Building successful communication strategies across collaborating product teams

When working on a UX design project, successful communication between your internal team and external partners is the key to a relationship that creates outcomes everyone can be proud of.

As a client, you want to view the latest changes, get regular updates on work progress and provide feedback with ease. Feeling out of the loop is the worst, right?

What you absolutely don’t want is to spend half your life asking ‘where’s the link for…’ or figuring out the best way to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

If this isn’t your first time at the rodeo you might have already established some standard ways of working here, but if not then it shouldn’t be down to you to figure out what works best (unless you really want to!) – it’s on us.

Running an efficient design team means paying attention to communications and handover as much as it does to creating amazing visuals.

It’s up to your UX agency to find solutions

As a UX agency, our job is to find solutions. Whilst repeated ‘where can I find…’ requests can make even the most placid of designers a tad frustrated, it’s not up to a client or collaborator to solve this problem.

It sounds basic, but you can’t ever assume that everyone knows everything you know, or that people are going to instantly understand where to look. To fulfil our side of the relationship, we need to create an ecosystem where they can find all the information they need.

If we’re hearing the same request again and again from a client then this shows that something in our process is broken. Rather than lay blame with them we need to come up with a revised workflow or set of assets that means this request is covered.

Project management

Successful communication comes from having defined rules and processes – they don’t need to be complex or use the latest shiny new platform or methodology.

We’re not going to tell anyone which project management tools to use, because everyone has their own preferences. What works for us might not be at all appropriate for another team and project, and ultimately a particular platform isn’t the part that matters.

That being said, at Lighthouse we find Basecamp useful. We’ve used it for most client communications over the past 12 years.

We have a few rules that are set in stone to keep us on the straight and narrow here.

Rule #1

Everything goes on Basecamp. We don’t want any project related chat in people’s inboxes via direct email. If this happens it gets copied and pasted onto the Basecamp project.

If communication happens in inboxes, it might get lost. Having everything in Basecamp means that there’s a paper trail of everything we’ve talked about available at any time and all the right people have access.

Rule #2

To-dos for everything, else it’s easy to end up with big spirally threads that end up covering multiple subjects. These are painful and often cause confusion, especially when different conversations start to get mixed up.

We try and split out tasks into sets of to-dos that keep conversation around one topic and one set of deliverables. It’s also possible to assign people and set deadlines here, which is handy.

Rule #3

That’s it, there aren’t other rules. With these simple rules in place we’ve managed to fix the majority of repeating problems that we’ve experienced with clients over the years.

Of course it doesn’t work perfectly all the time, but with these in place we’ve made vast improvements from where we were.

Don’t forget to onboard

A UX agency may have used a tool for ages, but that’s not to say anyone else has ever heard of it. Again, the onus lies with design teams to provide the info needed to be able to use the tool effectively and follow any processes that are in place.

There’s a few ways to do this – a standard kick off mail/message/call, a video (or series of them) showing how the basics work or a more detailed document.

On that note though, the need to send large documents probably means the process is too complex. No one likes to read long files (other than our articles of course 😉) and the sad fact is recipients are likely to ignore them.

This goes both ways. If an agency is having to adapt to a client’s process and tools then this needs to be provided to them as well. If everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet then things are much more likely to go smoothly.

“Where’s the link for…”

Each project has a unique set of requirements for feedback, sign-off and handoff. In the past, this had left us with an inconsistent end-product for how our work is left with the client, so it’s something we’ve invested some time in refining.

In lots of projects something we kept on hearing was “where’s the link for the wireframes” or “can you send over the link for the latest UI design”. We thought this was clear – it was all on Basecamp in a thread of its own – but for whatever reason, this hadn’t sunk in.

It was becoming frustrating from our side – needless to say it’s annoying to have to send over the same link several times. We wanted to find a solution that would work for everyone and result in successful communication, so we came up with something ultra-simple that would help.

What was it? A spreadsheet, of course.

On most of our larger projects we maintain a central spreadsheet full of all the flows, screens and other tasks we’re working on with links to wireframes and prototypes as well as updates on status and sign off.

As easy as pasting into a spreadsheet with no code required whatsoever, making it publicly accessible to our clients to engage with and give active feedback.

It requires some management but it’s paid off massively in the efficiency it brings to client comms. We refer to it in most meetings with the client so that they are completely aware of what it is and where to find it. One link to remember for all the links they’d ever need. Easy.

It might not be the sexiest of solutions but it didn’t need to be.

Remember, most people need to hear something 10 – 20 times before it is absorbed properly.

Successful communication isn’t a single tool

While it was tempting to make this article into a list of our most-used tools and shout about how great they are for successful communication, ultimately they aren’t what’s important.

Basecamp and spreadsheets work for us, but they might be a disaster for someone else’s project, and that’s absolutely fine.
What matters most is creating an ecosystem – however and wherever works – that means no-one is left wondering or searching, enabling product teams to get on with the real work of creating great things.