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Five Simple Tools to Unlock Innovation



Sarah Shewell talks about the five tools to help ignite innovation and expose unspoken customer needs, tools that come from each phase of the design thinking framework. She shares her experience with these tools used on her engineering teams at companies big and small. She also talks about the methods for connecting with our customers and taps into insights they wish they knew how to express.


Sarah Shewell is an engineering manager at Gravity Pymts. She helps teams discover what their customers need through empathy.

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Shewell: I am the Director of Engineering at Gravity Payments. We are a smaller company that loves to help level the playing field for all business, primarily serving small to medium business in their payment processing. A lot of the stories that I'm going to be sharing with you today come from my time at a local coffee company in Seattle, at Starbucks, and then also at Nordstrom. Just want to be explicit that I'll be sharing stories about my experience and these are my own views. What I really hope to do today for you is help you bring a little bit more joy into your work.

Let's talk about the goals for our talk today. We're part of the Optimizing You track. I want to help you optimize your work and do something to bring a little bit more enjoyment and innovation into what you're doing. Design thinking 101, almost all the tools that I'm going to be talking about today come from design thinking. Before I just start launching into that, I'll go over a high-level overview to ground us in what that is. I also want to give you five tools that you can go use right now that you don't need permission for. You don't need to go back and talk about we need to do a full transformation of how we're working. These are all things that you can personally do. If you're hearing about these ideas, just thinking, this is never going to fly and my team is not going to go for that. It's ok. You can use them individually.

Then also, I think it's really important for us to be shepherding the way for others to find more joy in their work. I know that we have a large percentage of people who are in leadership roles that are here attending the conference. I have been in a leadership role for a number of years. I see it as part of my primary function of my job to make sure that people go home at the end of the day, and they feel they've done meaningful work. They can go home and talk to their families about it. They can be proud of the work that they're doing. If you find any value in these tools, I implore you to pass it on and help teach others how to find more fulfillment from their job too.

When I think about my career, I think about it in really two phases. I think about pre-design thinking, human centered design work, and post, before I started using human centered design techniques and design thinking methods. The thing I really remember is the people on my team and how they made me feel. I remember the personalities. I don't remember the projects we were working on. I'm dating myself here. One of my first projects was making sure we didn't lose all of our data in Y2K. Successfully, we didn't. Other than that, those projects, I can't tell you the details about that. If I think about projects I started doing after I started using design thinking, I remember the customers I was trying to solve problems for. I remember about their frustrations, their pain points. I care about them. I think about them often. Are they still dealing with some of the same challenges? What are the new challenges they're dealing with? How do we continue evolving for them? As much as I'm sure every one of your employers that has you here today and understands that QCon is about innovation and leading edge things. I want you to be here to learn how to innovate for yourself and for your own meaning and joy.

What is Design Thinking About?

As we talk about design thinking, let's first talk about what IDEO classifies that as. IDEO calls it, design thinking is about de-risking ideas, prototyping early and often, and then learning from your users along the way. Who wouldn't love to take some risk out of their projects? It sounds pretty good. Also, with the prototyping. Prototyping can be fairly cheap. We can get some feedback loops and be learning from our customers all along the way. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

What is it? This is the 5 phases of design thinking as classified by Stanford How many people have seen this or have been exposed to design thinking methods in their companies? It's exciting. I'm a huge fan of Googleable things. I chose to use these five because you can type in design thinking and you will find a wealth of resources. The has put out an amazing crash course that you can take and use with your own team. They have facilitator guides you can print out. Gives you a minute-by-minute, everything you need to do to facilitate a design thinking crash course. It has materials to give to all of your participants, a supply list of what you need to buy. It even has two different Spotify playlists for active work. When people are coming into your session and they're getting excited, and then when you tell them to work quietly, something to stimulate thought. That's pretty amazing. It's all there for free. If this is interesting to you, definitely recommend checking it out. These 5 phases, we will be going over a specific tool from each. They are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.


