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Improving Team Alignment and Understanding

As a part of looking to improve our the efficiency and effectiveness of our product and design teams I’ve been reading Discussing Design by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry. I’d like to boost one of the concepts discussed in the book that I think could benefit a lot of teams I’ve worked with in the past, the idea of the Mini Creative Brief.

What is a Mini Creative Brief?

The concept here is actually astonishingly simple given how effective it can end up being. Originally shared by Jared Spool, the idea behind the Mini Creative Brief is to capture the most important foundational elements and objectives for the product on a single page or less.

In it’s most basic form, a mini creative brief is a smaller version of a project’s full creative brief. Rather than containing everything that could possibly relate to a large project or product (goals, personas, principles, etc.) a mini brief only contains information that is relevant to the current discussion. The mini brief should also be understood to be more of an overview than a full reference document; for example, if a persona is included in the brief it should be condensed, the entire reference document for the persona is likely to be found elsewhere within project resources.

An example list of what could be included in a mini creative brief may contain:

  • A brief summary of the problem statement or purpose of the product
  • The key users or persona of a solution
  • The main scenarios in which the solution could be used
  • Any relevant business goals that have been established for the product
  • Relevant design principles to be followed.

The key here is that the document should remain brief. It should be something that can be easily read through and understood in no more than 2-5 minutes. We’re not looking to outline every detail with this document, just enough to ensure everyone reading it is in agreement.

How to use a Mini Creative Brief

In the book, and in Jared’s post outlining the concept, the main way to use a mini creative brief is to have it read out at the beginning of a meeting. The point of this activity is to ensure everyone in attendance is in agreement on what is going to be discussed, and the goals of the team working on the product.

Because this is the primary, and intended purpose of the brief it’s easy to see why it needs to be short. We don’t want to spend 15-20 minutes at the top of a meeting reading through a brief before we get into the valuable discussion and reason for calling the meeting in the first place.

In most cases you’re likely to find that everyone on the team is in agreement and the team can move on with the meeting. However, the real value of this ritual begins to reveal itself when someone has a question, of there is misalignment within the team. By taking the time to read through the brief and create space for the team to have this conversation it’s possible that quick discussions and clarifications can be had. Without this sort of ritual teams may be working with the impression that everyone is aligned when the opposite is true. This often results in teams having longer discussions and change requests later in the development cycle, typically when these sorts of issue are far more costly to address.

As Jared outlines in the article on CenterCentre:

[…] things change […] We hit constraints and challenges that make us rethink what we’re trying to do.

Dedicating a moment at the start of each meeting to discuss these changes and get everyone in the room to agree on the project’s current path is a brilliant move. […] Reading this short-form creative brief out loud short circuits those endless debates and lets the team focus on the problem at hand: does this design get us where we’re trying to go?

The simple act of bringing the team together to create and align on the mini creative brief, and the ritual of reading through and referencing the brief before every discussion can have a profound impact on the overall alignment of a team.

Wrapping Up

In my experience the lack of consistent communication about the what, why, and how of the solutions we’re working on is the largest contributor to slow progress. When misalignment occurs, but is not identified until much later in the process teams are likely to find themselves being forced to stop progressing, make costly changes, and compromise on decisions in order to salvage lost time and resources.

Even if a team has to modify the examples shown above, adopting this practice is likely to short-circuit a number of the issues discussed. If you find that your teams are struggling with alignment and communication, it might be worth giving the mini creative brief a try.

Adam Sedwick

I work on Design systems and Advocate for Accessibility on the web.



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