Stop Designing Yourself into a Corner: How to Do Just Enough Design Without Losing the Big Picture

Jenna Rodrigues
March 30, 2021

Imagine you had this brilliant product idea… you put your head down, designed every single detail, and made all the features absolutely perfect. After years of hard work, you looked up from your desk. You built the world’s best rotary phone! Only to find out that everybody is on their iPhone 12.

Of course, we’re exaggerating. But it’s not uncommon for software teams to spend months hamming and hewing over every design detail at the start of a project, only to realize that the technology requirements have changed or users are demanding different features when they reach the development and testing stage. Now they’re stuck — they can either grind it out and finish a product that probably won’t succeed in the market or go back to the drawing board. Both options are costly in terms of time and money.

How can you avoid designing yourself into a corner?

You can become more responsive in your software design and development process by adopting the Agile methodology instead of the Waterfall approach. Do “just enough” upfront design to define a structure needed to start a project, align the team’s vision, and assess potential risks so you can stay nimble without losing sight of the big picture.

A Quick Refresher: Agile vs. Waterfall

You have probably heard of these terms but let’s take a moment to get onto the same page — what is the difference between Agile and Waterfall in software development?

The Agile approach focuses on the rapid deployment of a functional application through the continuous iteration of design, development, and testing. These activities often occur concurrently and incremental changes are made in short cycles to validate assumptions. The methodology can accommodate requirement changes during the product development process to ensure customer satisfaction.

The Waterfall methodology is a linear approach that divides the software development process into sequential phases. The team would only proceed to the next stage when the previous step is completed and signed off. Since every phase is passed through and completed once, any changes to the requirements will likely offset the original plan, requiring the project to be restarted to a certain extent.

The Downside of the Waterfall Methodology

In the Waterfall approach, the design and engineering phases are often separated with the design being completed upfront. If the requirements are changed due to shifts in customer demand or market environment, you may be constrained by the initial design and backed into a corner. The project team may have no choice but to restart from square one, leading to massive delays and budget increases.

The methodology’s rigid structure doesn’t give you the flexibility to make changes during the development process, which is often a necessity in a fast-changing business environment. With little allowance for uncertainty and limited opportunities for customer feedback, this sequential approach is less suitable for today’s software development processes.

The Benefits of the Agile Approach

The customer-focused approach and high level of user involvement often result in increased customer satisfaction. The software development cycles are shorter, giving you a more predictable schedule. The methodology also offers more flexibility for incorporating changes in the process.

Team members are given more leeway to come up with innovative ideas during the development process because they’re not hindered by a tightly-defined set of requirements. The incremental progress is also more transparent and less risky for the client.

With the Agile approach, you can design “just enough” at each development cycle. The outcome of the sprint will generate insights to inform the next iteration so you can create a product that meets market demands and customer expectations at the right time.

Design Methods in Software Development

Alongside the project management approach (i.e., Agile vs. Waterfall) is the design method that your team follows in the software development process. Here are some common options:

Big Design Up Front (BDUF)

The design is completed and perfected upfront before the project heads into development, implementation, and testing. The approach automatically implies a Waterfall process and relies on the accurate prediction of internal and external factors (e.g., market demand.) The challenge is that defining all the requirements upfront could paint you into a corner later.

Emergent Design

This lightweight software development method delivers small pieces of working code with business value, then lets the solution emerge as the codes build up in small increments and the development team refractor out the commonalities in the codes. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture if everyone becomes too focused on the scattered pieces of code.

Just Enough, Just In Time

This is the Goldilocks answer! You’d design “just enough” to understand how the significant elements fit together and how risks can be mitigated without getting stuck in the weeds. The roadmap provides the foundation and vision to move forward while allowing for enough flexibility so you can adapt to new changes in market demand and customer expectations to adjust and pivot your product as necessary.

How to Make “Just Enough” Work For You

It’s not news that the Waterfall era of BDUF is over, but many are also wary about the downside of emergent design — losing sight of the business vision and objectives. The good news is that you can have your cake and eat it too with the Just Enough, Just In Time approach. Here’s how to stay nimble without losing sight of the big picture:

• Create a structure: Define the key structural elements and determine how they fit together.

• Mitigate the risks: Identify and mitigate the highest priority risks.

• Define a vision: Create and communicate a vision to guide the overall design and development.

• Incorporate user feedback: Instead of spending too much time on ideation, look at how users interact with the product to inform the next iterative cycle.

You also need to zoom in and zoom out with agility — balancing practicality with the big picture vision so that you’re not stuck in the weeds or living in la-la land. That’s why here at Camber, we adhere to a well-defined set of principles as the guardrails for our agile process to make sure we focus on delivering the best values to our clients.

Our Value Framework provides the much-needed foundation to make the Agile methodology work while our Skateboard Method helps us provide the best value to our clients as a project evolves. Not to mention, our range of service offerings gives you what you need when you need them for a truly Just In Time approach. Get in touch to see how we can help you turn your digital product idea into reality.

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