How to Mitigate Risk in the Software Product Design Process

Software product design process

The software product design process is full of risk.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, no risk, no reward. If you’re designing a software product that has no risks attached to it whatsoever, your product probably isn’t adding anything new to the market.

If you want to disrupt or push the boundaries of your industry, accepting a degree of risk is completely necessary. It’s how you identify, manage and ultimately mitigate this risk that could make or break your project.

There’s one fundamental question you need to be able to answer here:

“What degree of risk can this project withstand whilst still remaining a viable route for our business?”

You could reconceptualize this into a simple risk vs reward equation. What risks are you willing to take for the potential gains this could offer you?

We can’t answer this question for you, but we can guide you through the means to get there. Being able to make these decisions requires a full understanding of what risks the digital product design process holds, and how to mitigate them effectively.

That’s why we’ve written this guide. We’ll cover:

  • What we mean by risk in the product design process
  • What these risks are, and where they fit in the product design process
  • How to mitigate these risks across your project

What Do We Mean By ‘Risk’?

‘Risk’ is simply the potential for something to go wrong or cause a problem.

All parts of your business deal with risk, day in, day out. In the product design process specifically, a risk is anything that could threaten your ability to design a useful, viable product that users love.

These risks are an integral part of the product design process. You are (hopefully) designing something new and exciting, with the potential to change your industry for the better. That’s an inherently risky activity – will customers move away from the status quo, for example? Is your product too ahead of the curve for mass adoption right now, and if so how can you monetize it?

If you aren’t taking any risks, you aren’t trying anything new. Equally, that doesn’t mean that you let risks run through your project, unchecked and unmonitored. Instead, it’s a balancing act.

What Is The Risk Management Process?

The risk management process involves drawing up a plan for the identification, monitoring and mitigating of product design risks.

This is often (but not exclusively) carried out by the project manager – but it is a process that everyone should be actively involved in. Whilst the project manager might draw up a risk management plan, it’s up to everyone on the team to provide input that makes the plan effective.

This includes proactive identification of new risks, evaluation of current risks and awareness of how risks could escalate. Below, we’ll discuss what risks you should look out for in the product design process, where they fit and how to create an effective risk management plan to mitigate them.

What Risks Are There in the Product Design Process?

Whilst each software project is unique and will have a number of risks that you will need to identify yourself, there are many risks that are fairly common to all product design processes.

The product design process is all about creating a prototype that:

  • Can perform its function effectively
  • Can be built by your development team
  • Can be delivered to buyers reliably
  • Can be delivered within the specified project budget and deadlines
  • Is attractive to the current market

These map onto to the following areas of risk:

  • Technical risk: anything that could compromise your project from a technical point of view, for example use of on-the-horizon technologies or issues with system architecture
  • Logistical risk: risks affecting your ability to deliver a finished, complete product to clients or customers reliably
  • Market risk: risks pertaining to product market fit, for example shifts in user or functional requirements
  • Organizational risk: risks inherent in the project based on your organizational performance and structure, for example budget overruns, lack of staffing

Where Do These Risks Fit into the Software Product Design Process?

Understanding where these risks fit in the product design process helps you create a more accurate risk management plan.

To do this, we’ve broken down the product design process into three basic steps. This is by no means a universal model, but broadly covers how many product design teams operate. These three steps are:

  • Research (briefing, design benchmarking, creation of user personas)
  • Ideation (creating user journeys, decision matrices, wireframes and mood board)
  • Execution (building style guides, GUI designs and prototypes)

Use the structure below as a rough guide for mapping your own risks onto the product design process. By no means is this a concrete roadmap – many of the risks above will be present throughout the product design process – but this should give you a good starting point.

Potential Software Design Risks in the Research Phase

Research on startup failure by CB Insights suggests 42% of startups fail because of no market need for their product – by far the most common reason for failure identified by the report.

The research phase is where you identify whether there is a need for your product, what user preferences are and what potential competition is out there already. If you don’t dedicate adequate time and resources here, you risk building a poor market fit into the foundations of your product.

Potential Software Design Risks in the Ideation Phase

It’s easy for time to slip away from you during the ideation phase. This is understandable to a degree – designers like to spend time designing. However, failure to set clear goals and deadlines here could result in major scope creep and sliding project delivery schedules.

