Starting at the end

Chapter 4 of StG

Part of the Series: “Creating Sam the Guide”. A series of stories to chronicle the experience of going from idea to app.
Chapter 3: Step 2: Starting from the beginning.

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Design Sprint Overview

Sam insisted that she was very interested in the project and was a bit frustrated that we could not move forward faster, but it was just impossible to find a time with her to coordinate.

After our last call, we had agreed to organize a Design Sprint, but Sam was always busy to do her homework. She would not miss our phone calls, but if she was not delivering the results, it was impossible to move forward. I hated that. Because it was just confusing. When someone is not engaged, it is easy to dismiss. But when someone is half-engaged, and during that moment, she is very demanding, it just results in busywork. There is no value at the end of it. However, it was hard to stand up to Sam. She commanded the meeting and somehow manage to keep me quiet

We were just daydreaming about feature after feature that she was pitching me at me. I would just smile and try to give feedback on that individual idea, always closing with the remark, “but we need to validate with users”. I would try to bring the idea of doing the workshop we had agreed last time, and she would always say that she had no time to check the availability of the participants, but she will do it next time.

After two meetings on the same tenor, I lost my cool. I told Sam that this was not productive, there is no point on having two intense working session when there was no follow-through. There was no point in hearing her daydream about fantastic features and services she wanted to implement when we were not implementing anything.

“Well, I want to go ahead and implement but this Design Sprint workshop you keep mentioning feels like a waste of time” — She retorted. — “I want to start implementing all the features I have been talking about it and go out to the market to sell. But I need you to do that, go and get developers and start implementing ahead, we can we have this workshop later on to correct course.”

My blood boiled after hearing that. She went back to the same place where she was when she contacted me. She disregarded everything we had agreed upon. It was bonkers and I wanted to shout at her and tell her she was being stupid. But my inner conciliator kicked-in.

“I agree with you, we need to move fast. But what you are suggesting, it is to do exactly the same you did before you contacted me. Just now, I am now your middle man instead of your developer.” — I said calmly, or at least I think it was calmly.

“Exactly! Let’s get moving” — She replied.

“Sam for fuck’s sake! This is not the best way to deliver value. You are proposing to move backwards. Not forward. I already told you, we need to validate your idea by doing a mock implementation and test it with users. There is a very useful, and validated, framework to do that called the Design Sprint. We had agreed to move in that direction. But then because of this lockdown or whatever, we are moving slower than expected and you get antsy and want to go back to what you think makes sense. Even though you have already seen that it does not deliver value. I know you are the decider of your company and head honcho, but I need you to do 3 things, first: take a step back and let the project move without you micromanaging it; second: appoint someone who owns this project and can follow through work at least until the next step is completed; third, let’s do the Design Sprint ASAP!”. — I just shouted back. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually a bit shaken. That is not how I respond or talk to people.

I saw over the camera Sam looking at me looking extremely mad and all flushed. She just said a very polite “Fuck you” and hanged-up on me.

I have always tried being assertive, but my emphatic mode tended to overtake my conversations. But this time I felt like I have crossed a line. I was upset too. I decided to go out for a walk and try to calm myself and think of an email to send her. I did not want to quit on the project, but if Sam did not address my demands then I had no option. I did not want to be a rubber-stamper.

Just as I finished setting the leashes on the dogs and started to walk outside I felt my phone vibrate. It was a message from Maria, the daughter of Sam.

“Hey, mom says that I am the now the project manager of StG and that I should coordinate with you to plan this sprint thing. Also, mom told me to tell you fuck you.”

I was surprised reading it, I did not expect it. I also thought Maria was probably a good choice. She was part of the team that participated in the LDJ almost 3 weeks ago, and we agreed that the Design Sprint should comprise the same team. Maria was also motivated by the “Why” of the product, even if she did not know exactly “How” or “What”.

Before I could reply to Maria, I then got another message on my phone, this time from Sam.

“Fuck you. In case the new Project Manager did not relay my message to you. I got you in this project to help make StG a reality. I will follow your advice then.”

Maria and I agreed to have a meeting that same day to discuss what we were going to do. We connected over video chat and first, we got up to speed quickly on what she knew and what I knew about the situation. Second, we started planning the Design Sprint.

The Design Sprint is a 4-day workshop, or a series of workshops. We are going to use version 2.0, which is a bit different than the one originally proposed by Google but not by much, it just frees the time of the executives a bit better.

