Facilitating Decision-Making at Which?
In our recent fireside chat, we had the opportunity to engage with Rick Lipkit, Head of UX Design & Research, and Drew Shepard, User Experience Design Lead at Which?. The focus of our conversation was on the significance of investing time in Problem Framing and its role in aligning stakeholders and guiding decision-making at Which.
For those unfamiliar, Which? is a UK-based consumer association and charity, dedicated to simplifying, fairing, and securing consumer lives. While known for its comprehensive product reviews and subscription service, Which? also vigorously engages in consumer rights advocacy and campaigns.
Our collaboration with Which?, spanning over two years at Design Sprint Academy, has been about integrating Problem Framing and Design Sprint methodologies into their approach to product development and strategic decision-making, fostering smarter and more effective outcomes.
To gain insights into the integration of Problem Framing and Design Sprints within an organization like Which?, we spoke to Rick and Drew, who are leading the charge in adopting this methodology.
DSA: Why Problem Framing?
Rick Lipkit, Head of UX Design & Research
As the Head of UX Design and Research, I lead a team of around 15 members, focusing on establishing a center of excellence in our products. Our goal is to drive the organization towards being product-led, particularly in digital realms, but our scope extends to other areas like service design, including call center operations. My interest in Problem Framing stems from the need to step back and assess our major strategic initiatives from a broader perspective. Additionally, I'm engaged in more detailed, program-based tasks, such as developing a design system to enhance coherence and consistency across our range of products.
Drew Shepard, User Experience Design Lead
I'm Drew, the lead UX Designer in Rick's team, with a primary focus on Problem Framing and its practical application, rather than on strategic aspects. My role primarily involves the discovery and definition phases within the double diamond design process. My responsibility is to ensure we're addressing genuine issues that affect real people. We operate on the principle that our work should always tackle existing problems. Problem Framing has been instrumental for us; it streamlines various inputs into impactful solutions. Essentially, it enhances our ability to create significant, positive changes, enabling us to deliver solutions that truly meet people's needs at the right time.
How did you start with Problem Framing?
Rick: We've been looking at Google Design Sprints and design thinking for some time. A couple of years before we met Design Sprint Academy, we did a prospective problem framing around our Trusted Trader service. It was effective, but we were kind of winging it. About a year later, we tried to run a proper five-day design sprint around Black Friday, a big day for us. We realized that we needed more help with this, and that's where we came across Design Sprint Academy. We've had lots of training with you, and that really began our serious journey into understanding how problem framing could work for us. The initial 5-day Design Sprint Training Program was the biggest one, and it really helped us see opportunities for Design Sprints. However, Problem Framing presented itself as being more immediately useful when we had lots of things coming towards us. We needed a way of filtering them and pushing back, rather than just accepting solutions.
Drew: As Rick said, we started off kind of doing it on the fly, trying to work out how we could improve things and make a better impact using Problem Framing or Design Sprint activities. We realized we needed help with a big project, and that's where we contacted Design Sprint Academy. Since the training, we've been in a situation where we could see opportunities for design sprints, but actually, problem framing was often the better approach.
We were in a position where we had lots of teams coming towards us with requests, asking us to do things and we needed a way to filter them. We found ourselves asking, "Can we help you understand your request better?" Problem framing worked really well because we were able to start changing how people looked at working with us. We offered them something that could help with focus, alignment, and innovation. Which? is a massive research organization, so there probably aren't many consumer issues that Which? doesn't know about. But the big problem is knowing where to look or which things to focus on to make the biggest impact. Problem framing has helped us focus on those. We've been able to go through the problem framing process and easily say...
"Maybe this isn't the thing we should be working on."
"Maybe we can pivot and work on something else to really build the impact."
When have you used Problem Framing?
Rick: After connecting with Design Sprint Academy and going through the Design Sprint Training, it became clear to us that design sprints are quite squad-focused for us, and getting people for five days back-to-back was always going to be tricky. Problem Framing was slightly less prescriptive, and we thought it would be really useful across the business. We've used it really across the board for:
- Setting Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for teams and the entire business.
- Developing large-scale product visions and strategic initiatives.
- Aligning teams during program kickoffs.
It helps people focus, innovate, and get stakeholder buy-in.
How do you measure the benefits of Problem Framing?
Drew: The benefits are intertwined, each reinforcing the other, and together they contribute to a more effective and efficient way of addressing the complex challenges faced by our organization.
Problem Framing has notably improved our ability to concentrate on the most critical issues. In an organization like Which?, where we deal with a broad range of consumer issues, identifying the most impactful areas to focus on is crucial. Problem Framing allows us to distill a multitude of ideas, requests, and potential projects into a more manageable and targeted set of initiatives. By clearly defining the problem, we can direct our resources and efforts towards areas where we can make the most significant difference.
Another key benefit of Problem Framing is in aligning various stakeholders. In an organization with diverse departments and goals, aligning everyone towards a common objective can be challenging. Problem Framing sessions bring together different perspectives, helping to build a shared understanding of the challenges and objectives. This process ensures that everyone involved, from senior management to junior team members, has a clear understanding of the problem at hand and is working towards a unified goal. The alignment achieved through problem framing extends beyond the session itself, influencing how teams collaborate and make decisions in the long-term.
Problem Framing has also been instrumental in fostering innovation within the organization. By thoroughly understanding and defining the problem, teams are better equipped to think creatively and develop innovative solutions. The process encourages looking at problems from various angles, challenging assumptions, and exploring new ideas. This approach to innovation is particularly effective because it is grounded in a deep understanding of the actual problems faced by consumers. It leads to solutions that are not only creative but also highly relevant and impactful.
In summary, Problem Framing at Which? has brought about a more focused approach to handling consumer issues, improved alignment among various stakeholders, and fostered an environment conducive to innovative problem-solving.
