How to prioritize requests for conversation design teams

Whether you’re in the process of introducing conversation design to your organization or you’re already a veteran of your craft, developing new flows can be an exciting challenge.

Designing, however, isn’t just about the design itself. It’s about the process to get there. Which projects should move forward? Which audiences should be targeted, and more importantly – which requests should be prioritized?

Not every customer interaction needs a voice or chat assistant

Assessing the cost of your time, the developer's time, and the overall company impact of a proposed conversation assistant can be a tough balancing act when you're approached by a team that's bullish on getting their experience live.

Advocating for your time and projects help legitimize the effort a conversation design team puts into its work, ensuring that you and your team are spending time on what drives the most business impact.

Setting those boundaries can be tough, especially when a request could be done quickly but isn't necessarily the best use of your team's time.

Traditionally, UX teams have used prioritization matrices to help them prioritize requests, indicating the value of the request to the user versus the effort needed from the organization.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution method can help take the priorities you've defined in your matrix to help your team get and stay on the right track, deliver the most value to the organization, and have internal teams recognize your value.

But the disciplines of execution rely on sticking to a strategy your team has set.

Let's take a look at strategy and the 4 core conversation design disciplines your team can build and implement.

Defining your conversation design strategy

Every new project a conversation design team works on will inevitably have a slightly different strategy.

Whether your company’s goal is to automate more customer support questions, proactively educate customers to aid in product adoption, or automate a product action based on commands, defining a goal for your monthly, quarterly, and yearly conversation designs help you take on projects that will push your team forward to achieving those outcomes.

Regardless of which goal your team chooses to focus on, one thing is for sure: Conversation Design goals should align directly with business outcomes and business goals.

This alignment is crucial for your team's visibility within the organization, helps you get a seat at the table when business leaders are talking about working backward from the business objectives, and helps you prioritize the requests your team will get through the 4 disciplines of execution framework.

When your team gets together to work on their prioritization matrix, it is essential to bring all of the ideas, projects, and features that you plan to implement, jobs to be done, user groups or personas, and research activities into the conversation.

Your team can then work together to prioritize each of those categories through a vote, with each member of the team placing importance on everything shared.

A graph showing user value by effort from the organization. The Top left and bottom right quadrants are maybes, the bottom left quadrant is a no, and the top right quadrant is a yes - meaning low effort and high user value determines actions

This group work creates a shared mental model prioritization structure for a month, quarter, or even a year's worth of work. Understanding the business opportunities your team could tackle, prioritizing them by effort and impact, and making these decisions outside of a silo will point your team towards strategic execution.

So let's actually dive into this framework for execution.

The 4 disciples of execution to help conversation design teams prioritize requests

The 4 disciplines of execution and how they all work togetherd

The 4 Disciplines of Execution help you take your strategy and turn it into execution.

Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important goal

There should only be one wildly important goal (WIG) your team is working towards at any given time period. If you're approached with a project request and the requester's goal is not in line with your WIG, that is a great prioritization tactic to keep your team on track towards the larger business goal.

You can frame your response like this:

"We'd be happy to help you with your project. This {month, quarter}, our team is working towards building experiences that help with {WIG}, so our team won't have time to prioritize this request until that work is completed. We may be focusing on this business area later on in the year and would be happy to talk more about implementing this request when that time comes."

Discipline 2: Act on the lead measures

The success of your team is based on two measures: Lag and Lead.

Lag measures and tracks the success of your team working towards your WIG. These are things like conversations handled without human interaction, increased product adoption, more orders placed, or more active users. They're called Lags because the work you did in the past influences these metrics as they are today.
Lead measures and tracks the critical activities that drive and create the lag measures. These activities are reliant on setting daily or weekly goals so you can check in with your pacing towards a lag measure. Is your team focusing on the right daily tasks to get them towards their WIG?

Discipline 2 is all about pinpointing the right activities to work on regularly to drive your team towards your goal.

For conversation design teams, this can be defining personas and context, conversation mapping, feedback and commenting, prototyping, and/or iteration.

Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard

The hardest part about conversation design is that so much happens before your experience goes live that it can be hard for the rest of the company to have visibility into the work that's been done.

By keeping up with your lag and lead measurements on a recurring basis, your team will execute better - whether you're on track to hit your goals or not.

The best "scoreboard" or reporting tactic here is defined by the people impacting the score aka your team. Having the Conversation Design team as a whole define the metrics they want to impact and measure, and then ensuring everyone on the team has visibility into those metrics will lead to better outcomes.

Your team will be able to pivot when a lead measure isn't panning out and see the downstream influence of their work through the lag measures to help motivate them.

Then, the success of the team is no longer on the shoulders of the team lead, but instead, the whole team feels like they're purposefully moving in the right direction.

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability

No matter how amazing your plan is, how well thought out your goals are, or how well you've created a dashboard for your team, nothing matters if the work that you need to get done isn’t completed.

This is critical if your team is being asked to do projects on the side, taking the time away from designers to work towards their WIG.

Quick, weekly check-ins where your team can make sure that the lead work that needs to be done is getting done at a good cadence. The best way for these accountability meetings to end is by making commitments for the next one.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution aren't the only framework your team can use to turn your strategy into execution without all the distractions along the way, but it is a comprehensive, yet simple to follow framework we like to use to help us combat requests that don't impact the most important business outcomes for the organization.

Prioritizing your time for conversation design

Sometimes the loudest voice in a room isn't always the one you should follow. With conversation design teams being newer to organizations, it can be easy to take on too much for the sake of showing the value of your work as quickly as possible.

Instead, aligning your work with that of the goals of the business and focusing on executing towards that goal before taking on other requests can ensure that your time is being used wisely and you're able to bring more value to your company.

If your team does have more time to take on additional projects, you can still prioritize requests by asking about:

Volume: How many interactions with this experience get? Is it worth it to engage with that percentage of your user base?

Experience: What does the customer experience look like right now? Are you optimizing an existing behavior or creating an entirely new one?

Handoff: Will you have to work with multiple teams to ensure handoff from a bot to a human happens seamlessly? What does the routing look like? Are those rules already built out?

Historical Conversations: Has a conversational experience existed for this audience to use as a frame of reference for the new experience? Will you be building an entire flow from scratch or using intents, utterances, and entities from previous conversations to help craft each path?

Multi-Modal: Will this experience span across channels? Are the verbal and written commands already known by users? If you're including imagery in the chat experience, do those designs exist already?

Key takeaways

Asking these questions to internal teams requesting conversational experiences can help you determine the amount of work that would go into the request, help your team prioritize, and give you a better communication path with the requesting team.

Protecting your time - and your team's time - will help you make a massive impact on everyone involved. Implementing a sound strategy and following these 4 core disciplines will make outside conversation design requests digestible and manageable, ultimately boosting the bottom line for your team and the business as a whole.


The art of presenting conversation design work

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