Talking about empathizing, I've heard a lot about empathizing over the week here. It's been in many talks. I think as an industry, we have come a long way about empathizing with our users and connecting with them in different ways. We even have people whose full job it is to go and get those insights. How many people get data from a customer insights team, have access to that? I've had the benefit of that as well. It's very helpful. One of the things that I would like to challenge everyone to do is think about assumed truths. As we get data, or we go talk to our customers, we go and do that research. Before you start that, I want you to think about, what are you asking them? How do your own personal biases, preferences, things that you think about getting away from hearing what your customers' truth might be?

I'm going to share a story about myself here. I spent some time at Nordstrom. I worked in the Innovation Lab there, where we were able to go and really explore any problem that we had surface. That was wonderfully freeing. We could go explore all things. I've worked on a number of teams that have deep backlogs. All of them we go after customer data. While I was at Nordstrom, it was a personal struggle for me a little bit because I'm an introvert. I don't like shopping. I don't like going to the mall. One of their key differentiators as a business that I truly believe in and still I'm proud of, it's their personal relationships that their salespeople have with their customers. That's what sets them apart besides the fact that they might return tires. You can get a really incredible shopping experience. For me, I knew going into those customer interviews, anything a customer brought up that was self-service oriented, might offer me an option through a mobile application, through the web. I was going to be all about it, "I totally use that. That sounds like such a good idea. Somebody's going to bring me my purchases to my car? Sign me up. I don't have to go into the mall. This is fantastic".

When I was getting ideas, what I would personally do is I put a little star next to anything that really resonated and appealed to me personally. What would I use? A way to test what others were hearing was anything I had a star by as we were debriefing, I wasn't allowed to say until the very end, because I found that sometimes I'd be artificially promoting ideas that just resonated with me. You can make yourself aware of what biases you're bringing into certain situations. You can make sure that you're not artificially inflating things that might not resonate with your customer base.

Along the same lines, how many people have gone into a demo, and you know one area of your product not quite up to snuff, or just has had some problems performing, or you don't particularly like the way it looks, and you steer the demo away from that area? Anybody had that experience? Definitely been there myself. What I want to challenge you to do is, make yourself aware of what things you might intentionally try to avoid. An example of this is I worked on a product where we had some really strict privacy and security regulations around it. We knew that those things were immovable. We had to do them no matter what. We felt if we can just show our users how awesome this is, after they get over those hurdles, they're not going to really care about all the signup business and all the pain of that. Let's just go straight to how amazing this is. We did that through a number of demos and experiments. It didn't land very well when customers started using it for the first time. They're like, "What is all this signup business? I did not see any of that when I was looking at this." Another thing that we learned through that was some of the customers really cared about their privacy and their data usage in ways. We were avoiding even presenting that assuming it was just regulatory. We left feedback on the table. We didn't hear from customers about how we could have optimized that. Really, make yourself vulnerable to just show everything and see what you can learn from that.


You've done the work of empathizing with your customers. Maybe you've received that through interviews, or through your customer insights groups. Now it's time to try to figure out what to do with all of that data. I'm going to talk about empathy mapping in the define phase. Has anyone used empathy mapping before, seen this diagram? This is really my favorite way to break down data. Because when you're talking about data, you really need to capture both hearts and minds. I think with a lot of things, we have a ton of telemetry now on our products where I populate that in the, did, section. If we need data on what our customers did and how they interacted within our application, we can pop things in right there.

How many people work on a product where customers can leave reviews for you in the App Store? Anybody have customers leaving feedback for them? You can pop quotes of what your customer said directly in there and use that as inspiration on how to make your product better, or just learn about what they really love, and then, things that they thought. With the thought, that can be a tricky one. This is often discovered by really talking to your users and understanding how they use your application. I was doing an interview when I worked for the coffee company. We had a user who had a lot of free coffee rewards on their app. We started asking about, why do you have so many coffee rewards? Are you saving them for something? Why don't you use those? Her response was, "I always feel really awkward and bad about asking the barista to do one more thing, 'I want my drink free.' Because they're really busy. I just don't want to bother them with that. Any time I do a mobile order, I'll use a free drink. I don't want to ask. It just messes with their day".

