7 Strategies for Onboarding a Complex and In-Progress Project

By Layla Soileau

Ideally, as designers, we like to see our projects through from start to finish; but there are times when we may be thrown into the middle of an existing and complex project. This may feel like an intimidating situation, but with the right attitude and strategy, it can be a great opportunity to showcase your best work.

When I first joined the projekt202 UX design team, my first project led me deep into the weeds. Luckily, I was surrounded by a smart and supportive team. I survived the project, and our team thrived. Along the way, I’ve collected a few tips that have helped me, and will (hopefully) help you. If you ever find yourself as a UX designer in the middle of multi-faceted project, try these 7 strategies to quickly ramp up:

1. Don’t panic.
Go to your safe space, take a deep breath, and accept your assignment. Yes, it’s is complicated, but you can handle it.

2. Get your mind right.
Psych yourself up. Create a mantra and place it in a highly visible area on your desk. I know a fellow p202er who gracefully leads large, complicated, and frequently changing projects. He has the mantra, “Every day is a new beginning.” taped to his monitor.

3. Be a good listener.
“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” — Wilson Mizner
If you’re lucky, you’ll have at least one seasoned project member to help get you up to speed. Actively listen to what your team has to share, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Find the most recent wireframes and visuals and discuss them with your team. Before you meet, identify any uncertainties you have about the final design. Then let your team educate you about how the final design came to fruition. Do you see a better way to accomplish something? Ask them why that option didn’t make it. This will allow you to learn more about your team’s decision-making process and the client’s role in that process.

4. Be resourceful.
Do you have access to a Design Research team? If so, consider yourself lucky, and make friends! A good Design Research team will have a wealth of resources for you to peruse such as personas, contextual inquiries, heuristic evaluations, information architecture mapping, and other documents. Use these assets to learn about your users and your client.

As a solo activity, consult existing research documents, client websites, team photos, organization charts, wireframes, and other assets. Try to get a high level view of the project, and then dive into the details as you find ambiguities. Make a list of items that need more clarification and work through each one. If you come to one that you can’t figure out, set it aside to discuss with your team.

During client meetings, take advantage of the informal time before or after a meeting and meeting breaks to speak directly with members of the client team. This can be a great way to build and relationship with the client and learn about the stakeholders and their expectations.

5. Fail early and fail often.
“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” – Woody Allen
Finish your first set of wireframes as soon as possible. You won’t know everything at the beginning of your project, but the faster you get your work out there, the faster you will know if you are going in the right direction. If you find you’re off track, it will be easier to refocus your efforts since you haven’t spent a lot of energy and time working on an ineffective idea.

6. Be patient, yet persistent.
It will take time to adjust to a new project, team, and client. You may feel unsteady and overwhelmed at first, but as you gain more hands-on experience, your confidence will grow. Always be patient with yourself and always strive to do your best work.

7. Create good karma.
If you’re involved in a long and frequently-changing project, consider creating a monthly progress report to track your team’s activities. Periodic progress reports will make it easier to onboard new designers. Also, if you happen to leave a project for some reason, it will make it easier for another designer to pick up where you left off.