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Have you ever worked on a project whose original objectives shifted completely over the course of delivery? 🙋‍♂️ I have. This lack of alignment can lead to confusion, extended timelines, and over-spending on the budget.

In this article, I will share some of my suggestions for avoiding a situation like this from the start. I will describe my process working on a conversational AI agent (a chatbot, in this case), but the tips can be applied to any project in which multiple stakeholders are contributing to the creative process.

Here’s my story…

Disclaimer: The brand and project details will remain unrevealed for privacy purposes.

Over the course of 20 years working in software, I have worked on many projects that suffered from misalignment between business objectives, the customer experience, and the technology used for implementation. Several times, the objectives seemed to be unclear to all stakeholders until the project was actually delivered.

Recently, I worked on a chatbot project that I resolved to handle differently. I felt that as a veteran in this field I was finally prepared to initially understand and define the business objectives extensively during the pre-project stage. I aimed for alignment between me and each stakeholder early on in the planning process, and these extra efforts paid off.

Even when you think you understand the goals, dig a little deeper.

During the initial conversations that kicked off this project, my client (who was also the brand manager and the business owner) communicated initially that we would be working on a product that would support an existing brand campaign. This campaign aimed to enhance people’s health by focusing on one aspect of “good nutrition” which would incentivize them to enroll in a nutrition program.

However, after asking some probing questions, we both learned something that changed the whole course of our project.

Rather than focusing simply on “good nutrition”, the client envisioned this brand extending to become a “health advocate” that would encompass every aspect of healthy lifestyle. This would include weight control, workouts, sleeping, immunity, etc. and NOT just “good nutrition” as they posed originally. By broadening the scope of the campaign, our client hoped to shift consumers interests from some competitors’ products to theirs.

Wow!

Honestly, I was thrilled that we uncovered these insights during such an early stage in the project. Being able to do this early on is actually much less common than one might expect. Too often, we lose time and resources once we discover the real objective after the launch or, worse, even after the design stage has concluded. We were able to save time that would have otherwise been spent reworking the design and backtracking in our conversations. We also avoided frustration on all sides and an overall distrust in the whole initiative, which I’ve also seen too often before in projects like this.

Once we reached this alignment, the project took off. We immediately shifted the center of our Design Thinking process towards “Healthy Lifestyle”; instead of the single aspect of healthy nutrition. We completed the workshop by redefining the customer’s pain points. Of course, we concluded with something completely different from what we thought we would have. I am sharing a tweaked version of it below for illustration.

Of course, there are many more practical details that were involved in rooting out this initial objective, and I’ll be sharing more on this in future articles.

Below, I will break down a couple of lessons I learned during this process.

Avoid the Middleman

It is imperative to meet in person with your client in order to establish the project scope. If not, ideas will get lost in translation.

Invest in your Initial Assessment

Whether you are working in a company or you’re self-employed, invest your time upfront to clarify business objectives, project scope, and milestones. Make sure to communicate these decisions and give everyone access to the documents that house them. This will help everyone assess a more accurate scope and size of the project.

Focus on the Use Case

Evaluating the use case is the number one most important thing when vetting a product, so this cannot be a moving target during design and development. It’s easy to fall in the trenches of the details around the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of the business requirements. When this happens, we overlook the ‘Why’ or just undermine the importance of having a deep understanding of it. Keep asking yourself,

“Why is business investing time in this solution and is this technology the best way to deliver it?”

Ask the 5 Why’s

When you ask your client “Why do you want a chatbot for your business?” don’t accept the first answer. Keep digging along with your client until the real objective and outcome are uncovered.

The purpose of outlining this case study is not to point fingers. In fact, when things go off-course in a process like this, I hold myself responsible as the Conversation Designer. Rather, I’d like to share lessons I’ve learned for whoever may benefit from them.

Conclusion

The objectives of Conversational UIs (like chatbots) can seem like a moving target because of how many parts of your business they can automate — Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, etc. We often focus on the problems that can be solved by Conversational UI platforms and the benefits they can provide to a business: immediate 24/7 responses, increases in revenue, a boost in customer satisfaction, and getting direct insights into the way your customers experience your brand.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all true benefits, but every business has unique goals and outcomes from leveraging conversational customer interfaces. However, in order to reap the full benefits of a conversational UI, the team must allocate adequate time to define the unique objectives for their business and exactly what kind of return they hope to get out of this investment.

Without digging deeper into pre-planning stages, it’s often hard for anyone within the business to express the accurate and exact objectives they hope to get out of the conversational UI.

So let’s do our best to uncover the not-yet-known, early on.

And I promise I will be sharing more technical insights in near future writings.

I hope you find these insights helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Check out this article and others about the conversation design on Botmock’s blog!