A number of us heard that and we were thinking, what if we put a button where somebody doesn't have to say they want to use the free drink, would that lower the barrier? We kept exploring on this. This ties in to the, did, and what we observed. We actually went and watched what was going on in the store. We had a number of people in line. Anybody stood in line for coffee? I don't know many people but I'm going to make a broad assumption here that not many of you are in your apps that you're using to pay and you're just itching to get up to the front of the line, and say, here's my barcode and scanning. You're looking at other things. You're looking at your Slack. You're playing a game. You're doing whatever you're doing. As we watched what customers were actually doing, most of them got up to the register. They were like, let me get off of whatever I was just on, on my phone and bring up the app to pay. That really wouldn't have solved the problem for us very much. That's more complex. Could we have to solve that through a number of different ways of having the barista maybe prompt to say, "Beth, I see you've got some free drinks. Would you like to use a free drink today?" There were a number of ways that we could have solved that problem. It's very important to go and see what's going on. Stealing from Lean, that's going to the Gemba and watching what's happening.

Another point where I used the, did, piece is when I was also at Starbucks. On my larger team, we had a team that was our last resort troubleshooting team for hardware. We had a number of printers that kept having issues with them. They just stopped working. One of the reps that was troubleshooting that, he had noticed there was one particular store that called him pretty frequently. He decided, we're going to send you a new printer. I think this other printer will work better for you. Sent in the new printer, and happened to be local to him. They called again about a week after they had the new printer sent to them. Said, "It's gummed up again. It's not working again." He's like, "I don't know what to tell you. The data looks good. I haven't had other stores have this issue." He decided to go out watch in the morning. The printer for mobile orders, that is the way. That's their cue to understand what people have ordered. It's not on a screen. It's labels that are printing out. What he noticed was that the printer in this store, it was a very small store, a tight fit, it was nestled next to the espresso machine and the syrups. The syrups were spraying and it was getting syrup into the printer. They're very clean and they're cleaning everything every night. There was never any trace for this morning person that there was syrup on their printer. He's just calling in saying it's not working again. For that option, they were able to design a case for that to fit in.

One of the first troubleshooting questions, when they started getting these printers are not working situation, was, "Can you physically move your printer away from your syrups? Is there a configuration space in your store to do that? Yes? Do that." We saw an immediate decline. For others where the configuration just wouldn't work, it was like, "We have a solution for that." Even making people aware, if you really vigorously press the top of that syrup bottle, you're going to have some spray, and that can gum up the rest of your equipment. Certain things like that, if we're relying simply on data, we would have purchased a lot of new printers, spent a lot of money for something that really wouldn't have solved the root problem.

Then finally, the felt and the emotions. I've had a number of people take things there that they hear said, that they hear in the reviews. They hear people talk about their products. Those are often the things that drive us to do better. I encourage you to pop things about the way people feel about your product in there, and use that in your vision statement. Use that to drive you and what you want to improve. After you have all of this information and all of this data listed out. It's then time to start taking themes, and saying, what ideas really bubble up, and what's a big, juicy problem we want to try to go solve?


As you get into the, ideate, I want to encourage you all to set up frameworks that help your team be creative. You also want a big, juicy idea. If you pick some type of theme that is so simple, you can think of two or three solutions for it and just come to a stop. It's not big enough. You want to come up with something that's really inspiring, and might seem a little bit impossible. That's the whole moonshot situation. If you pick something really big, you might not get all the way there but you're going to get into the stars.

