IBM Design Bootcamp (Part 2)

Navigating the Pivot

Photo Credit: Felix Herrmann

This is part 2 in my six-part blog series detailing the ins-and-outs of what its like to make my way into the IBM Design world. This is a repost from the IBM Jobs Blog; read original here.


“Don’t try to be the domain expert. You will not understand everything, and that’s okay.” — Patrick Chew

After wrapping up our accessibility Hackathon, we entered the Microproject portion of IBM Design Bootcamp, where we work with an IBM product team to solve a real problem — in just four weeks.

Our 45-person Bootcamp is divided among three Microprojects: Onboarding, Security, and Bluemix.

My team’s Microproject came from the IBM Security team — one of the smartest and most badass group of people I’ve ever met.

At the kickoff, we listened to an overview of IBM Security — an incredibly complex field — and received our three project “hills.” Hills, in IBM Design Thinking, turn users’ needs into project goals, helping us align around a common vision for our project . Five person sub-teams are dedicated to each hill.

Our stakeholders asked us to apply our hills to an existing Security product, knowing that our concepts should scale to all products in the future. Our microproject team decided to focus on the product with the most wide-spread use.

Each project follows a systematic timeline. At the end of every week, we’ll have a playback to track our progress, report on milestones, and receive feedback from our stakeholders (design leads and architects of the IBM products).

  • Week 1: Research
  • Week 2: Concepts
  • Week 3: Vision
  • Week 4: Final Playback

Week 1: Research. With our product selected, we dove in deep and discovered its remarkable complexity. We formulated analogies like basketball teams and soup recipes to understand our three hills in relation to each other. We developed empathy for our users, crafted personas and as-is scenarios, and learned the pain points in our user’s workflow.

We worked hard on our first playbacks, wanting to successfully communicate our understanding of the space. Our three Security Microproject playbacks were cohesive, and we painted a very clear picture of our users.

Alas, things are not always so rosy.

The Pivot

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” — John Wooden

Later that day, the Security team’s design executive, one of our main stakeholders, came to speak with us. Having been on a client visit all week, she apologized for not stepping in sooner.

Then she informed us that she wanted us to focus on a different IBM Security product — one in its earliest stages. Here, our designs could be more feasibly implemented, and we’d have the opportunity to influence the product’s positioning and direction.

Her reasoning made sense . But UGH, “redirecting our research” felt a whole lot like starting over. Was the past week really just a waste? We were devastated.

Ultimately, we came to a realization: failing to pivot would result in outcomes that were dead-on-arrival — a total waste of four weeks. But if we could work through this pivot and press forward, we would make the best use of our time.

To say this was a big learning experience is an understatement. We failed. But what’s important is how quickly we picked ourselves up. We understood the benefit of switching focus and the long-term opportunities that came with it. From there, we broke down our research and rebuilt it in a new space.

It was one roller coaster of a day. This incident was totally unplanned, mimicking real-life perfectly. It taught me — and my team — to fail fast and learn faster. We couldn’t do anything but understand why, navigate the pivot, and move forward. It was a true test of character.


“Never stop experimenting. Never Stop Playing” — Brad Woodard

We do fun things too! In the second week of our Microproject, we took a break from our day-to-day work for a full-day conference: CraftCon.

Photo Credit: Patrick Chew

CraftCon was planned by our amazing section leads; we got to hear from phenomenal designers like Laurie Frick, Brad Woodard and DJ Stout, in addition to shorter sessions led by IBM designers on their areas of expertise and passion projects.

Photo Credit: Patrick Chew

For me, one of the most delightful sessions was by Brad Woodard, an inspiring and influential digital illustrator. He spoke about his career path, showing many of his illustrations along the way. He ignited my passion for design. He explained how each phase of his life taught him something new and how that all culminated into where he is today.

This helped me zoom out and gain perspective on who I am as a person and why I am a designer. There’s no singular experience that makes me who I am; it’s an entire mosaic. And from this thousand-foot view, I’m starting to see that Design Bootcamp is one of the amazing experiences that is developing me as a person and shaping me as a designer — adding pieces to the mosaic that is becoming my career.

Read the rest of the stories here.

Thanks for reading — If you liked this post, please hit the green heart below! I will be writing more posts around major milestones to reflect on my time at IBM Design Bootcamp.

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