Starting your project on the right foot

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Many times I’ve been asked by friends, mentees and design students: “What should I ask on the first kickoff meeting with my client?”. In this article, I will note all the questions that have made my design projects successful over the last few years, and hopefully, it will serve you to start any new project on the right foot.

Soccer player about to kick off game

Congratulations! You just got this project, and now you are heading to your first “kickoff” meeting with the stakeholders to start working together. The goal of the meeting is to impress your client, reassure them they have made a great choice by choosing you — but mostly, getting as many detailed answers as possible so that you can get going, give the right quote and start working on the right direction.

A few notes in advance:

  • This list is long, and you may not need to ask all questions. Some are more relevant for new products made from scratch, and some others are more suited for redesign. Some of them will be obvious, some you may know from before, or their answers will be hopefully handled to you in advance.
  • The order here is a suggestion, but no need to stick to it. As long as you get your answers, all is good. This list is also a solid start as a self brief for portfolio projects.
  • Your client will not have all of the answers upfront. In fact, your client will not have most of the answers. So, this is a plan to get to the answers. It is a manual for product discovery, which will hopefully make the flow and scope of your work more clear, with no surprises for each of the sides.
  • The idea is to get a general impression and knowledge, and not to go deep into specifics (use cases, or tech aspects, or whatever). You are mapping what you have and what you haven’t. All in all, these questions should be answered in no longer than an hour and half meeting.

And now — the list:

1. Objectives and Goals

You are just warming up, so start easy. You will get more info as you go through the other topics as well.

▹ What is this project all about? Projects can be as broad as creating a complex web-app or as simple as making a visual facelift to an existing website.
▹ What is the goal of this project? How does it help the world?
▹ What is the issue you are trying to solve or the goal you are trying to accomplish? What’s the basic value it provides?

2. Client and/or Company

Companies are nothing but a group of people. This is the moment to get to know who you will work with. It may vary a lot between startups and big companies, so adjust the questions accordingly. A quick company brief is essential!

▹ What’s the story of the company? How long does it exist? What’s been the company’s focus in the last few years?
▹ Who will be the stakeholders I am working with? Who will answer my questions and be my main point of contact?
▹ How long X and Y have been with the company? What’s their experience?
▹ What about the leadership & founders?

3. History of the Project / Product

This is a point to be careful about. Even if the existing stuff looks terrible, non-sense or both — never bring up your opinion uninvited, and if you do, be very respectful and careful. The person sitting next to you may have worked on this for months and years, and he may even think nothing needs to be fixed. You don’t want to mess up the relationship before it started!

▹ What’s been done so far, and who did it?
▹ What worked and what not? Why?
▹ What could be done better?

4. Product – Market Fit and Channels

Here we expect to get some background about the project and the users, but also about the business model and the ecosystem it will land on. The differences on a business model based on ads, as opposed to subscriptions is huge and has critical implications for design.

▹ Why is this product needed? Why is it essential?
▹ Who is waiting for it?
▹ What is the image and message this product delivers?
▹ What is the product’s business model?
▹ Are there any monetization aspects that need to be taken into consideration?
▹ Will the product need an onboarding and/or signup?
▹ Which other complementary channels do you expect to be part of this project (e.g. email, social, PDF, print…)?

What Is a Business Model? | Definition, Types, and Examples

This is a good moment to wrap up any other questions left about the project itself, requirements, and any other detail to be aware of in advance. Also, an opportunity to ask for access to any existing documentation.

5. Users and Target Audience

This is a huge topic that you should and will research during the project anyway. There is no need to discuss them in-depth at this meeting, but to get an idea if we are talking about one or two specific personas, or “a product for anyone, like Facebook” (ugh, hopefully, this won’t be the answer).

▹ What is the target audience for this product?
▹ When and where will this product will be used? How often? In which platform?
▹ What is the assumed mental model of the users at the moment of use?
▹ Do you have defined personas or JTBD?

6. Competitors

Another area in which you will do work regardless. However, it’s better if you can hear first hand from your customer which are the main competitors to focus on and why. They can save you some time on figuring out all this out of a potentially big number of options. If they already have some competitive analysis ready, this could be super useful to begin with!

▹ Which are the 3 most important competitors to consider and research?
▹ Other competitors or runner-ups to consider, and why?

7. Design Considerations

This is our bread and butter. You should feel really comfortable asking these.

▹ Is responsive design expected? What are the main platforms and resolutions to consider?
▹ Do we need to stick to specific accessibility standards?

▹ Is there an existing style guide and/or design system? How can I access it?
▹ Is there a tone and voice guide, or microcopy practices to stick with?
▹ Which is the design software we will be working with?

Also, a good time to ask for inspiration on products and things they like or don’t like, both UX or UI-wise (in general, in their website/app, in other products), or things they think you should take a look at. Any offline or online experience that your customer chooses to mention should be noted.

8. Technology and Dev Considerations

Hopefully, someone from the dev team is present on this meeting, and you should aim to find out some technical answers, or at least raise the questions for them to figure out these aspects. Don’t skip these questions — technical misunderstandings and disinformation tend to cost a lot of time, money and frustration to all sides.

▹ Are there any constraints and limitations I should be aware of?
▹ Is there an existing legacy product to study?
▹ Have you picked a front-end framework? (be ready to give your recommendation!)

Best Frontend Frameworks of 2021 for Web Development

▹ Is development done locally or offshore?
▹ Are there any doubts on the feasibility of the project?
▹ Are there analytics or APIs that I need to integrate with?

9. Logistics — Budget, risks, milestones and timeframe

Never underestimate logistics :)
These should be easy questions to answer but you do want the answers as soon as possible, for the sake of clarity on the process.

▹ What are the activities and deliverables that you expect to do and receive?
▹ Who will review and approve each milestone?
▹ Is there any budget for research?
▹ What’s the budget or source for illustrations, fonts, icons, images or any other resource needed?
▹ What could put this project on risk?
▹ Could the project have a negative impact for the company or the customers?

10. Measuring Success

I usually leave this at the end for two reasons — 
First, because you want to finish the meeting on a high note, and taking “business” — back at the product. Everyone loves to imagine success!
Second, because it is critical to be aligned on how success will be measured, as early as possible. Otherwise, it might be easy to say that you didn’t do a good job, or you didn’t stand to the expectations. Clear goals and success KPIs to both sides are critical to satisfaction and a healthy relationship between you as a provider and your customer.

▹ What will be considered as a success on this project?
▹ Are there any defined OKRs to follow?

The OKR Methodology Explained: Goal Setting & Performance | 15Five

▹ What are the main KPIs we want to improve?
▹ How will we measure this success?

I’ve kept this list in my Google Drive for about 6 years now, and every once in a while I go back to it, review, add more questions… I believe each designer has different questions and approaches. If there is something worth adding that I’ve missed, please leave me a note in the comments, I’ll be glad to add and make this an even better brief list!

A good brief is key for you and your customer having an aligned vision and understanding of the scope, strategy and goals of the project. Having these answers will allow you to move forward with a flow that is effective and produces the best results.

I also liked these two articles which may give you some more insights on how to tackle the first meeting challenge. Hope you rock your next kickoff!

The UX Collective donates US$1 for each article published on our platform. This story contributed to Bay Area Black Designers: a professional development community for Black people who are digital designers and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area. By joining together in community, members share inspiration, connection, peer mentorship, professional development, resources, feedback, support, and resilience. Silence against systemic racism is not an option. Build the design community you believe in.

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