This one is a very simple tool, but can really help with communication styles. There was a talk in this track by Beth earlier today talking about neurodiversity. A lot of that was talking about frameworks and helping people understand how to show up. This is one of my favorite tools to list out, and it's just talking about flair and focus. I'm sure all of us have been in a situation where you're in a meeting, and you really need to just decide on what your next step is going to be. We're here to decide what we're going to be doing next. You have somebody that's continually bringing up new ideas, what if we do this? Those are all great ideas, but we really need to decide on one thing and just move forward. That's often because the person does not understand where you are in this cone. When you're in a flair mode, we're coming up with ideas. We're brainstorming. We want to go for quantity over quality. You want to come up with as many as you can. Then, often shifting focus and letting people know, we've generated a lot of ideas here. It's time for us to whittle these down, choose the next step. We're going to be focusing and picking what we're going to do next. I often will introduce this framework and just put it up in a conference room, or let people know how to show up. Then you have common language. You have a common framework that people can understand, "You want me to be very creative." No, we just need to be decisive and move on.


Getting into the prototyping phase. This is where the fun comes in. How many people do prototyping on their team right now? A couple years ago, when I was here at QCon, Diana Joseph came and spoke about doing prototyping here. She has a tagline for prototyping that is my favorite. She says, "Make it snappy. Make it crappy." Don't invest too much into it. Just keep on moving and learn from it, and do the lowest-fidelity that you possibly can. With all of our sophisticated tooling that we have access to now, just about anybody can mock up an app that looks pretty decent fairly quickly. I think there's a lot to be learned in investing in things that would excite a 5-year-old. I encourage you to go out and purchase stickers, and crayons, and pipe cleaners, and construction paper, and things that are just a bit sillier because it lowers the bar. It lowers the pressure to have to come up with something beautiful. It equals the playing field. I've found it always particularly difficult when you're in a brainstorming session, and you have maybe four to five engineers, and you have a UX person. What inevitably happens in those sessions is people will be shouting their ideas to the UX person to come up with something beautiful, or just sit back and say, "I'm not going to be able to draw anything as nice as they are. Just go for it".

What does this actually look like? I want to show you actual scenes from my workplace in the last year. These are prototypes and scenes from a meeting room that I used while I was at a couple different places. This can be as simple as Post-it Notes on a wall. I think we spin up digital things frequently, that end up being trash. People just don't know, is this precious? Is it not? Maybe if you're still figuring out, how do we want to organize ourselves as a team? Post-it Notes are a great way to do that. If you see the red piece of construction paper on the lower left-hand corner for you, that is a game of Crazy Eights. When you are in that flair session and you want to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can, you can take a piece of colored construction paper, fold it, so you come up with eight sections. The idea of that is very simple. You want to come up with eight distinctly different ideas in eight minutes, one minute per idea. Nobody is going to expect perfection out of something you've drawn in one minute. What that lets you do is helps you understand, here are eight different ideas. Some of them might be terrible. Some might be great. You can take pieces of those and form a new idea.

One of the things that my team used as a motto was, we would look at a number of ideas like that. We would allow ourselves to talk about it for five minutes. Before moving on, we had a rule, you have to ground people in language on this. We say that's a terrible idea. Let's try it. What you're going to learn from that is, instead of arguing a point over. If you can prototype on something, you're going to learn, yes, it truly was a bad idea. We don't have to argue about it anymore. We're just going to move on. Or, you're going to learn, maybe it was a fantastic idea. We really should have just done this from the beginning. Or, the most likely scenario is there are nuggets that are good, nuggets that are bad. Now we have feedback on something and we can keep iterating. We can keep moving forward. We're not just still in these theoretical conversations. That's another thing that I'd recommend setting up with your teams.


Testing. How many people go into testing? I know I'm guilty of this frequently as we've finished all of our work, we're towards the testing phase, everything crossed, it's all going to work. I think that that is just a silly assumption for us to be going into. The whole point of testing is to find issues before they become real. If we just built everything that worked beautifully, right from the start, we don't learn without that failure piece. With this, I think it's very important to recognize the emotional connection that we build. As we build something we put ourselves into our product. We continue to invest in that. I've definitely been guilty of this many times in my career.

