Lately, I’ve been facing great challenges on a certain project. And I don’t mean challenges as a designer specifically — my technical knowledge isn’t the issue here. In any case, technical expertise wasn’t even what eventually made this particular project a success.
On the contrary, it was soft skills (both mine and my team´s) that ended up becoming the big stars of success on this project. And as it turns out, they’re also the kind of skills that make any professional better at what they do.
Not All Projects Unfold Under Ideal Circumstances
Has it ever happened to you that the plans you thought were perfect did not work for you in the end? In life — and also in work — this is a possibility we always have to consider. More importantly, however, is that we’re able to overcome the consequences of plans that don’t pan out.
This is doubly true when you work on providing a valuable result to your customer. You need to roll with the punches, make changes quickly, and keep moving even when things aren’t going as planned.
When Following The Plan Is Not A Good Plan
We spend a lot of our time planning. I’m a strong believer in planning, to me is a great investment of time because it allows all the members of a team to be aligned, on the same page, spending the time in the most efficient way possible, being one step ahead of problems.
Having a plan is soothing, organize and reunites the team. Yes, I love plans! But what happens when the one we make seams like a fairy tale? So great, maybe a little bit ambitious and just impossible to accomplish…
Does it mean that we planned wrong? Did we ambitious too much? Where did we mess up? Well, although these are super-important questions that we need to ask ourselves to avoid the same problem in the future… sometimes we didn’t do anything particularly wrong. Sometimes the context just changes. But we have to respond anyway! So… what should we do?!
How to Respond to Unexpected Changes During a Project
First of all, if the context changes it doesn’t make sense to stick to a plan that doesn’t fit the new reality. It’s like clinging to a boat that is sinking …
All people are forced to react to changes. Some react negatively, with frustration, anger or other sensations that paralyze and block. Others, on the other hand, do so with resilience. That is, instead of breaking under pressure, they respond with flexibility, and adapt positively to changes. Everyone should strive to be the latter, not the former.
When we face these challenges at work, the importance of soft skills is reinforced. Tools and technical skills (or hard skills) are obviously essential in order for the work to get done. But sometimes we forget the importance of soft skills: all those skills that help us navigate projects more effectively. So, soft skills matter a lot! Being flexible, resilient and being able to act under pressure are just a few of a very long list of soft skills.
“When we face these challenges at work, the importance of soft skills is reinforced. Being flexible, resilient and being able to act under pressure are just a few of a very long list of soft skills”.
Florencia Vispo, UX Designer
The Trouble With Soft Skills
A sticking point when dealing with soft skills is that they are difficult to teach or transmit. Usually, they’re learned through our own experiences. In my first work experiences, I began to notice this. As a designer, I found a gap between what I had learned in college and what professional practice was asking of me.
That’s because when you learn, you usually observe the ideal path, where we have time and resources to carry out a very comprehensive research, with lots of modalities and results to compare and contrast. So good for learning! And super interesting! As long as chaos can be avoided, awesome! In many instances we do actually find ourselves with the possibility of planning, anticipating risks, setting expectations and enjoying a serene journey across the sea of the project, arriving on time and safely to port.
But in my years of experience, here’s what I have learned: traveling the ideal path is about as common as finding utopia.
Using UX Basics to Improve Soft Skills
Having a plan and following processes and procedures helps a lot. You’ll find that having these in place improve the organization and productivity of each individual and the team in general.
But sometimes things are not as we expect and it is more valuable to know how to build solutions based on the reality that has to be faced. Where do we start? We can take advantage of the knowledge and skills inherent to the UX process to detect a problem and propose a solution and apply them to our own work environment.
Observation is key in these situations because it allows us to understand context changes and diagnose problems in time. Also, thanks to observation, the chances of generating solutions that adapt to the dynamics of the team and the needs of the project increase.
Observation requires both attention and communication. You can’t have a complete picture if there are not enough opportunities to observe what is happening. Maintaining fluent team communication with regular meetings to keep abreast of the advances and setbacks that each member faces is essential.
The Toolkit for Facing Adversity Head On
The empathy that is usually addressed to the user, can also be addressed to our teammates, our client and all those involved in the creation process. Empathize, understand the importance of each part of the team and work in the same direction, sharing a goal. That will help us to be pragmatic and make decisions that make sense for everyone. It is essential that the entire team cooperates to solve the problem.
The iteration of the UX process itself sometimes needs to be put into practice in our own processes: reprioritize the tasks, modify the deadlines and adjust our objectives and resources. When the final objective is clear, it is easier to have a good predisposition and resilience to change. And this resilience will undoubtedly give us more efficiency.
Honesty will make the dynamics of the team optimal. Hiding information from the team is never good. What could improve when that happens? If you begin to see a problem, communicating it to the team is the best decision to make. This will build bonds of trust, strengthening the union of the team in order to solve a common problem. It also allows you to prepare so that the change of direction, should one be necessary, is not so jarring.
Watch out! Generating a sense of alarm would be the other extreme of the situation, nothing good can emerge from this either. Keep calm, and see what is positive about the situation in order to balance.
At the end of the project there is still something to do: look back and analyze what has taken place. As I mentioned before, soft skills are learned through experience. When working on any project, but especially on challenging projects, it is advisable to carry out a Retro to evaluate what worked well and what could be improved. That allows you to propose action items to be applied in the future. These instances of reflection are essential for strengthening your soft skills.
All in All
Even the most deeply rooted learning deserves to be rethought in order to adapt to a particular context and objective. This will make the difference. Technical skills are very important because they allow us to perform daily tasks in a professional manner. But soft skills allows us to generate opportunities where before, we could only see a problem.