Starting a project off on the right foot can make a huge difference. As they say, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It’s as true in sports as it is in business. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the process of large companies such as Slack and 3M and how they successfully handle projects. Today, I’m going to walk you through a process I’ve used consistently on projects to set myself up for success.

These 5 questions make up a logical baseline for teams to understand where they need to focus their time and efforts on a project.

What Do We Know Definitively?

Another way of saying it: what do we have strong evidence for? Keep a list of assumptions versus facts. Ideally, facts will be Google Analytics data, research data, tried and true design principles, or learnings from previous projects. List each fact with its evidence. If the evidence is not sufficient, then label it as an assumption. Then, each assumption can be evaluated by the next question.

What Do We Need to Know That We Do Not?

In other words, what do we lack solid evidence for? Or what do we, flat out, need to learn more about? Take your list of assumptions from question one and prioritize them based on risk to the project. If the area in question would be extremely detrimental to the project if nothing is learned about it, then prioritize it first. From this list, go out and find evidence to better support your assumptions. But also keep an open mind, as sometimes the things you thought you sort of knew about ended up being completely wrong. The goal here is to identify the areas you need more evidence for and what other areas you need to learn about that will be instrumental to the project’s success.

What Do We Know That We Haven’t Thought Of?

What new ways might we apply the team’s experience or what external fields might help us? For example, many design frameworks are variations of the scientific method; how might something we know from an entirely different field help us on this project? To facilitate a successful discussion, make the sure the team has an open mind. A divergent thinking exercise such as this requires minimal boundaries. Have the team write down areas they believe might be relevant and then come to a consensus about what ideas to think deeper about and which ones to let go. For each area you have agreed to focus on, write down things the team knows definitively and identify areas of weak evidence. Then, group them under what the team knows definitively and what they need to know but do not. This cyclical exercise will lay a great foundation to further brainstorm and iterate.

What Are the Complete Uncertainties?

What things are impossible to know that are relevant to the project?  Will any of these things, if left unknown, be detrimental to the project? Have we discovered anything so far that could completely ruin the project? What haven’t we thought about yet? This question helps you turn complete uncertainties into things we know we do not know. Then, we can prioritize them similarly as before. 

What Will the Ideal State Accomplish for the User?

In other words, what should the final product achieve for the user? As designers, it’s important for us not to assume what the final product will be. Asking something like, “What is the ideal state,” assumes you already know the answer to a problem you are still defining. This is called solution jumping and it results in your team building a car when you should’ve built an airplane. We get ahead of ourselves. Much of UX is problem discovery and identifying where we should play ball and why. It involves a lot of ideating, a lot of combing through data, and a lot of experimentation to see what works best. The point in asking this question is to guide you and your team. Often, you won’t know the answer to this question at the outset; but, once you ask the previous 4 questions, user outcomes will appear that will guide you through to a solution. Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Jared is a UX designer at Teleperformance where he brings strong UX design leadership and hands-on interface design skills to identify, define, concept and deliver world-class applications, products, portals, and websites.