Like anyone who has read Steven Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I highly recommend it to anyone who has not … and then read it again and often.
When I founded and started to build Elexicon, the concept of Covey’s second habit, “Begin With the End in Mind,” particularly stood out. I’ve found over the years that “keeping the end in mind” has paid dividends for our success and longevity. More specifically, the success of our projects and the longevity of our client relationships has repeatedly benefitted from making the “end” the “beginning.”
In fact, when we talk about our core agency principles, we made one of them this idea: “The End is The Beginning.”
So what does it mean to make the begin with the end in mind? Covey summarizes the concept this way:
“Habit 2 is based on imagination — the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”
This is indeed a valuable personal habit, but it applies to our context of working with clients to build websites and applications as well.
Whether we’re dealing with a corporate-level rebrand, content strategy or company website, we can apply the following spin to Covey’s concept:
“If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who your company is and what you want in business, then you empower competitors and circumstances to shape your brand and your product by default.”
On a project level, having a mental (first) creation works too: If you haven’t first defined your project mission, its audience, and its strategic plan, you will begin building a structure without a blueprint. You’ll dig a foundation without knowing what you’ll build on top of it. Stakeholders, circumstances and competitors can throw construction off course because you’re not following a solid, well thought-out plan. You’re designing and building on the fly, and the results will show: the results will be something you probably never envisioned when you first started. You won’t recognize it, and neither will your executives or your customers.
While every project is different, here are some guidelines that we – alongside our clients, every step of the way – strive to follow, in the spirit of envisioning the end at the very beginning:
Understand your users and customers. Who are they and how will they use the end-product?
Ask the question “why?” as often as possible. Every element of the project plan should have a purpose.
Set firm expectations for not only the end-result physical product, but also for budgets and timelines. Proper planning often unfortunately can get bypassed or derailed by unrealistic deadlines.
Draw up the blueprints. Before a single pixel is designed or line of code is written, we most often spend a third or more of our project effort conducting stakeholder, product expert, and user interviews; producing whiteboards, moodboards, and storyboards; drafting sketches and wireframes; assembling content audits, analyses and site maps; and iterating paper prototypes and rapid code prototypes – these are the blueprints.
Establish a highly collaborative process that involves all the right people and provides every opportunity for reviews, iteration, feedback and buy-in.
Plan beyond the launch of the product you’re envisioning to include its “future life.” This is where the “end” becomes the “beginning” once again, with a thoughtful plan for management, governance, maintenance, marketing, and measurement.
With solid marketing and measurement results in hand, the process of envisioning the next redesign or software release will become that much more concise and clear. You’ll identify new opportunities as well as areas for improvement.
These “blueprints” are central to the design and build phases of our projects. Our “architects” hand them off to our designers and builders, who are guided by the frameworks established in the planning phase. The “mental first creation” has been fully envisioned, iterated and documented, helping the designers, writers and developers move forward without hesitation toward the “physical creation” end result.