I’ve seen some things. One of the great aspects about working at an agency is the huge variety of projects and industries you get to put your hands on. My first agency position was almost seven years ago and since then I’ve worked with clients in retail, insurance, fitness, healthcare, wellness, aircraft manufacturing, material handling, technology and apparel - just to name a few. And with agency work the types of contracts have also varied pretty greatly, small front-end implementation, large re-platform redesigns, maintenance retainers, product development, websites, mobile apps, PDF forms, project management, staff augmentation, strategy, consulting, etc.
As I’ve watched projects kickoff over the years, time and time again I find that the most important aspect of any project (and a key to determining it’s success) comes down to if we are starting with a solution or the problem.
Ideally, when partnering with a client we would work together to develop and define the problem before coming up with solutions but the majority of the time, when working at an agency, you start with the solution and execute on a pre-defined scope. Most of the time this works because your clients know the user and have a need that they need a partner to help solve but there have been so many missed opportunities to come up with better solutions or find innovate paths to take.
This also might mean a missed opportunity to discover where the true value for users might live.
But here in reality, there sometimes isn’t the opportunity, time or resources to do deep discovery/research into what problem to solve for. So when you find yourself in a place where you have a solution before understanding the problem, here are a few ways to make sure you are creating a solution that will be valuable to users:

Identify if the constraints you are working with are for the business or for the user
Many requirements that are initially identified are business requirements and are not user-centered. Find out why those requirements are there in the first place and who finds them the most valuable
Ask for any user research
This is pretty telling to the thought that’s gone into what’s valuable to the user vs what’s valuable to the business. It can also help provide insights into why the problem is what it is.
Define a goal or key metrics
You need to have a goal post and knowing what outcomes are expected will shed a lot of light into why this solution was proposed

There are tons of activities to help distill down a problem to better understand a solution (view some options from the IDxF here) but when really crunched for time you can get all this accomplished over a Zoom call, an email or a short survey. Either way make sure to take the time to get this information, it’s well worth the effort and will help create a foundation for making decisions.
After delivering different types of projects/deliverables/outcomes I can tell you that when you have taken the time to define what problem to solve for in order to know the exact impact your results will have, its more valuable to the user and ultimately a better investment for the organization.

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