Gold Plated Butterfly

Design Thinking needs to be applied with careful attention to solving the right problem. Design Thinking can be about finding the most robust, creative, or value-rich solution, or it may be about designing the most elegantly simple solution as that is the best overall fit to the goals of the project.

A recent example:  A mobile phone application for field collection of population and other data is in use by a science community. The application is pre-loaded with all species types found in a region, and includes a lightweight database to temporarily store data. Data is off-loaded at the end of each collection period so there is no need to store lots of data over a long period. The application does support a long-standing collection protocol that must be consistently followed to ensure valid science.

Volunteers with limited science and technology skills are employed to assist with the survey process. Time spent training volunteers must focus on the integrity of the protocol to support the science, and much less on how to navigate the application.


The current application is cumbersome especially for a new volunteer to navigate to the correct data entry page. It can take multiple screen actions that are disjointed to reach the starting point for data entry. The goals of a re-designed application include:

  • Reduced number of steps to get to correct data entry page
  • Use of existing data upload process and file format
  • Simple, straightforward, without extras (gold plating)
  • Ease of installation, administration, and support
  • Designed to support the current protocol, the core needs of the users, and the results desired by the science community (stakeholders)
  • No need for GPS data or because-we-can-features (no user/scientific need)

This is a case study in what can go wrong when a developer is enamored with creative possibilities and the innovation that technology can deliver. It is a study in acknowledging a stakeholder as they describe their needs, but framing what is heard by individual aspirations and ideas resulting in a set of requirements that does not accurately reflect the goals of the project. This is an example of working from high level objectives, but not applying a systematic use case approach to understanding and documenting what the system must do to meet project objectives.

The developer, an enthusiastic and talented individual, created a wonderful new application. It had everything he had envisioned that would be useful, but less that was connected to the actual needs of the stakeholders. Unfortunately, as the lead scientist summarized, “I wouldn’t use it”. A new project has recently been initiated with a new developer.

Best Practices:

  • The development of use cases from multiple perspectives, and behavioral analysis to create detailed functional requirements is recommended.
  • A Project Scope Baseline (Project Scope Statement, WBS, WBS Dictionary) is an valuable project reference to guide development and consideration of any future change.
  • A Requirements Traceability Matrix is also a valuable resource for scope control and to support future change management.