous feedback, learning, and improvement, fostering a culture of excellence and innovation within the design team.

By avoiding vague, unmeasurable, and overly ambitious OKRs, designers can set realistic, focused goals that contribute to meaningful progress and measurable success. Reflecting on the examples provided, designers should aim to craft OKRs that resonate with the good examples, characterized by specificity, measurability, achievability, relevance, and time constraints. This approach not only clarifies the path forward but also motivates the team by setting clear expectations and providing a framework for tracking progress and celebrating achievements.