The October 2014 cohort is about to begin their final projects. The last assignment is Crowdfunder, a copy of Kickstarter, for which possible user stories total up to about 40. On this week’s fateful Monday afternoon, when the assignment was introduced, we were explicitly instructed to work in groups. Most of my cohort opted to work with one other person in a pair. I decided to work in a group of four people. If you listen to the previous cohort’s podcast here (https://soundcloud.com/bit_by_bit/bitmaker-labs-podcast-episode), they will let you know that this probably won’t be a good idea for the final project. But for experience’s sake, I wanted to try it out on Crowdfunder, because it’s the last assignment meant to prepare you for the project. And moreover, in today’s work environments, especially in modern-day devshops, working in a team is near inevitable.
That being said, the challenges in working in a group of more than two aren’t as monumental as I first expected. Today’s the last day of the assignment. Throughout the days, it required clear communication, patience, and strategy. Sound GitHub practices will save your sanity, and keep the momentum going. I’d like to outline the most important difficulties and offer some words of encouragement.
ProductTO is a casual tech meetup of about 50 guests who get to participate in a small group discussion about Product Management. If you’re wondering what exactly Product Managers do, see the slide at the end with some quotes from Jack Dorsey of Twitter, David Kelley of IDEO, among other notables. Last Tuesday at Shopify’s Toronto headquarters, Elizabeth Caley (VP of Product at Firmex), Daniel Patricio (Product Manager at Shopify), and Tarun Sachdeva (Head of Product at Wattpad) each brought up an issue or challenge to discuss. The discussion encompassed a topic of interest for us Bitmakers: before the launch of a product, how can we ensure that we understand the user to implement the right features and design? In a way, we are all going to be playing the role of a PM for our final projects. We’ll be making decisions on what our minimum viable product entails, keep track of our progress, and design the “final” product.
During the group discussion with Tarun from Wattpad, he said that it’s important as a product manager to fundamentally understand and “get” who his users are. For his team at Wattpad, a self-publishing platform for anyone and everyone to write stories and share them, knowing who the users are is not at all self-evident. The team at Wattpad strives to conduct extensive research beyond what their users do with their product, but to find out what they do on the internet as a whole. They found that these storytellers, mostly in their teens and well connected with their peers on social media, have launched off of Wattpad to extended their reach into YouTube videos, blogs, etc. They tell stories in all kinds of mediums, and their goals, wants, and habits are informed by this single drive. It helps Tarun’s team understand and foresee what these users want from their product (one for each platform). It helps them also to adapt to changes or shifts in user desires in the future.
When you’re whittling down to a single project idea, try to see if it has one single purpose for a specific user. This week, I’ve received the advice from some of our instructors to “build something that solves a problem in your life.” Another advice I heard was to “make it simple.” After attending the ProductTO meetup, I have a better grasp of what exactly they had meant by that.
The advice “build something to solve your own problem” is to help you identify who the user is. It’s an easier question to answer if that user is essentially yourself. Because you’re able to fully identify and empathize with that “user,” you’ll be able to create a more intuitive solution. And more importantly, your product will stay within a specific scope without trying to do too many things at once. (It really shouldn’t be trying to please everybody, so to speak.) That’s why Tarun wants to know what Wattpad users do outside of his app.
And “make it simple” is something to keep in mind even after the Minimum Viable Product. Every time you suggest a new feature, you have to ensure it’s not only feasible (budget, time, technical constraints), but also that it meets user expectations.
I’d highly recommend attending a ProductTO event. It’s a casual, and less intimidating event where you get to have in-person discussions with professionals in the field. See how they respond to your ideas! They deal with the problem of viable products every day, and had years of experience in wrestling with their user stories. Getting to hangout at Shopify’s shiny Toronto office sure didn’t hurt either.
Exactly a week ago I had my first hackathon. The process of drafting user stories, drawing out model associations, then writing the code itself with another person was great experience to have sooner than later. And we achieved an MVP, a walking skeleton. But throughout the twenty-or-so hours, I wished I could contribute a lot more than I did. I found that I was providing ideas for solutions, and took the backseat when executing those ideas.
The applications that Bitmaker alumni created for their final project gave me a fresh sense of urgency and inspiration. The October cohort is well into the second half of our training period. It’s time to set a clear goal and work day by day to get closer to that end point.
It’s a coincidence that I’ve recently finished reading The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. His book is a compilation of research that supports his advice: find and stick to one thing; aim for mastery. He hedges that with several chapters of practical guidance (ex. Aim for the Big Goal that’s just within possibility, but outline exactly what small steps to take to get there).
Another great advice that a former Bitmaker told me was to find a good pairing partner. The difference in skill level may not be as significant as how willing the two of you are willing to work together. Explaining your own though processes out loud, and making sure you’re on the same page is not as easy as it sounds. I definitely wasn’t used to it at first, and had to consciously make myself verbalize what I’m thinking.
In the next week, I’ll be working on my front-end dev skills in preparation for the final project. I’m also going to try building a Rails app from scratch on my own to be able to work through the back-end process with more ease. Bit by bit, as we say here, I hope to become a full-stack dev!
Originally posted here on November 22, 2013.