Make demos part of your start up culture

Every startup should have weekly demos. Demos are a great way to create a healthy start up culture by reinforcing three areas where startups typically excel — transparency, collaboration, and communication.

What is a demo? A demo is simply a demonstration of a product or technique. They are typically to a broad, but not necessarily large, audience. It is a time and place to showcase what various teams are spending time on (from small new features to more long-term strategy goals) and open up a discussion about how or why that is time well-spent.

What a demo is not:

  • It is not an opportunity to show powerpoint slides.
  • It is not an opportunity to talk about things you are going to do. Ideas are cheap.

Why do it at all?

  1. Communication Tool: To communicate to other teams progress on projects.
  2. Team building: It is an excuse to get all the teams together in the same room., Often after a demo I feel that people realize we are all working towards the same goal.
  3. Morale Booster: Give credit where credit is due (there is nothing better than watching people get excited about what another team is working on).

What projects should be demoed?

Anything that is actually being worked on!

How long should a demo last?

A demo should be about one hour with 2–4 short presentations and time for questions.

Who should attend?

This is simple…everyone! But more specifically:

  • Leadership: I can not stress this enough — any demo that has the CEO (or any other leadership) attending is already 30% better. Having leadership there means the payoff of demoing is higher, and to see leadership mixing it up with engineers over a technical detail builds good bridges for both sides. If necessary, write them an email asking them to join and why you think it is important for them to be there. So far at Republic, in over 100 demos, I can count on my hand the amount of times no leadership has attended. (Shout out to them BTW.)
  • Operations: I have found the most regular attendees at demos are the people from Operations. Often, this is where they see a tool that they requested months before that will make their lives much easier. They also will typically need to support the demoed product when it launches, and this might be the first time that it comes across their radar.

Who should demo?

  1. Every team should demo, at least once a month.
  2. Invite people and teams to talk about something they are working on even if they don’t have a physical thing to demo.

What technology do you need?

At Republic we use 3 things:

  • A projector.
  • Google Hangouts for screen sharing and remote dial-ins.
  • If you are demoing a mobile experience, we use on-device screen sharing through (until recently this has been a real challenge).

What does it take to organize a demo?

  1. Two hours before the demo I walk around to all the teams that usually demo and ask for volunteers. If I have a space to fill I will reach out to someone specifically to demo a project I know would be a good fit.
  2. One hour before the demo I send out an email with the agenda of the demo. This is really important; on the two occasions I did not send an email attendance dropped by 70%.
  3. Five minutes before the demo, I turn on the projector and test the basics (audio and screen sharing) Although it is 2016, this stuff has a habit of being difficult. (Protip: Invite someone from IT so they can be on-hand to troubleshoot issues.)
  4. Invite all those who are demoing to get connected to the Google Hangout session beforehand. Make sure they all know how to do screenshare. Nothing kills the momentum of a demo as fast as dead air during long pauses between setups.
  5. Do a recap of the agenda at the beginning to have an official start. (Also people tend to stop talking at this point.)
  6. If you are running demo, it is your job to make sure that relevant questions are being asked so that people watching the demo get the right context. Ask questions like, “why are we working on this?” or, “how is this different from what we currently do?” if those seemingly-obvious questions haven’t come up yet.
  7. Watch out for demos that start losing their way or go on too long. If you feel yourself getting bored, then the audience is probably bored too. Don’t be afraid to step in and ask a question that helps wrap up the demo. Something like, “Jon, this is really great work, what are your next steps?

I could go on more, but I would merely be preventing you from starting your own demo. Make 2016 the year your organization gets into this habit.

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