Focus on Outcomes Not Deliverables

Hello again,

I have been speaking to many potential new clients over the last week, and it struck me how annoying I must be! They come to me wanting my help to create a deliverable like a customer journey map or site review. Instead, I immediately start going off on tangents, discussing all kinds of other things that must feel completely random. However, there is a method to my madness.

The reason this happens is that I am more interested in outcomes than I am in deliverables.

Reject Deliverable Thinking

Deliverables have no value in themselves; it is the outcome that they provide that gives them value. Take, for example, customer journey mapping.

At the moment, it seems to be the most common deliverable people come to me asking for. However, it is not always the right deliverable to provide the outcomes people want.

A client came to me wanting my help mapping the customer journey because they wanted to prioritize their projects better and understand what they should be focusing on.

Sure, customer journey mapping will help with that to some extent, but it is probably not the best tool for the job. Instead, they would be better using user story cards combined with a technique like digital triage.

My derision of “deliverable thinking” is not a criticism of our clients and stakeholders. It is not their job to understand these techniques in detail or know which approach will provide them with the most value. That is why they come to us.

We Have a Responsibility to Speak Up

However, it does require us to have the confidence to speak up and challenge those who come to us. That can be hard to do if we want to win the work or even more challenging if those coming to us are more important than us in the internal pecking order.

But failing to do so means we are failing to do our jobs properly, and our clients and stakeholders are not getting all the value we have to offer.

Laying the initial groundwork in our conversations with stakeholders and clients is essential. From the very beginning, I encourage them to talk about problems they are trying to overcome or goals they want to achieve rather than solutions.

Focus Client’s on Problems, Not Solutions

It is the same principle I talk about when I teach people about getting design approval. If a client starts instructing you to “make the logo bigger” or “change the blue to pink,” they focus on the solution rather than the problem.

However, if you can get them to express the problem (e.g., “I am worried the blue won’t appeal to our pre-teen girl audience”), then it puts you as a designer in a position where you can either arrange or suggest an alternative like adding more unicorns (or whatever pre-teen girls like)!

Not that it is just clients and stakeholders who fall into the trap of focusing on deliverables rather than outcomes. We do as well.

Don’t Fall Into the Procedural Knowledge Trap

I encounter UX teams and agencies that blindly deliver the same deliverables in every project, irrespective of whether they are needed to achieve the outcome.

Agencies whose solution to every project is a design sprint or UX teams who insist on testing everything, whether or not it will help achieve the ultimate goal.

Unfortunately, because of human nature, it is an easy trap to fall into. We like to rely upon procedural knowledge, and questioning every decision we make is hard. But if we do not, at best we waste time and energy, at worse, we fail to achieve the desired objective.

You can quickly find yourself irrelevant, endlessly using the same tired and out-of-date approaches that have long since stopped being the best option available. UX design, the web, and consumer behavior change too fast to rest on our collective laurels.

So what am I advising here? I guess I am trying to encourage you to be more questioning. Question what your clients or stakeholders want, but also question why you are doing what it is that you do.


Paul Boag
Boagworks Boagworld