How do you prepare the Problem Framing workshop?
Integrating the right amount of research into the Problem Framing process is vital to ensure decisions are evidence-based and grounded in reality:
- Preparation and Context Gathering: As part of the preparation, significant emphasis is placed on gathering context and background information. This includes existing research, data analysis, customer feedback, and any other relevant information that can inform the problem framing session.
- Role of Lightning Talks: Lightning talks by experts are not just informative presentations but are a means to bring research into the discussion. These talks often include findings from recent studies, user research insights, or data analysis results, ensuring that decisions made during the problem framing are based on solid evidence.
- Critical Analysis and Discussion: During the problem framing sessions, there is an open and critical analysis of the presented research. Participants are encouraged to discuss, question, and delve into the research findings to ensure a thorough understanding of the issues.
- Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: A key aspect of integrating research is the identification of knowledge gaps. It's not uncommon for the problem framing process to reveal areas where additional research or data is needed, leading to more focused and effective research efforts post-session.
- Balancing Research with Practicality: It is important to balance the depth of research with the practicality of decision-making. The goal is to have 'just enough' research to inform decisions without getting bogged down in analysis paralysis.
In summary, the Problem Framing process at Which? is a comprehensive approach that starts with a well-structured brief, integrating just enough research into this process. This approach ensures that the team is equipped with the necessary background and insights to address the problems effectively and innovatively.
What happens during the Problem Framing workshop?
The process typically follows a structured yet flexible approach:
- Initial Brief and Gathering Insights: We start with a comprehensive problem framing brief. This brief is distributed to all participants and is designed to dive deep into the problem space from both customer and business perspectives. It includes questions about current challenges, past efforts and their effectiveness, barriers encountered, and envisioned success.
- Involvement of Experts and Lightning Talks: We invite subject matter experts to share detailed insights in short, focused presentations known as lightning talks. These talks provide rich, informed perspectives that add depth to the understanding of the issue at hand.
- Identifying and Prioritizing Problems: The team then works on identifying key problems, often using techniques like brainstorming and affinity mapping. These problems are laid out and prioritized to determine which ones are most critical or offer the most potential for impact.
- Formulating 'How Might We' Statements: The prioritized problems are then transformed into actionable 'how might we' statements. These statements are crafted to open up possibilities and encourage creative thinking in the solution phase.
- Refining Problem Statements: The final step involves refining these statements into clear, concise problem statements. This part of the process often involves additional filtering and focusing to ensure that the problems are well-defined and actionable.
What happens after the Problem Framing workshop?
Rick: Post-problem framing, the outcomes vary based on the problem space worked on. It could lead to aligning teams with a mission statement, initiating further research for deeper insights, or translating into programs or squad-based initiatives. The key is understanding that sometimes more research is needed, or new insights gained may lead to reframing the direction or strategy.
Drew: Sometimes, problem framing doesn't immediately lead to action but causes a shift in perception, leading to a reevaluation of ongoing projects. It's a process that enables teams to pause and reconsider their approach before committing further resources. Even if action isn't immediate, the alignment and insights gained are valuable.
Scaling Problem Framing across the organization. What worked?
Problem framing has scaled across Which? by addressing the needs of different departments and teams. The scalability depends on the availability of facilitators and the appropriate alignment of stakeholders for each session. Here are some strategies:
- Visibility: As soon as a couple of successful problem framing sessions were conducted, interest in the process spread rapidly across the organization. The visibility of these sessions, sometimes conducted in glass-fronted rooms or open spaces, piqued the curiosity of various departments.
- Diverse Application: The problem framing process was applied not just in product and tech teams but across various functions of the business. This includes areas like advocacy, commercial teams, and strategic planning groups. The versatility of the problem framing approach made it applicable to a wide range of business challenges.
- Trained Facilitators: With growing interest, a challenge that emerged was managing the demand for problem framing sessions. Ensuring that there were enough trained facilitators and appropriately aligning stakeholders for each session was critical.
- Feedback and Iterative Improvement: Continuous feedback from participants and stakeholders helped refine the approach, making it more effective and tailored to the needs of different teams within the organization.
What are some lessons learned and advice for those organizations just starting with Problem Framing?
Based on their experiences, Rick and Drew shared valuable lessons and advice for others looking to implement Problem Framing:
- Flexibility in Scheduling: Instead of sticking rigidly to consecutive days, they found success in spreading sessions out to match participants' availability, ensuring key stakeholders could attend without overwhelming their schedules.
- Right People in the Room: Ensuring that the right mix of people is involved in the sessions is crucial. This includes a balance of senior leaders, subject matter experts, and those who will be hands-on with implementing solutions.
- Role of Senior Leaders: Senior leaders need to carefully consider their role in these sessions. Depending on the context, they might participate as facilitators, decision-makers, or simply as contributors. This decision impacts the dynamics and outcomes of the session.
- Facilitator's Role and Boundaries: In-house Facilitators need to understand their role. They should facilitate discussions and the process without taking ownership of the project. This helps maintain objectivity and keeps the focus on the group's collective input.
- Embrace the Learning Curve: Problem framing is a skill that improves with practice. New facilitators or participants might find the process challenging initially, but with experience, they become more adept at navigating and contributing effectively to these sessions.
- Value of Open Discussions: Allowing open and sometimes lengthy discussions during the problem framing process is beneficial. It ensures that all viewpoints are considered and helps in uncovering deeper insights about the problem at hand.
- Continuous Improvement: Iteratively improving the problem framing process based on feedback and changing needs is vital. It ensures that the approach remains relevant, effective, and aligned with the organization's goals.
In summary, scaling problem framing across Which? involved ensuring broad adoption, applying it to diverse business challenges, managing resources effectively, and integrating it into the organizational culture.