UW Blueprint
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UW Blueprint

An Inside Look at VP Project Scoping

UW Blueprint is a student-run club that provides top-tier tech for non-profit organizations. Founded at the University of Waterloo in 2016, we could not have provided strong partnerships with NPOs without the dedication, passion, and time of our members.

For the past five years, UW Blueprint has taken on 30+ projects partnering with non-profit organizations (NPO) to provide technological services for those in need and empower student volunteers to work in tech for social good.

Initially, executive members shared the responsibility of scouting new partnerships with NPOs. As UW Blueprint took on more projects, we needed a dedicated position to scale client outreach efforts. Therefore, the VP Project Scoping role was created to tackle the challenge of discovering and selecting meaningful, impactful projects for the upcoming term.

What is the VP Project Scoping role?

The VP Project Scoping (VPPS) takes ownership of finding non-profit partners that align with Blueprint’s mission and values. They consult with project candidates to identify technical challenges and potential solutions and evaluate proposals based on a number of criteria designed to predict project success. Communication and organizational skills are key to simultaneously managing multiple client relationships and iteratively developing strategic plans for each project.

This role relies heavily on internal collaboration with other Blueprint members. The VP Trifecta (VP of Engineering, VP of Design, VP of Product) are important consultants in the scoping process as they provide insights on project feasibility and team resource allocation. Throughout the term, the VPPS also invites Blueprint members to join ‘scoping pods’, which typically consist of 1 developer, 1 designer, and 1 product manager, to sit in on client meetings and give feedback.

There are multiple avenues to discover potential NGO partners, one being the Blueprint website’s external application. With Blueprint’s growing reputation in the non-profit community, we receive many inquiries that the VPPS would follow up on at the beginning of every project cycle. External sites such as the Government of Canada’s list of registered charities are leveraged to explore new possible clients as well.

How is a project scoped?

A typical proposal timeline is as follows: initial outreach -> introduction meeting -> scoping pod consultation -> client scoping workshop -> trifecta deliberations -> org wide deliberations -> project selection and finalization.

In the initial phases, the VP Project Scoping’s main priority is to determine whether the client has a problem that Blueprint can reasonably tackle within a 4, 8, or 12-month timeline. They would refer to past projects to establish our strong history in creating web applications and speak to Blueprint’s mission to make technology accessible to communities in need. After learning more about an organization’s background and pain points in the first meeting, the VPPS would discuss whether the partnership is viable to pursue with the scoping pod (as defined before) and if yes, schedule a scoping workshop with the partner. The workshop consists of a collaborative brainstorming session exploring possible solutions, project and business objectives/constraints, product users, etc.; by the end of the meeting, both the client and the VPPS should walk away with a clear understanding of what Blueprint would build if the project is approved in the subsequent rounds of deliberations.

The four main factors to be considered in a potential project are as follows: organizational need, community impact, technical feasibility, and project scope.

  • Organizational need: How does this product improve current business processes (% efficiency, $ saved etc.)? How does it align with long-term organizational vision? How urgently does this product need to be built to address existing concerns?
  • Community impact: How does this product impact the people that the non-profit serves? Does the non-profit understand the challenges encountered by the community in need and how this solution aligns with solving these problems?
  • Technical feasibility: Are the desired product features commonly built-in software products (payment system, information database) or near the frontiers of what can be built (AI-driven insights, in-browser video game)? Can we reuse previously built features from other projects to streamline product development? If the product requires specialized skills, do we have a concrete hiring plan to address these needs?
  • Project scope: Can the product be realistically completed in a 4/8/12 month timeline? Does the project show any sign of potential scope creep? Are there any external factors such as user interviews and third-party services that could prolong the project?

One thing to note about the scoping process is the importance of considering multiple opinions and quantifying each project’s potential to rigorously determine the best course of action. As aforementioned, the VP Trifecta and the respective scoping pods for each potential client are essential collaborators and should be continuously surveyed to gather valuable feedback.

Once every project has been adequately scoped, they would be brought to a consultation meeting with the VP trifecta and co-presidents to finalize outstanding details. The VPPS would then host a Blueprint-wide deliberation meeting to formally present each proposal and subject the final project selection to a democratic process; after guiding every member through the four main factors related to a project, everyone is given the chance to score every project and the ideas with the most support are chosen for development the following term.

What makes a good VP Project Scoping?

The role of VP Project Scoping is unique in its multidisciplinary nature and independent workflow. Between managing client relationships, drafting solution proposals, assessing technical risk, organizing meetings with adequate documentation, and driving multiple initiatives forward, the VPPS draws upon foundational knowledge in product management and business operations. To excel in this position, an ideal candidate would demonstrate critical thinking strategies to formulate effective solutions, strong communication skills (like asking the right questions!), interest in developing software products, and efficient information organization.

As Blueprint navigates its continued mission in promoting tech for social good, the VPPS would be a critical player in discovering new partnerships and ensuring the organization’s continued track record of success in impactful projects. They direct Blueprint’s project roadmap for the next term and have a strong influence on the trajectory of current and future initiatives. Alumni often speak to the distinctively challenging but interesting problems that arise from the more ambiguous role, and increased confidence in leading client discussions and crafting comprehensive solutions.

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The position of VP Project Scoping is fairly unique to Blueprint, with great potential for growth and impact in the organization. While a technical background may be useful, a successful VPPS ultimately exhibits a passion for non-profit outreach and demonstrates initiative in solving problems.

If you’re interested in learning more about this role and/or joining Blueprint, stay tuned for Spring 2022 term applications!

Written by Gabby Chan (Fall 2021 VP Project Scoping)

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