Solving sticky problems by putting the end user at the centre

Case Study

  • Industry — Government
  • Expertise — Business Analysis
  • Timeline — 1 months
  • Value Delivered — $100,000

Realising you are stuck on a problem.

Project Lab was engaged to help deliver a data migration project as a small part of a much larger enterprise program of work. Halfway through our 18 month project the goal posts changed. Our team of 9 was advised that due dates had been brought forward almost 2 months, the core requirements we were delivering to were now changing, and we needed to pivot the way we were working. And do it quickly.

But after a week of our technical team members, and project manager, attempting to nut out different ways of changing our approach we were coming up empty.

We had to try something new, so we embarked on a lighting fast deep dive into human centred design.

What if we forgot about the technical side of things and instead focussed outwards on the end user. In our case the business people who would eventually use our data in their everyday jobs.

So using techniques and research from a range of sources, we paused our project for half a day and jumped into our first human centred design problem solving workshop. Going wide with crazy ideas, then converging on that single number one solution to pursue.

While it is easy to fall into solution mode, or get caught up in the ‘how’ to solve a problem, our small project team knuckled down and got uncomfortable. The first struggle was documenting the real problem, the change statement if you will. The key for step 1 in our 5 step process is getting the change statement (i.e. the problem you are trying to solve and the change you seek to make) down to a single sentence. Limit your team’s time and get the statement ‘good enough’. Our team iterated this change statement several times throughout our workshop.

Next we got creative.

Everyone took a pad of sticky notes and a marker and in a super tight time limit of 3 minutes we collectively aimed to get 50 potential solutions stuck to the wall. It sounds like a massive number to achieve when you’re already stuck, and then you only have 3 minutes to brainstorm them?!?

The team thought our project manager was literally crazy, but with the pressure of time and absolutely no censorship (any idea makes the wall) it is surprising how many you can come up with. What did we get to in the end? 65 sticky notes covered our wall from a team of 9 people. Amazing.

Now some of these related to rocket shoes, digital assistants to manipulate data, and other out there ideas, but it doesn’t matter. The key here is that divergent thinking unlocks our creativity and we start to see opportunities through the cross-pollination of ideas.

Once the team had stopped laughing at some of the whacky proposed solutions, and everyone had given a short spiel on each note they had stuck up, we were all given 5 voting dots to tag those solutions they thought had merit and warranted further discussion.

This process quickly distilled our list to around 10 ideas, with 3 being the clear favourites.

It is with these 3 finalists that we stepped through a more objective rating from 1 (below low) to 5 (being high) of: Energy: How much energy is already behind the solution? Do people in the organisation already know and support it? Excitement: How much excitement would be generated by implementing this solution? * Ease: How easy is it to implement the idea?

The sticky note with the highest total score then became our number one solution to focus on. No argument, just clear consensus and a dogged commitment to seeing it through.

Time-boxing, rating solutions, and agreeing on milestones.

While this process works well for any type of project or problem, it really excels when you need to create a prototype or model of the end solution. In our case we were looking at a change of approach to how we were delivering the project and our solution included creating a software tool to automate some of the data migration work. The key here was that it addressed our pain point of constant changing requirements on how the customer wanted over 30 million pieces of data formatted and delivered. Our number one solution allowed our project team to change the output and formatting within minutes, rather than weeks if we had chosen more manually focused migration and data cleansing activities.

We prototyped this in a quick webpage that the team knocked up in a day or two, tested it with a small selection of data and then had the confidence to invest months of development effort in building it properly. When reflecting on it, the key reasons were able to solve this problem in a short half day workshop was that we time-boxed each activity so that it had limited time but dedicated focus, and we split the problem up into manageable milestones, delivering a small prototype first to prove it would work, before biting off much more development time and energy in building the tool.

We’ve converted this into a clear and easy to follow 5 step process, which we’re giving you for FREE. You can download it here and implement it right now into your workplace to help drive your projects to success.

Human Centred Design - Problem Solving

This simple to use tool walks you through how to facilitate a workshop in your own organisation and move from a seemingly insurmountable problem or challenge, to the most ideal solution and the three key milestones that will move you to a successful outcome.

Download / 2.1 MB PDF

  1. Human Centred Design - Problem Solving

    We’re opening the doors on how we solve some of our trickiest problems here at Project Lab, and giving you our 5 step process. This simple to use tool walks you through how to facilitate a workshop in your own organisation and move from a seemingly insurmountable problem or challenge, to the most ideal solution and the three key milestones that will move you to a successful outcome. If you would like a hand facilitating a workshop, we’d love to help get you started. You can reach us on 1300 843 776 or through our contact page.