The Design Sprint is useful to validate implemented solutions to complex problems. Like what we have currently at hand. We just don’t go to people and ask them if they think we have a cool idea, we show them an implementation and ask them to do things.

We need the team to participate and some experts and users that will test the implemented version. I recommend we keep the team that your mom formed for the previous session. I know your mom and Abraham are usually really busy, but it would be great if they can join at different moments of the workshop. Not randomly to say hello, rather to make important decisions.

“OK, Can you explain to me the objective of the different workshops?” — Asked me, Maria — “Once I understand the objective of the sessions we can make decisions together”.

Great, so let’s start. I need the team for the whole time, 6 hours a day plus one hour of lunch. The Team really needs to clear their agenda, I don’t want them working six hours on this and then going back to their normal jobs to do a full day. Of course, they can answer emails and so on. But not a full day.

Now let’s see what we will do each day.

Day 0

This is what we are doing right now. We need to select the right people to attend the sessions. The team that will be driving the product, but also the person that is the ultimate decider, in this case, Sam

Day 1

Session: Understand the problem

The objective of this session is to understand the problem and the domain and all the different variables that can influence them. To do this, we need to invite experts that can help provide context and answer our questions once we have defined the problem we are tackling.

Here we need Sam and Abraham for sure because it sets the variables for the future.

“How many experts do we need”? — Asked Maria.

Well, enough to help us understand the problem in the allotted time. I recommend three. I like to have them at the same time.

I would recommend that we invite:

  1. Expert in business coaching.
  2. Expert in sociology and women studies. I know someone from University that can help here.
  3. Expert in inclusion and entrepreneurship. I know someone that works on an NGO on this too.

Session: Define Goals and Map the Problem

Based on everything we know now, we define the goal that we are proposing to address the problem.

We now do a map of how the user will solve the problem. It is not technological related, we just create the flow of the user achieving the expected goal. This map will help us decide exactly on which aspect to focus to provide a solution.

Again, here your mom and Abraham are needed.

“Why do you need Abraham?” — Maria interrupted me — “I get why my mom is needed. But why Abraham?”.

“Well, Sam told me that Abraham is the CFO and he has a lot of influence on projects. He needs to be on board. Sam is the decider, but Abraham must be on the same page and on board with the project”.

Session: Create solutions

Now that we understand the problem, the context and we have a proposed way of solving the problem, we need to start coming up with solutions. During this session, all the participants will provide their input about how the solution needs to look like.

I would say that Sam and Abraham are optional here.

Day 2

Session: Select the solutions

Now that the whole team has been creating solutions, we need to start selecting the ones that the team believe are best.

Again here, Sam and Abraham are needed.

Session: Focus on One Solution

During the last session, we started selecting the solutions that best fit the philosophy of the team. We now storyboard a full solution, providing details that were obviated before. We don’t need a full app, but something with a bit of meat so that we can create an implementation of the idea.

I would like that Sam and Abraham are here during the whole session. But if they are too busy, they need to come to the end of it.

Day 3

On this day, we don’t need Sam or Abraham at all.

Session: Create Prototype

At the end of the last day, we had agreed on a solution. It is time to build it in just one day. It needs to look and feel real, but it doesn’t have to be real. Remember the Wizzard of Oz example.

Since we are going for an App, I will bring a UX Designer to help us. However, we are also building service, so there is a chance we need to create a prototype of the App and of the Service overall.

Parallel Session: Find Users

We need to find users to test our prototype for the following day. I understand that you already have some identified, as the idea started from a talk your mom gave in your class. But we don’t only need your classmates, we need also other potential users. That is something that has to be done beginning today, but for sure it needs to be completed by this day.

We need about 8 users on deck. We would need to give them an incentive to participate, usually a voucher for an online store, but you could also give them money or something else that would convince them to participate.

Day 4

This is the day of testing with users. It is handy to have the team on deck, in case they need to do something or are part of the simulated service.

We would normally need a testing place, but since we can not meet in person, we will do them online.

Day 5

I need a meeting with the whole team to present the findings and results. This would be at most one hour.

That same day at night I got a message from Maria:

“We start next Monday at 9 am. Can you please confirm with the two experts you know? I found the business coach.”

Finally, after three weeks, things move along. We can start at the end.

Chapter 5: Day 1 of the Design Sprint — Part 1 (12.6.2020)

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