Design challenges: Why ‘how’s it going?’ is the worst question to ask

When you have a design or business problem to solve, what steps do you take?

  • Do you get your head down and sketch out ideas?
  • Do you turn to the internet for inspiration?
  • Do you talk to anyone who will listen?

Before you do anything, firstly, see if you’re thinking about the entire ‘thing’.

A buddy taught me a problem solving model he uses daily: 
[Problems, Plan, Progress], shorthand — PPP. He’s a doctor working in A&E. Emergency wards are fast paced, critical and stressful environments. The conversations he has with patients and his colleagues must be responsive, structured and analytical.

By contrast, problem solving a design solution allows open, ambient and sometimes irrelevant communication. Shooting the shit. Which is fine, if we’re getting closer to the answer and we’re remembering to question the problem. It’s doubtful anyone’s life is on the line in a design review*.

The PPP model might feel specific to doctors, but it’s transferable and helps force you into holistic thinking.

Broken down:

  1. What do you think is the problem? Why are you right?
  2. Using your experience and expertise, what is your plan for solving this and what have you done so far?
  3. Are you right? Is the problem solved or are we seeing an improvement?

Why is the model robust?

  • It forces you to describe the full picture in 3 sentences, not just focusing on your amazing (proposed) plan
  • It communicates time and status
  • It opens discussion for improvement
  • It is transferrable to colleagues, no lone rangers here
  • It is not subjective

Too often when we focus on problem solving we have a bias to the activity of just ‘doing’. PPP forces you to continuously monitor not only your evaluation of the problem but the efficiency of your answer.

Asking ‘how’s it going?’ often won’t tell you much about what’s actually going on.

*Some designers will tell you they have been close