Keeping the Conversation Moving During a Competitive Analysis

Desiree Johnson

4 min read

Dec 8, 2016

Keeping the Conversation Moving During a Competitive Analysis

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

On my first day of Industrial Design studio, my professor announced that we’d be working on a vertical studio project. (A vertical studio project is one in which all levels of the Industrial Design program, sophomore through senior studios, work together on a project simultaneously.) After the project announcement, the entire Industrial Design program began brainstorming how to solve the problem we were presented with.

After about five minutes of this, it became quite evident that the professors leading this vertical studio did not have a plan of action for controlling and leading the session. Long story short, the brainstorming session ended up being unproductive. The five loudest people in the room were competing about whose idea was the best, and the rest of the conversation was unfocused and kept getting off track. I felt frustrated that my valid, well-thought-out ideas were never heard nor recognized.

From that day forward, I’ve had a deep desire to have structure when a group discussion needs to produce actionable items.

Present Day

So what does that have to do with my current role at Big Nerd Ranch? A few weeks ago, I was planning a design discovery for a client. When we do discovery, we collect and distill necessary information about the product and users before starting design and development.

Part of that discovery process includes a competitor analysis—and I wanted to avoid a repeat of the scenario I faced during that vertical studio project. I thought to myself about how that brainstorming session could have been better, and how I might apply those solutions to on-site conversations with our client.

Competitor Analysis: The Issues

Like the studio session, a competitor analysis, if not closely monitored, can become a platform for the loudest people in the room. If only the loudest voices are being heard, others aren’t able to contribute and can start to check out of the discussion. We want to make sure that everybody in the project—no matter their rank or how much they talk—gets a chance to make their input heard.

I also knew that our time would be best spent on brainstorming ways our client’s application can be better than the competitor’s, rather than focusing solely on “Why do you like or dislike this feature of your competitor’s app?”

Solution Criteria

I had to create a solution that made sure:

  1. Everybody’s voice would be heard.
  2. The playing field would leveled so that all team members felt comfortable having a say in the discussion, regardless of their rank.
  3. The discussion could manage itself without a constant need for refocusing.

So How Can We Fix These Issues?

Ellen Degeneres plays a really simple game with her audience. She gives them all a flip sign that has a “yes” answer on one side and a “no” answer on the other side. Ellen then asks a question and shows a clip or photo. The audience then votes by holding up one side of the sign or the other.

Pretty simple, right? I like how easy it is to understand the game and it seemed like a really great way to solve the issues with competitor analysis.

So, just like Ellen, I gave all of the participants in the competitor analysis a flip sign (except ours had Grumpy Cat for “dislike” and Doge for “like”). I created a presentation that laid out the structure of the game for my “audience,” and we got started.

Flip signs

As the host, I had 30 seconds to present a feature that the clients’ competitor uses in their apps. After I finished, I counted down from 3 and the clients held up their signs, indicating whether they liked or disliked the feature. The short timeframes helped make sure that my audience wasn’t swayed by my talking too much, or by their colleagues’ opinions.

Once the audience voted, we went around the table and allowed each participant up to a minute to explain his or her vote. Everyone got to speak, and full attention was given to that person while they spoke, helping to level the playing field.

The game went over really well, and it did what I set out to do:

  • Conversations remained on topic, keeping the session incredibly efficient.
  • Everyone’s opinions were voiced clearly and were listened to by others.
  • Voting silently and visually allowed participants to stick to their decision, rather than being swayed by others.
  • We gathered rich information and insight about what the clients were looking for in their application.

To Infinity and Beyond

This change in structure to one exercise has sparked me to start thinking of ways to make our discovery exercises more interactive. Design discovery should be a time of excitement and wonderful innovation with clients and designers. By adding new approaches to discovery, we can break out of the ourdinary and begin to create something spectacular.

Zack Simon

Reviewer Big Nerd Ranch

Zack is an Experience Director on the Big Nerd Ranch design team and has worked on products for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100s. Zack is passionate about customer experience strategy, helping designers grow in their career, and sharpening consulting and delivery practices.

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