This image down here is one particular product that I worked on while I was at Nordstrom. It was called the magic mirror. It sounds very sexy. It looked very sexy. We spent a number of hours trying to get this mirror to work. The concept was you'd be in a dressing room. You could be trying something on. This is where the introvert side of me, it appeals to me of, tried something on, "I need a little bit smaller size," or a bigger size. Or, "What things do you recommend to go with this thing I'm trying on? I didn't know that was an option." I could select that on the mirror. It would be magically brought to me. Sounds pretty cool. As we were coming up with this, one of the other things I learned was, men's shirts, insanely complex. I had no idea there were so many size combinations. Neck, sleeve length, to make that look beautiful on a screen is next to impossible. That was a huge surprise for me. We'd have a combination of around 50 sizes that would show up on there, and it took a while to get that looking elegant. We went and launched that.

It goes back to thinking about the problems that we were trying to solve, and the people. I think about the people in this time. We would be working in dressing rooms throughout the night after the store closed, going and getting hardware and just trying to make this work. The salespeople were so supportive because they knew how hard we were physically working on it. It really didn't hit the mark for customer problems that they were solving. It actually crept into offending them a little bit because they felt, "I'm really good at my job. I can go in and see what you're trying on and I actually probably know a little bit better about the fit than you might. Even if you're picking different sizes, that might not still work out for you." They were missing an opportunity to really serve the customer in the best way possible.

This idea was around five years ago, didn't go anywhere with the full launch of this. It was time to let that project die. Nordstrom just opened up their Manhattan store. I was really delighted in the news article to see that they had this simple little box within their dressing room where you could request a new size, and you could request all these things that we were trying to surface on this huge mirror. This is just one of those things where they've clearly innovated, and done better, and really focused on the problem. The heart of what I'm trying to share here is that if you fall in love with the problem itself, and not in the solution, you will never run out of ideas. You will have a backlog. You will have purpose in why you're doing the thing. I think us as technologists, we fall in love with a solution so often. We find some really cool pieces of technology and really want to make use of that, and to develop something very cool with that. We can quickly lose sight of here are the things that we are actually trying to solve for the humans, and problems there. Check yourself on how much you're falling in love with particular solutions. You won't get emotionally invested in some big, clunky mirror that serves nobody.

Review of the 5 Phase Overview

Just reviewing again, the five phases of design thinking are empathize. You want to really find out what your customers need, what's meaningful to them. You want to take that data and define it. You're going to then ideate. That's where you have all of the ideas. You're going to flair and come up with a lot of those concepts of what you could be doing. Then focus in on something to prototype. Then go test it with your customers. Even if you make the most beautiful pipe cleaner prototype, again, really fall in love with what problem you were trying to solve for your customers and not how fantastic your pipe cleaner solution is.

Here are these tools. There's no huge transformation needed on your teams. Any one of you can go and use these within your teams today. You can Google all of these items. I love talking about these things. I encourage you to talk to me at the conference, connect with me on Twitter. I have a ton of stories and experience. If you're trying one of these and it just doesn't quite land with your team, I really would love to hear about it and talk with you about that. I encourage you to connect with me and keep innovating. Most importantly, help find meaning and joy in your work.

Questions and Answers

Moderator: How long did it take you to learn these techniques?

Shewell: I've been practicing this, I think it said seven years, but it's really been more, close to nine, so for a number of years.

Moderator: How long does it maybe take to get to effectiveness even?

Shewell: To get effective in these tools?

Moderator: Yes.

Shewell: I think anybody can go try it and become fairly proficient. They're fairly simple tools. I think you're going to learn something regardless, the first time you use it.

Ben: When you talked about the low-fidelity prototypes. Another thing that we found is that when we would show these to the end users we were working with, they were a lot freer in changing stuff. The fancier the prototype, the more polished it was, the less interaction we got. That was a big win. Just go in there with a piece of paper, flip through the web app, just paper, it's so great. Then they can change the order. They can change what's on there.

