Pushing back by teaming up

Has someone ever come to you with a design idea that you have concerns about? What do you do?

Early in my career, I'd just speak up and say so. Sometimes, that works. The problem is that when I showed concern again and again, I quickly became everyone’s least favorite person to bring design ideas to.

It's unfair to get frustrated when someone brings you an idea, but it's also irresponsible to just jump in and do what you're asked without exploring the problem. Pushing back is one of the most important things someone can do. It's a sign of a healthy team. So how can you make it feel better?

What if, instead of pushing back on the person, the whole team pushes back on the idea?

One of the things I learned from working with Scott Kubie was how to make worksheets that help my teams have important conversations. He does this all the time, and what's helpful about it is that instead of an individual asking questions and raising concerns, an external artifact is taking that on that burden. This makes pushing back a team activity, and keeps negative feelings to a minimum.

Here's a worksheet I made to evaluate new design ideas:

I work with the team to make this part of how we work, so that examining our ideas becomes a regular occurrence. That way, asking questions is normal and expected, not a discouragement.

I put things in the worksheet that I know will make the conversation more constructive and give me the answers I'm looking for. For example, I made a big area for user needs, because if we don't know what they are, I want that to be obvious. I do all this to instill these values in the larger team. Eventually, they become part of how we work.

What's important about this idea:

  • Asking the questions as a team. Get things out of the realm of two people disagreeing with each other.

  • Capturing the conversation somewhere. Most of my teams are remote so I share my screen and fill this out while we talk. We need to see what we’re agreeing to.

  • Adapting it to your situation. The questions my team asks may not the ones your team needs to ask. Make this activity your own.

  • Acting on what you learn. If you see that you don't know much about user needs, plan some research to learn about them.

What's NOT important about this idea:

  • Calling it a worksheet. Reframing the conversation is what's most valuable, doesn't matter what you call it.

  • Making it a PDF. The form doesn't matter. These questions could be part of your acceptance criteria or a step you take during backlog refinement.

You can download this worksheet yourself, or make a copy on Figma that you can adapt for your team.