Sofar’s App Strategy

The Challenge

Facing limited time and resources to develop a solid strategy for Sofar’s first mobile app, we decided to run a hackday to kick off ideation and come up with presentable ideas in just one day.

We wanted our ideas to benefit from our team’s different skill sets and perspectives, so a setting where we can create things in collaboration was important.

The Approach

That structure kills creativity is a myth

When I asked the team one day before the hackday how exactly they want to approach the day, I realised that none of my teammates had a clue, let alone a plan. From previous workshops with clients, I knew that preparation is key to achieve the intended outcome within such a short time frame. If you start a session unprepared, you’ll spend half of the day defining what to do and the other half of convincing teammates that this is the right way to go, while wasting everyone’s time.

So I decided to come up with a workshop plan that ensures we finish the day with a clear direction and tangible ideas we can present to stakeholders.

Start with goals, then plan the steps to achieve them

When planning a workshop, the biggest mistake is to start by putting methods together that sound promising or exciting. In this way, we run the risk of doing exercises that don’t contribute to the desired outcome. In the design context, this approach can be compared to designing an interface before it’s clear what problem needs to be solved.

So the first thing I did was defining the workshop’s goal as well as the output, which are indeed two different things. Whereas the goal was to have a clear and shared direction for the mobile app, the output was defined as paper prototypes that demonstrate this direction.

agenda
Extract of the workshop’s agenda. By adding responsibilities and related documents, participants know what to prepare and who is in charge.

Pick methods from the toolkit that help to achieve these goals

Not every workshop needs an output in form of something tangible and creative. I conducted workshops where the output was a product vision in one sentence or two very clear goals. Often workshops are used for converging ideas and opinions, so it’s quality, not quantity, which counts most here.

In our case though, we wanted to create as many ideas as possible. To achieve this, I chose rapid prototyping and sketching exercises like crazy eights where everyone gets their hands dirty.

crazy-eights_mini
Some of sketches which resulted from the crazy eights exercise.

Defining the problem space before diving into solutions

Before we could become creative, we had to develop an understanding of the problem space and its boundaries. This was when we made big decisions, like defining the target market, and discussed constraints, like the current system logic.

problem-space_small2
Mapping user problems against business needs is a good way to define the problem space.

Staying flexible while conducting the workshop

Although structuring a workshop in advance is important to not lose crucial collaboration time, the course of the workshop may change depending on how challenges and constraints evolve. For instance, we realised during our persona exercise that we were lacking data to develop useful and validated personas.
On the other hand, we had some clearly defined segments from previous research and analytics.

So we decided to skip the persona exercise and defined the target audience based on these segments.
The time we gained could then be used to map the user’s journey which led to the app’s key screens and functionalities.

paper-sketches-3_mini
The remaining time was spent on refining the ideas from the crazy eights exercise.

Translating the workshop’s outcome into the app’s strategy

After the workshop, I documented our outcomes and shared them with the team to make sure everyone has the same understanding of the decisions being made during the workshop.

Things can get messy in creative workshops, so the aim was now to move away from all the colourful stickies and extract the most important decisions in a way everyone can understand, especially people who haven’t participated in the workshop.

The strategy document I prepared contained:

contents-checklist

The Solution

The app’s strategy was the starting point for its design and development

The document I prepared was finally handed over to the mobile team which was hired to design and develop the app. It served as the starting point for further design and development work and helped new employees to understand the app’s direction and the reasons behind the decisions being made.

I continued to support the mobile team with user research, ideation and by setting the visual language for the app. The first version of the native app was released in March 2017 and is now available in the UK App Store and Google Play Store.

TOP LESSONS LEARNED

A workshop is just the beginning of something bigger

As well as every meeting, a one day workshop should end with clear actions assigned to the attendees. Otherwise the momentum gained during the workshop will quickly fade away as soon as the workshop is over. Sharing the documentation afterwards reminds everyone what the next steps are. Keeping it brief and concise ensures that it’s actually read.

Productive collaboration requires the team’s commitment

As a facilitator, you have to deal with the participants’ different expectations and understandings of collaboration. While I knew about the benefits of having an agenda and shared goals, this was something I had to introduce to my co-workers who weren’t used to this kind of structure. Diving into the session and producing great results turned out to be the most convincing technique. We’re now doing a lot more workshops at Sofar.

There’s no better way to learn than collaboration

Collaborative workshops, whether with your team or with users in co-creation workshops, demand multiple of the designer’s skills at the same time. Besides the obvious ones like ideating, sketching and prototyping, the designer practices communicating goals and decisions, listening to different opinions, and mediating between different types of people. It’s collaboration where designers reach their full potential.