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    ux toolbox: state of the _______

    I'm going to start unpacking a few of my trusty UX tools over the next couple of weeks. One of my favorites is what I call a "state of the product/service/company" review.

    When I go into most consulting situations there are a lot of questions about where I can fit in. As a person who is working on being ever more lean in my UX practice, I usually find that a quick evaluation of where everything is at allows me AND the company I'm working for to move a whole lot faster. This isn't exhaustive; it's more of a high-speed tour through the touchpoints that make up any story about a product or company.

    I tend to create custom agenda's for these types of meetings, tailoring the inquiry toward specific areas based on my initial conversations with the company. Over the years, these have ranged from what traditionally would be called IA tasks to determine "buckets" for content organization, to product and interaction reviews to prime iterations and even full organizational development and process reviews.

    I think that what I'm after with these types of sessions is to find the deeper connections with how and why a company works the way it does. History or a sense of the vision and how it's developed and changed is not typically one of the data points that designers have access to in their process. So, having process in place, ready to go and tailored to time constraints definitely increases your chances of gathering this info - even if there is no formal process in place.

    State of the Company

    Here is an agenda from a series of session's I did with a small, fast moving client a couple of years ago. Note that this specific agenda is focused on how well their offerings are serving the company's growth and also communicating with the customer. It was important to the client to understand where and why they had been making their decisions they had during the company's intense growth.

    PROCESS: I record these types of sessions as a "keeper" for the company I'm working with and also as my "notes" for the session. Personally, I never sit down when I'm working this kind of process.

    The goal of this meeting is to get an overview of where Company has been, is currently and wants to go, focusing on business goals and how they align with audience response to the company’s communication/branding strategy.

    Company Name

    PROCESS: The backstory section of inquiry can create a great shorthand timeline on the whiteboard. I like to move horizontally as we talk. Make sure you capture this by taking pictures as you go so you're self-documenting for later use.

    a. How did Company, Inc. start?
    b. Stakeholder additions
    - What do they bring to the mix?
    c. Offerings – blog, services, products
    - Why were they added?
    - What was the response?
    - If you ended this offering or shifted direction - why?
    d. Brand growth – visual, technology, organization changes

    PROCESS NOTE: This section usually turns into a very nice pictoral flow on the whiteboard. One company took our whiteboard, cleaned it up and turned it into stunning content for the web, marketing and sales.

    a. List current offerings and communication channels
    b. Current business objectives
    - Where do you want to go?
    - What offerings are most important right now?
    - What ways are you already moving toward these business objectives (i.e. marketing strategies already in place)
    - How do you measure success?
    - How do you define and differentiate from your competition?
    d. Brand perception
    – How does the world perceive Company, Inc.?

    PROCESS: The "per offering" section is normally a separate meeting where we focus in on specific items identified as disconnects from earlier conversations.

    Per Offering
    a. Audience(s) – Who you are communicating with?
    - Who are they?
    - What do they need?
    - How do they currently interact?
    - Ways they gain info – search, direct contact, examples, etc.
    - Actions you’d like them to take
    – What is the business goal of this specific offering (i.e. buy, read, comment, join community, become a customer, etc.)
    b. What is successful now and helping you achieve business goals?
    c. What could you change to achieve current business goals?
    - Does the organization and structure communicate what you want it to? Is it clear what’s available?
    - Does the content meet your user’s needs?
    - Is the interaction achieving the results you want?
    - Are all educational and advertising opportunities being taken?
    - Are you inviting customers in the right direction?
    - Do the visuals increase or decrease brand identity for the company and/or the offering?

    After these type of "collection" meetings, as in any interviewing and story based research, it's important to gather the information and do some analysis to find the places where the company is connecting and where it is not. Coming from user-centric design, I usually group these observations in my summary along with whiteboards and answers to the questions as connects and disconnects.


    I notice that most of the awkward situations I've gotten into over the past few years occured when I didn't have enough of this kind of background to help me translate and understand the unspoken assumptions of the company.

    I do remember one particularly sticky situation a few years ago, that arose because I didn't know that the company had already gone through 3 other designers. It turns out the issue wasn't completely about the designers, it had to do with a deeper issue in the base team. I'm fairly confident that hearing about 3 other designers would have perked my ears up and could have led to some great questions to help both the company and myself make better decisions.

    In another company, this analysis spoke to the fact that the company simply needed a solid technical PDF to help them stop chasing after their customers. PDF created in 4 days. Upon delivery - silence. I couldn't figure out what had happened. I finally heard a couple weeks later that everything was going great, with none of the issues they had been struggling with for over a year. The brakes were finally off. Cool.

    Good thing I listened and didn't try and do things they didn't really need. It's easy to become arrogant and assume you know what's best. With tools like this - you're more likely to shut up and hear what they have to say and then go do it.

    I know there are a million more options you can and have used in your own work for this type of "getting to know you" exploration. Let me know about how you do this type of "story" download and get yourself into your own projects.

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