Starting a new project can be complex. Maybe you are on a rare occasion that the briefing is very complete and most of the team knows a lot about it already, but usually, most people face that moment “how do I even get this started?” where you don’t have all the information, or the brief is incomplete or you will need to reach some people to understand more about it. Sounds familiar?
Fortunately, there is an organized method for a better start, whether for creating a new app, software, or even improving features, but the reality is you can use it in any situation that involves solving a problem.
Most projects involve a lot of professionals and it is normal for each person to have their own vision, experiences, and different information that they can add to the project, so the CSD matrix — which is the Portuguese acronym for “Certezas, Suposições e Dúvidas” (Certainties, Suppositions, and Doubts) can be used as a quick and powerful way to start a new project, raising what the people involved in the project knows about the subject, leveling the knowledge among the team members and create an action plan for your discovery phase.
Get your team (and any necessary stakeholders) together in a room or online call, get some post-its (or use an online collaborative whiteboard, like Miro), and write everything that comes to our minds about the project — all the things you already know about, things you would like to discover, and even things you don’t have any idea. You can write or question anything: business, target, goal, processes, technology, etc. Just mind putting one question or affirmation per post-it.
After everyone finishes writing, read it out loud and place it in the column where you and the team think it belongs best, debating and grouping similar points whenever necessary.
- What appears to be the absolute truth — goes to Certainties.
- When there are different opinions about the same subject — put into Supposition.
- For everything that is unknown about the project, goes into Doubt.
Notice that what you personally consider to be certain, could end up in the supposition area if the team is not sure about it too, but only until proven otherwise. This area avoids discussions, allowing the team to move forward and focus on what’s really certain.
This sure is a great starting point to put everyone on the same page, making it easier to understand the process and align the team, but the real thing is that it often ends up being “just” a starting dynamic of a project, and end up lost, but the CSD Matrix can (and may) be used throughout the project, by reviewing and constantly updating while the project grows.
Creating an action plan
After running countless dynamics at the beginning of projects, I and my teams felt that something was missing to connect to our reality since the material always ended up inside a folder and we forgot about its existence.
To make this more useful and relevant we tried to use it in a lot of different ways, but in the end, everything seemed very meaningless. Until one day when we talked about this subject we ended up raising the following question:
What action should we take to validate the issues raised?
We have since used that question as a direction after we completed the CSD matrix, and we created a spreadsheet with an extra column to include an action plan. This file ends up being one of the steps of my discovering design process and is being really helpful to choose what will be the next steps in the discovery process and to create semi-structured scripts for interviewing with stakeholders, users, data collection, etc.
I’m not sure if this is the best solution and neither do I think everything is perfect, but I usually work in lean teams working on large projects, so I’m constantly adapting different methodologies to our daily lives trying to be more and more assertive. If you have any ideas or would like to talk about processes, I’m always open to listen and discuss in order to improve myself and my processes.