Managing an incremental redesign

Thoughts and tips on working as an extension to an in-house team implementing change.

We operate in a world where the term ‘agile’ is overused and often misunderstood. Sadly, this can lead to a demand for things to just be done quicker. Agile can give you the benefit of a faster speed to market, but ultimately it is about providing a framework that allows you to respond to change and improve your solution.

As a specialist front end agency, we are often asked by our clients to help deliver a redesign of an existing platform or product. As you might imagine, at Pixel Fridge we love a challenge. To effectively deliver on this challenge goes above and beyond just redesigning a product.

In this article, we share our tips and thoughts on how best to manage and deliver a successful redesign when you aren’t technically part of an in house team.

To effectively deliver on this challenge goes above and beyond just redesigning a product.

Understand the business goals.

To deliver real value to our clients, we love to get behind the scenes of the organisation. We want to start by understanding their reasons for operating, where they want to be and how we can help them achieve this. Being on the same page from a strategic point of view enables us to make any design and development decisions to match this strategy.

We all know that organisations change. During most of our engagements with clients, we have to be ready to adapt to the demand of changes within the organisation. This could be in the shape of a restructure, a shift in the target audience or some form of financial change. Being not just an agency, but a partner to our clients means we are able to understand these changes, and flex the needs of the solution to match.

Understand the user goals.

We see a key part of our role as enforcing user needs as a priority. It’s all too common to hear the phrase, ‘My boss says it needs to do this’. We understand and appreciate that we’re not going to be the experts for our clients’ businesses, however we always try our hardest to put the user first. We bring insights to back up decisions that need to be made.

Understanding user goals is as important as understanding business goals. Why bother building something to deliver an organisational goal, if nobody is going to be able to use it? Being an external pair of eyes, we’re able to see the solution from both a business and a user point of view, rather than having an internal bias.

With an existing product, it’s often hard to revisit user requirements. We encourage our clients to not think about the existing product, structure, experience, colours etc. Whilst it’s important to know what the existing solution is capable of, a redesign is always a great opportunity to test and confirm user requirements.

Pixel Fridge is driven by insights over opinion. In fact, it’s one of our values. Using the data available from existing products is a great way to start validating and challenging assumptions that often come from the business goals. Don’t be afraid to use data to challenge business assumptions, it is often where you can add the most value to your clients.

It’s all too common to hear the phrase, "My boss says it needs to do this".

Breakdown functionality into Stories and Features.

Having established and prioritised the user goals, it’s now time to start thinking about how you can effectively split up this work into suitable releases to deliver on the incremental redesign.

It’s nothing new, but we find it very effective to break requirements down into User Stories and Features. It’s often useful at this point to assign user stories to your features. This allows you to then tackle the redesign, and subsequent build, one feature at a time. It’s at this point that it’s useful to start using some form of system to manage this process. At Pixel Fridge, we currently use Trello and Azure Devops, depending on the complexity and detail required. The biggest bit of advice here is to use what suits you and your team. There are so many (too many!) tools that allow you to work in this way, so find what works for you and your team – and change it if it doesn’t.

Work from the ground up.

Once you’ve got all of your features and stories created, it’s time to think about what to tackle first. More often than not, this is the hardest step to get right.

‘If I change this one component’s behaviour it’s going to have a knock-on effect, causing us to revisit lots of other parts of the user experience’

As with all things tech, everything is very intertwined. The chances are, there is no right or wrong answer on which task to tackle first. That said, it can be helpful to think of this activity as redesigning and building a house.

Start by getting your floor plan / structure right, then start designing one room at a time (obviously with possible knock on effects on other rooms!) and then tidy up to make sure all the rooms fit together.

The challenge here is that we want to release new features as soon as they’re ready, giving us that speed to market. Rather than redesigning and building the whole product over the course of 12 months and then releasing an updated version. By which time, we might have lost our users! Be aware that it is an incremental redesign – don’t start changing styles in some places and not others. Keep the experience consistent and once the new structure and experience is in place as a whole, consider the more dramatic UI changes to tackle.

"You're better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.” - David Heinemeier Hansson.

Adapt and prioritise. THROUGHOUT!

The biggest and most important tip we adhere to! This is straight from the agile framework, and in its simplest form it is very effective. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to change your approach.

If you’ve followed the steps highlighted, you will be in the best position to judge on what needs to be focussed on and when. Should something change in the organisation that means the product priority changes, shifting your scope to match shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve identified the goals, you know the requirements and as a result you can jump to a different feature to release the business critical fix as soon as possible.

In summary

Spend the time up front to understand the overall reasons behind the redesign; organisational and user needs. Prioritise and focus on the critical tasks, don’t be distracted by the knock on effects and trust that your planning means you’ll tick those off as you progress.

Prioritise and focus on the critical tasks, don’t be distracted!

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