It can be uncomfortable to launch a new project and not immediately begin discussing solutions; especially when deadlines are tight; but starting off with even a small amount of learning and research can give teams a strong foundation throughout the product process. I like to start projects by establishing a team wide understanding of what the problem is. This shared understanding will align and empower teams to develop better solutions.
Half of good design is looking, listening, and learning. Before developing a solution to a problem, a team has to understand the people who will be using the solution and how it will actually fit into their lives. Too often I see teams make assumptions about audience that cost time and money to redeisgn and redevelop later. Time spent researching the people using a product will save far more in the long run.
Few project are simply "design driven". A number of stakeholders will have requirements or requests for a project. Some will often be mutually exclusive. I work to understand those requirements; balance them against the design and each other; communicate limitations and tradeoffs; and find the optimal solution for the product.
Only after developing a strong understanding of problem, audience, and stakeholder requirements can a team reasonably start developing a solution. This is still a learning process, and design and visioning is all about "getting all the legos on the table". Understanding the space of possible solutions, eliminating some, and creating a strong starting point for prototyping and testing.
For me, prototyping is about mitigating risks and answering questions. Teams should prioritize open questions in order of the risk they pose to project success; and build rapid prototypes specifically to answer these questions. Good prototypes have as few features and as little polish as neccissary. Good testing begins with simple prototype tests with the team, and evolves to use outside test participants to provide the team with honest, unbiased perspectives on the work.
Production can be a grind, but is where all the research, prototyping, and iteration can really pay off. Testing at this stage should be focused on validating that the product is coming together properly and making small 'mid-course corrections' as the product comes into focus. Once in production, I aim to avoid as much churn as possible.
Launch is the beginning of the process, not the end. I like to focus on the logistics and details of how people are getting ahold of the product. Marketing messages, app descriptions, and all the presentation associated a launch are the first chance to prime new users. Once an application is released, support, analysis, and iteration become critical. I use a combination of metrics driven design, and human-centric user research techniques to inform post-launch design decisions.
Even on small projects, teams learn a huge amount developing new projects. Sharing this newfound knowledge within an organization, and with the larger design and development community is key to helping develop better products in the future. I regularly write and speak on my experiences designing and developing experiences and am constantly looking to learn from the experiences of others.