Shewell: That's a really important point. Talking about that emotional investment, the more polished something looks, the more your users are likely to hold back on feedback for you because they think that you've invested a lot of time in it. That's something that's very important to note. The other thing that I love, that red paper, that Crazy Eight paper, that was shown to executives that came through. How many people have shown a semi-decent prototype to their executives, and they're like, "It looks like you're already over halfway there. When can you have it launched?" Even showing something lower-fidelity there can help you show, this is where we honestly are. We're at construction paper level, will you fund this? That's a good thing.

Moderator: You spend almost no time on it.

Participant 1: About the process. Do you plan how you're going to execute the design thinking process?

Shewell: Yes. Those phases can be used in any order, interchangeably. I want to stress, I've been in an environment when I worked in the Innovation Lab, where we went through every five days in order. We might go back to ideating and getting a little bit more data. That's not the norm for most people. Actually, I fundamentally believe that there shouldn't be one team doing innovation, that innovation is for everyone. I think it's important to be aware of those five phases. Maybe you have a product manager that's taking care of talking to your customers upfront. You're not getting to do that, as an engineer. I totally understand that. If you're aware of, this is a really good way for me to connect on that problem, you can at least ask for the data. You can say what led you to some of these decisions, and now that I have it in my face to figure out how to solve the problem. Now I can go into some of the ideation tools, or now I can use some of the prototyping. It's an unrealistic expectation to expect that everyone is going to use every one of the five phases, maybe you're going to use two or three.

Participant 2: How would you get engineers that are not really motivated to go look at customer data? They're just heads down and code all day? How do you work around that?

Shewell: I think, first, starting to understand what their motivations are. I've worked on engineering teams for around 20 years. I think some of it is the cool factor of what they're doing. I've rarely met somebody who doesn't care at all how their thing is going to be used. I think they want to know, why am I building this? Getting some of that information. Maybe it's how you package that information. A direct quote might not be that meaningful. I think as engineers, we naturally love to solve problems. Maybe you need to phrase it all in, here's the customer's problem. Here's what the evidence that I have of that. Let's go and execute on it. I know in Beth's talk, and from doing these things with engineers, I've had a number of people who are like, "You're going to make me use pipe cleaners and construction paper. I'm out of here." It is just too much. It's too big of a leap. That's if you can do bite-sized chunks and show them how it's relevant. I've had so many people thank me for saying thank you for making me do this. This was uncomfortable. That's where the crash course that I mentioned is good. That's 90 minutes. If you can invest 90 minutes over a lunch and learn, and say here's different ways to think. That could start changing hearts and minds.

Moderator: Just coming from the Nordstrom experience too, seeing the software in the hands of the user, and especially if you know it's about to be really painful. Nobody wants to inflict their software. Nobody wants to say this actually caused someone to have a really bad day, watching someone switch between five different screens to get one thing done. Just letting your engineer sit there and stew. Then you say, "Good news, now we know how to fix this because we have this process." That's really important for them to get bought in.

Participant 3: Do you have any advice to give on getting buy-off or building this culture of these crazy prototypes, or crazy innovations? Those ideas that, it's like, "This is crazy, or this is a crazy idea. Let's do it anyway".

Shewell: Yes, I do. One of the ways that I encourage you is you have to understand what's safe. I understand some of these ideas can be really radical. I had one of our three engineers who did the crash course, say, "Actually, if I did this, it could be a good way to learn from our users." They actually tried to inter-team. Going back to the problem that they were having, they said, we have this form for anybody to fill out that they need consultation from an SRE. Every time we get that form, it's incomplete. The information that even if it's completed doesn't have all the information that's needed for us to really go solve the problem, and it's so frustrating. We get all this garbage. I challenged them, go interview them first, and say, "When you start filling out our form, what are you thinking about?" Try to get into the head of your user, because you're obviously not getting the information that you need.

