good understanding takes time

There’s a cycle that we follow when we develop products: Think-Make-Check. It’s also called a few other things, such as Ideate-Prototype-Test. No matter what the vocabulary, it’s the cycle that organizations seek to spin faster, to make lightweight, to allow for less risky failure. All these are good goals. I don’t want to interfere with the spinning of this cycle.

I do want to help you emphasize that the understanding part of product development needs to spin as a separate cycle, at a slower cadence. By understanding, I mean exploring the problem–the larger intents of people who may or may not reach for your product. I don’t mean the check/test part of the quickly spinning cycle–that’s checking the solution, not understanding the problem. Many organizations have had trouble connecting the work of understanding to the spinning development cycle. And this is why: it takes time. It also takes a different mindset, completely divorced from any thought of the solution. So the way to connect them is by making them separate cycles.

The danger in separating out the understanding and empathizing is that less attention will be given to it. But this is the same danger that you have when it’s part of the spinning development cycle. It’s hard to convince people of the value. The examples that have been written about are not super exciting. But there are examples.

JMIR: The Effect of Personas on Activation
Cornell University: Employment and Disability Collection
HBR: The Power of Defining the Problem

The value emerges after you re-frame the way you think about the problem–as if your organization does not exist. When you come back to reality after this little exploration, your deeper understanding influences the way you think about the solutions. You can spin quickly for several months in the design and development cycle based on the deep understanding you gained during the separate problem-definition cycle. See my articles:

product cycle spins separately, quickly; problem-space exploration goes mindfully, separately

Listening sessions + time to develop empathy = mental model diagrams & behavioral audience segments. These allow you to think how your decisions will affect different people in their real lives.

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