Understanding Project Context: What are the Tools of Engagement?

At the beginning of each project it can be exciting to dive right in and learn about the client. However, there are a few basic logistical items to address with regard to which tools facilitate our work together.


I have a system to share with each client. Some clients choose to let me access their systems internally and others don’t for security reasons.

  • What tools are we going to use to work together, share documents, and communicate?
  • Can I use my email or do you prefer to provide me with your company email?
  • What desktop sharing do you use? Do you have an external service or use something internal like MS Lync?
  • Where are we going to store and share files? How do we display the current state of the work being performed?
  • Are the teams used to working in a distributed manner? What are your standards and policies?

My preference is to join the team and use tools they already have on their desktops so they do not need to acclimate to something new.

We need 3 basic tools for communication and collaboration:

  1. textual communication (e.g. email, Google Chat, HipChat)
  2. file storage and sharing (e.g. Google Docs, Dropbox, Outlook 365)
  3. desktop conferencing and sharing (e.g. Google Hangouts, Webex, GotoMeeting)

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Understanding Project Context: What is your product management process?

Each organization I have worked with over the years has a different process for product management. Many of the front line (or basic) activities may be the same but who employees report to, what they are responsible for, and how they take direction, is different in each organization.

product management

  • What organization does Product Management report to? Product? Marketing? Engineering?
  • Are product managers responsible for the whole offering from beginning through delivery and usage? Are they responsible for an entire product or just one module?
  • Do your product managers see design as their responsibility?
  • How does product management work with the business owners, marketing, engineering, sales, customers, service, and release?

Understanding more about the product management process will help me understand where the organization sees design fitting in and what impact the design process will have on them.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Luminoso Compass and Frictionless Design

Luminoso announces the launch of COMPASS, their next generation enterprise feedback solution!

Luminoso Compass

Luminoso Compass enables you to consume, interpret, and act on large-scale feedback in real time – across multiple languages. It captures new themes in conversation, extracts actionable insights, unearths the root causes and illuminates the driving themes and topics.  In addition, Luminoso Compass removes spam, irrelevant content, and off-topic discussion automatically.

Michael T. Pullen of  Frictionless Design worked with Luminoso to design and develop the Compass user interface. “I found working with Luminoso exciting,” said Pullen. “The business challenge was to simplify the overwhelming intake of social media and company data to make timely business decisions. The resulting product is a sleek application that allows people to analyze a particular area of interest, group areas into relevant topics, and monitor those topics to see changes over time. Only when the user is interested does he need to dive into the individual messages and posts being monitored. All of this allows users to remain focused on the business impact of the data rather than scanning thousands of Tweets.”

Luminoso is a language understanding company. Their proprietary conceptual engine – born out of a decade of research at the MIT Media Lab – analyzes vast quantities of text in seconds, deriving insights and conclusions that are critical to enlightened decision-making.  Take any form of unstructured text – emails, news stories, research results, social media rants – and identify the ideas, patterns, dot-connections, underlying themes, and buried intelligence. Luminoso can be contacted at info@luminoso.com.

Frictionless Design offers user experience design and architecture consulting services to enterprise-class software companies. Frictionless Design can dramatically improve your ability to deliver products on time and ensure customer acceptance. Michael Pullen […]

Understanding Project Context: What is the software development process?

Before we start the project in earnest, we need to examine the client’s product development process. In many projects, I work closely with the development/technical teams.

development process

Understanding how the development process functions is key to working effectively in the organization and influencing the direction of the implemented solution.

  • What process does development follow?
  • Is the process documented?
  • What is the team manager responsible for?
  • How are the teams built?
  • How are the teams measured?
  • How do they see their role in the organization?
  • How much do the technical people understand about the business and users of the target clients?
  • How much control do they have over the design process?

Getting buy-in from the development team requires an understanding of how they work. Many organizations may appear to have similar processes on the front lines, but in practice can vary significantly. With this information in hand, we begin to formulate how the new project will be embedded into the existing process or if some processes may need to change.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Understanding Project Context: How is the product sold?

In the software engineering world, the technical folks rarely interact with the sales folks. Teams focus on features and delivery dates so the only message engineering may get from sales is to deliver fast and early so they can close more deals.

sales cycle

Gaining a better understanding how the product is sold will frame how the organization expects the product to be presented.

  • Who are the buyers, influencers, veto holders, end users, and superusers?
  • What is the sales cycle? How long does it take to sell and how long does it take to install?
  • Is this sold online, through 3rd party vendors, handshakes in a bar, or through long relationship-building?
  • What do sales people think of the products they sell?

The more engineering and product management know about the sales process, the more influence they have on positive first impressions in the sales demo and subsequent sales encounters.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Understanding Project Context: Who are your clients & users?

When I begin a project and start digging in, I need to understand what you know about your clients and users.  A verbal walk-through and a pointer to representative case studies will help kick off the learning process.


Any description, profile, or conversations with clients and users will help frame what is known.

  • Tell me about your clients.
  • What part of their organization uses the products?
  • Who in the organization is targeted by the current products?
  • Who has the problem we are looking to fix?

Clearly understanding your clients and users is essential to solving the problem. Starting from what is known will help us identify what kind of research is required. Let’s start painting the picture of who your clients and users are.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Understanding Project Context: Who is your competition?

When starting a project it is so easy to jump straight to ideas and potential solutions. Too often it is an afterthought to discuss the competition.


Understanding what the competition is and where they are succeeding helps frame the space and the expectations set for the project.

  • Which companies do you regularly encounter today when selling your current products?
  • Will this change when we have a solution for this new problem?
  • What are the current offerings in this space?
  • What do customers think of them?
  • What aspect of the offerings do customers like or not like?

In the design process, we will expand the definition of competition beyond just companies selling similar products to yours, but to other unrelated products that your users may know and like.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC

Understanding Project Context: What are your current products?

Let’s take an initial look at your products and users. Walk me through end to end like a user interacting with your products. What are the various ways an end user might interact with the company to get their work done?


Let’s follow that trail and orient me to your current solutions.

  • Here we can go into more depth about the business, users and technology
  • Introduce me to typical pathways through the products and services
  • Give me some ideas of the challenges as we mimic the users

Walking me through the user’s workflows is an informal way to see how you see the users approaching your products and services. This information will help us better understand, at a high level, what the customer’s experience is like.

Copyright 2015 Frictionless Design LLC