!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Do's and Don'ts for a Critique Meeting

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Do's and Don'ts for a Critique Meeting

There seem to be plenty of places where one can find guidelines for brainstorming, but in my experience, expert advice on how to evaluate the ideas generated is less common. A few days ago I came upon an essay by Scott Berkun, self-styled "expert in project management, creative thinking and managing people," that is quite useful.

Berkun's essay is geared to designers, but his guidelines and tips are generally applicable to any team working on developing innovative products and/or services. I recommend reading the entire essay. To give you the flavor of what you'll find, here (in somewhat edited form) are the "general rules of order" Berkun suggests:
  1. Start with clarifying questions. Clarify any assumptions about what the presented design is intended to do, or what kind of experience it is intended to create. Hopefully, this intent is derived from the overall project goals, which is already agreed upon.

  2. Listen before speaking. Many times in work environments, we confuse conversations, which should be exchanges of ideas, with opportunities to inflict our opinions on others. If you take a moment to listen and understand before voicing an opinion, you’re open to hear something new that might challenge your old thinking. So don’t just wait for other people to finish; actively try to understand what’s being said, and reflect it back to the speaker.

  3. Lead into explorations of alternatives. Ask questions that surface other choices the designer might not have recognized. Postpone judgments, unless there are obvious gaps between the designer's intent, and the designs you are critiquing.

  4. If it fits with the goals of the critique, point out situations, sequences, or elements within the design that may be problematic given what you know about your customers, the scenarios involved, or the project goals.

  5. Avoid statements that refer to absolutes (e.g., "This is dumb and ugly"). Instead, make points that relate to the goals of the design (e.g., "If the goal is to make this feel friendly, black and flaming red doesn’t convey that to me”).

  6. It’s fine to have a personal opinion, expressing your own preferences, but don’t confuse this with your perception of what your customers need or want. I.e., make sure to specify which of these two kinds of opinion you’re offering. Hopefully there are data and research to help everyone agree on the likely customer perspective on different ideas.
Berkun concludes his discussion of the critique meeting proper (he has some further thoughts concerning pre- and post-meeting work and frequency of meetings) by noting that the meeting "should feel like an informal conversation between people with the same goals, all trying to explore and surface good thinking. The person running the meeting has the responsibility of setting the right tone for this, preferably by example, and doing everything in their power to maintain that attitude and spirit in the room throughout the meeting."


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