Macadamian Blog

How To Course Correct When You’re Solving The Wrong UX Problem

Barbara Spanton & Scott Plewes

You’re throwing ‘plan A’ out the window…now what? You’re 7.5 hours into an 8-hour workshop when you realize the problem you were brought in to solve isn’t the real problem.

Course Correcting UX Workshop

You’re Throwing ‘Plan A’ Out The Window…Now What?

We’ve all been there. You’re 7.5 hours into an 8-hour workshop when you realize the problem you were brought in to solve isn’t the real problem. Let’s face it; this is the nature of UX work. We’re usually brought in to solve problems. Problems that the people who hired us decided they’re better off not solving on their own. Is it really surprising that the client may not be clear on the problem to begin with?

Now that plan A has gone out the window, how do you proceed? How do we ensure that plan B (or C) doesn’t send your team running out of the boardroom, and that you still achieve successful outcomes for the project? You need to have the courage to admit plan A was wrong and have the persistence to work on identifying the actual problem. Realize that your goal isn’t always to solve the problem; it’s to make sure your efforts are getting you towards it. It’s ok to live in a fuzzy problem space for a while.

This situation can be quite common so here are our ‘rules’ for getting back on track when you throw plan A out the window.

Re-orient Yourself

Ask yourself, have things dramatically changed? Or, is this well within the normal realm of gradually uncovering all the facets of the initial problem? If they have, you need to identify what exactly changed. Dig deep and ask questions to make sure you grasp the full impact of this change in direction or objectives. Ask questions like “Are we still…” and don’t let other big changes hide behind the shock of this first change.

Decide on a Plan B

‘Fess up and take a minute. Or ten. By definition you don’t have everything planned out when you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Be clear about what was planned, what went out the window, and what you’re planning on the fly. Before you start doing new things, take some time to decide what those new actions should be. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to gather your thoughts and come up with plan B. (Or C.) Everyone will happily get through a bit of their inbox while they wait.

Assess Your Resources

What resources do you have available to you? Experts? Experience? Skills? Data? History?
You may need different resources now that you have thrown plan A out the window. Identify them. Find them. You are still part of a team. There is no need to be a hero trying to figure it out on your own. The project will be better off for it.

Check In Often. Is Plan B Working?

Check in frequently with yourself, your co-leaders (if you’re lucky enough to have them) and the rest of the team, to ensure that this thing you spontaneously decided to do is working. If yes – good. If not, toss it out and try something else. Don’t just blindly assume that plan B is going to work out perfectly. After all, that’s what you thought about plan A. It’s possible that either more has changed, or your new plan has led you to more changes. If that’s true, go back to ‘Re-orient yourself’.

Know When To Throw In The Towel (or Get a New One)

Time flies when you’re having fun. (Or arguing.) If you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to spend way too much time on the wrong things. If you can’t seem to re-orient yourself, can’t seem to get a plan B, can’t find the right resources, or realize that plan B just isn’t working… then stop. Maybe you can reconvene at a later time, maybe it’s just time to call it quits. You’re not helping anyone by continuing to bang your head against a wall. It’s better to leave things unresolved than to fool yourself into accepting an inadequate resolution.

While this sounds all too familiar, these ‘rules’ can help us get through challenges in projects and team situations. In order to truly embrace this, it may be helpful to adopt some Buddhist principles (for real). We need to accept that everything is always changing, and that things don’t really get ‘solved’ in any sort of permanent way. Things come together, and then they fall apart, and then we bring them together again. It’s just the nature of our work. The sooner we accept this, the better we’ll be able to handle the complexity it brings.

For more on dealing with throwing plan A out the window, be sure to catch Barb and Scotts full presentation on the matter below.

When Everything Goes to Hell in a Handbasket – How to Wing It Successfully

Author Overview

Barbara Spanton

UX designer, runner, off-grid-cottager, wine drinker... not in any particular order. Schooled as an industrial designer, Barbara has spent the last 15 years in the software industry, designing interfaces for every user, platform, and industry imaginable. In recent years, her work has focused healthcare software. She has led the design (or redesign) of several EHRs, both desktop and mobile, and other health-related applications, while keeping the needs of the end users at the center of all discussions. Highly active in the UX community, Barbara teaches mobile design to the next generation of UXers, has been co-chairing Ottawa's wildly successful UXCamp for the past 5 years, and has a few other initiatives simmering at the moment. There is absolutely nothing else Barbara would rather be working on these days.
Scott Plewes

As VP User Experience Design, Scott brings over 20 years of experience in understanding customers and how to incorporate their needs into software product design. He's put his skills to work on overseeing the user experience design of dozens of desktop, Web, and mobile applications. Scott holds a Master's degree in Science from Queen's University, and prior to Macadamian, he worked as part of Nortel's Usability Design Group. While Scott would have you believe he is an ardent NFL and NHL supporter, he is still a physics geek at heart. His secret passions include bad science fiction movies and even worse - action ones; and trying to understand Shakespeare… and failing badly. When Scott is not working he's either his kids personal chauffeur, or more likely sound asleep on the couch… the one hobby he has truly mastered.