This has a significant effect on your ability to create a viable product, beat competitors to market and satisfy client demands.

Potential Software Design Risks in the Execution Phase

Can your design be delivered effectively to customers via your development team and other partners? Can you rely on your tech stack to provide the functionality your design needs?

The execution phase contains significant potential for technical and logistical risk, if not managed properly. Close collaboration with both external partners and your development team will be essential in identifying potential issues early and working around them.

How Can We Manage Risk in the Product Design Process?

To manage these risks effectively, you need to take a structured, considered approach to risk management. This starts with having a solid risk management plan strategy

A good way to do this is to draw up a risk management plan at the start of your project. This creates a solid foundation for risk management going forward, which you can add to as you identify more potential risks over the course of the project.

How To Structure Your Risk Management Plan

Planning for risk mitigation involves four key stages:

  • Identifying potential risks to the project, and the impact they could have
  • Prioritizing risks based on threat or urgency
  • Planning mitigating actions for each risk identified
  • Monitoring risks over the course of the project

This is a process the whole project team should be involved in. Without insight from every project stakeholder, you risk missing something important. You also risk key elements of your project team being in the dark about what action they need to take to mitigate risk and compromising your project’s success as a result.

You should also see your risk management plan as a strategy that evolves over time. It’s highly likely that you will identify more risks as your project goes on. Make sure that you add these to your risk management plan as you identify them.

Here’s what you should bear in mind at each stage of your risk management plan:

Identifying risks

This is where you list all the potential risks to your project and the potential. Create an easily accessible document which anyone can flag potential risks on, and schedule some time to discuss them as a group.

Input from a full range of stakeholders is essential here. Your designers might spot risks that project managers are unaware of, for example. Actively encourage participation from everyone on your team to get as in-depth a risk profile as you can.

Prioritization

Your project has finite resources and deadlines to hit. You won’t be able to dedicate the same amount of time to addressing every risk you identify. This is why you should spend some time prioritizing which risks to dedicate the most amount of time to.

Keep your classification simple. The more complex your method, the more scope there is for confusion and disagreement. You could use a three-stage frequency/severity matrix like the one below as an easy-to-follow way of deciding on risk priority.

Software Design Process

Planning mitigating actions

For each risk you identify, you should attach mitigating actions that will reduce or remove their impact on your project.

Some of these actions will be ongoing throughout the project – you could agree to regular standups to anticipate project delays and avoid major overruns, for example. Others will be specific actions, triggered by specific events – like….

There are various types of mitigating action you can take. These include:

  • Avoiding the risk by adjusting project scope, schedule or constraints of your project.
  • Controlling the risk via taking direct action to minimize the risk potential
  • Transferring accountability for the risk to other stakeholders in your organization, who are better equipped to deal with the risk and are happy to accept it.
  • Continue monitoring the risk (often suitable for low-impact risks with limited potential for project disruption)

Monitoring and mitigating risks

Monitoring risks throughout the project is essential in preventing risks snowballing into concrete issues that will affect the outcome of your product design process.

Check in on risk impact frequently as a team. Make it an integral part of your regular meetings – the closer you monitor your risks, the quicker you can take mitigating action. Regular risk monitoring activities should include:

  • Publishing project status reports with risk management issues included
  • Revising risk plans with any major changes in project schedule
  • Reviewing and reprioritizing risks, eliminating those with lowest probability or negligible impact
  • Considering new potential risks after a change in project scope or timeline

Looking For Support With Your Product Design Process?

Sometimes, external support with your product design process can help you identify, prioritize and mitigate risks more effectively.

At Tivix, we’ve worked on a huge range of digital products over the past decade. Amongst others, we’ve designed and built software for Tesla, the UN, DoveMed and SolarCity.

Because of the depth of experience we bring to the table, we understand what works, what doesn’t and what risks a particular project might encounter. All of this helps the design phase of your software project run as smoothly as possible, whether you’re outsourcing completely to us or using our services to bolster the capabilities of your in-house team.

We offer both end-to-end product design outsourcing and support across specific areas, including:

  • Product conceptualization
  • UX and UI design
  • Prototyping
  • Product management
  • Software development

If you’re looking for a product design partner, drop us a message here. We’d love to see how we could help.