How to make toast

A take-out from the JLL Hackathon

Carolyn Trickett blog How to make toast - A take-out from the JLL Hackathon

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

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Why doesn't every App just magically work?

It's a good question. Why doesn't every App in the world just magically work the way we think it should work?

I once worked for a start-up software company with a very small team. Our manager was well connected in the industry, but he came from a hardware background. Whenever we were doing pre-sales with a new client, he would get infuriated by the level of detail we got into, and by the uncertainty that shrouded every discussion about what the client really needed. He said to me one day, "Why is it so difficult to sell software?".

I spend a lot of my working life trying to get people to articulate what they need. Many people will focus on explaining why they need a new App, why it will disrupt the company or even the whole industry – and how it will change everything. That perspective is perfect for the business case, but it's only a part of the story.

Marketing people tend to focus on the look and feel. It will have an edgy, modern feel about it. It will be intuitive.

Before you can build it, you have to articulate how it will work

No matter how complex or simple the idea, there's one thing that remains true - before you can build it, you have to be able to articulate how it will actually work, what the user experience will be. If you can't articulate it, then nobody will ever be able to structure a software program to do it. And you can be doubly sure that nobody will be able to test it to a point where they can say, without a doubt, that it does what it is meant to do.

So, how do you get non-software people to tell you what they want?

An exercise that perfectly illustrates this dilemma

At the JLL Hackathon, six teams were competing on a challenge to design a new App. Part of the learning process was an exercise that perfectly illustrates this dilemma - we made toast.

Everyone was given a pack of post-it notes and asked to draw a six-step diagram of how to make toast - in five minutes.

Easy! Everyone knows how to make toast. So, we diligently drew our little diagrams.

Then we had to stick them on a wall, our six post-it notes in a row, each person's version under the last. We then saw how differently we all thought of the process of making toast. Some people focused on the human element of hunger at the start, and satisfaction at the end. Some people focused on the purchase of bread and butter, others on the toaster itself.

How I made toast

My version involved using a bread knife to cut a slice of bread. Why did I do that? I buy my bread already sliced! It also involved a decision point after toasting, to go back and toast more if the bread is not dark enough.

How I made toast

Shortly afterwards, we used the same post-it note exercise on the concept for our App. Our team had discussed our idea for a full hour and we were sure we agreed on how it would work. But again, the exercise proved that we didn't agree, and we then had to spend another hour aligning and agreeing on what the key functions would be - how the user would actually step through the experience.

Start by making some toast

So, next time you're trying to move forward with the latest great idea, start by getting everyone on the team to make toast. It's a powerful, visual way of understanding how each of your stakeholders visualises how your great idea could work.

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