They listened. They heard, this is what people are facing. They learned that a lot of people just didn't even have enough knowledge to know what to ask for, the right things to ask for. I worked with them then to collect information around what are the most common additional pieces of information you get after you do the follow-up to your form? Take that information. Draw it on a piece of construction paper and go show it to somebody that'd be filling out your form, and get some feedback on if that would work or not. Even working from cross-team to cross-team, sometimes it takes that preface of, "I know this is a crazy idea, but just go with me. Let's see what we can learn on this." Another successful tool that I've had is just using Stanford's name. That has had respect with a number of people, and saying look at all of the resources that are available here through the I've had success with that as well.

Participant 4: One common problem I see in that flair to focus funnel is that a lot of people come with preconceived ideas, ain't work there, it should work here. It's usually difficult for the moderator to tell them this is not going to work. They just keep repeating. How do you handle those situations?

Shewell: I've had situations where we're in flair, and you have one person who is just, "I don't know why we're talking about all these ideas, if we just do X, we're going to solve the problem." Skipping to the last step of, they're clearly in love with the solution rather than the problem. Even challenge them on that. I've dug in and said, "You have a particular idea of how to do this. How else could you solve it?" Asking them to iterate on that. If they truly can't think of anything else, just say, "I hear that that's your idea. Let's let others come up with that. Then we can take a vote." Some of the things that often do with that rather than attaching it to a person, is having an idea per Post-it, or having it on the whiteboard, or having it in some digital form, where people can anonymously dot-vote, or vote in ways like that, takes some of the personalization away from it. Because that always gets into an awkward situation if you've heard of the HiPPO factor, or the highest paid person in the room. If you've got the boss that comes in and is just, "We should just do X." It's like, that's a great idea. Throw it on a Post-it. We'll all vote. We'll see where it shakes out. Anything that you can do to anonymize it is better.

Participant 5: Sometimes you come into situations where the idea is ok. It can be implemented, you do the prototype. It's all good, but it's not the best. Then you figure out that a better solution is to implement idea B. Then the person who proposed idea A comes back and says, "I told you so. You shouldn't be doing this." Do you run into those situations?

Shewell: I have. I have run into those situations. The thing I don't think I mentioned, I have fallen in the trap of falling in love with solutions a couple times. It's not quite the same flavor of what you're talking about. I have kept the problem, or theme, or whatever we're going after on the wall or ever present in a space where the team is working on, to say, this is what we're trying to solve. We're going to come up with a number of different things that will potentially solve that problem. This is what we're focused on. Sometimes somebody is right that A was better than B, but there's going to be some learning from that. As long as you're focused on what problem you're trying to solve, there's always a number of solutions that could come up. I try to stay grounded on that. That way, it doesn't turn into a personal attack of, I told you so, which never feels good.

Participant 6: A lot of us work in remote configurations. I've never tried doing anything like this remotely. Have you any experience with that, any way to make it work?

Shewell: I'm just starting to experiment with that. I have had the privilege of working with a lot of co-located teams up until around the last year. I'm in a situation now where I have over half of my team located in another state and people who work full-time remote. One of the things that we've done to stretch ourselves a little bit is use some tooling that we only use for prototyping. We've been using a tool called Miro, which is a more creative based tool. There are a number of features in it, but one of the things that they have is a digital whiteboard. I've found that, even, it goes back to that physical prototype, materials look different. They bring different ideas, even using a digital tool that looks different can help bring different ideas. It has that focus of creativity.

Moderator: I think there's even tools for that, like the virtual whiteboards that if you say, I want to create a box. It creates literally the worst box you've ever seen. Technically, a rectangle, but even that low-fidelity allows someone to engage.

Shewell: We've done crayon drawing. You'll notice even in my presentation, I've intentionally used crayons to make it playful. Yes, that's an option.


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Recorded at:

May 22, 2020