Software Design Class

Hi There

Venture Design FrameworkThis is a 14 session class on software product design that I currently teach it at UVA Darden (graduate school of business). The materials here are intended to be ready for use by instructors/facilitators. For more on setting up to use some or all of these modules (including stuff like grading and managing student teams), please see the section below ‘Teaching Notes‘.

The audience is for this class is a ‘businessperson’ who wants to engage on software-related projects (no prior software skills required). A design-driven approach is most likely to help the business person manage to a good outcome, and here we use a lot of material from the Venture Design framework. I’ve seen students successfully apply these skills against many cool jobs. Here are four of the most recurrent:

  1. Doing a startup (as primary job or side project)
  2. Working as a product manager (one of the world’s least defined jobs, but this skill set is critical to doing it well)
  3. Working as a consultant on solutions that involve software/applications
  4. Working in private equity/venture capital with active involvement in portfolio companies

I’d love to hear from you on how the materials worked for you and/or how to make them better (or anything else you think is pertinent). Please feel free to leave comments here or drop me a line.

Class Description

While every year technology improvements make it easier to build more powerful software and systems, creating software that’s relevant to users and competitive in the marketplace is tougher than ever. By one measure, 64% of features are rarely or never used1, 50-70% of IT projects fail2, and 90% of new products are flop3. That’s a lot of waste, expense, and missed opportunity.

Where does this problem originate and who should solve it? Hint: it’s not with the software developers, testers, or administrators. If you guessed ‘the businessperson’, you’re absolutely right. Few skills are as highly demanded in the marketplace as the ability to identify user needs and translate those into digital solutions. That’s what you’ll learn in Software Design. While you may never be software designer in title, it is highly likely that you’ll need the ability to think like a digital designer and collaborate with digital designers.

In your introduction to the process of software design, we will use the Venture Design framework as a way to step through the elements of a best practice, disciplined execution. The primary course objectives are making sure you leave with the following capabilities:

  1. Exploring & Testing for (Valuable) Customer Problems
  2. Formulating Testable Propositions & Designing Experiments to Test Motivation
  3. Formulating User Stories and Story Maps for Development
  4. Identifying patterns and comparables for (parallel) prototyping
  5. Structuring and executing usability testing

We’ll also close with a few additional tools to improve your engagement in ‘technical’ discussions, like the model-view-controller pattern.

Class Structure

Your team deliverable is a software design. The design is composed of sketches, research, conclusions, and notes that would serve as an input into development . It is not a specification. It is not a plan. It is an input into the product’s hypothetical next step, which would be a series of discussions and iterations on the creation of working software through the work of an interdisciplinary team.

You’ll encapsulate most of your final work in the Venture Design template. The process to arrive at a quality deliverable is a combination of individual drafting, team collaboration, and field work with real, live subjects.

The material we’ll cover in class is not intellectually difficult- you could spend a few hours and understanding (in concept) everything we’ll cover in class. However, it is challenging to practice. Bright, energetic professionals like you spend whole careers just practicing and sharpening their ability in a few of these topics. For this reason, our emphasis is on short introductions, time for practice and collaboration in class, and then review of example submissions in class.

Session 1: Setting Sail- Understanding the Methods


Introduce students to the core class objectives, deliverables, and methods. Follow-up on team formation.

Pre-Class Assignments

  1. Do/Individual: Project Submissions & Sign-Up’s (10-30 min.)
    Submit a student venture project if you have one and complete preliminary team sign-up’s.A


This agenda (and those that follow) are for an 85 minute session.

Item Time (min.) Notes & Materials
Intro talk on class objectives, methods, and infrastructure 20 Slides 1-25 (see below). Laptops down.
Students present project ideas 30 See slides 26 for format.
The idea is that students ask questions of each other after class- with the last 10 minutes of class time for this.
Intro to personas 20
Slides: 27-39.
I have the students pick a project for the moment even if they haven’t fully decided for the exercises. I usually do just the Think aspects in class and leave the others to the students own practice with the assignments. This is the most flexible element in the agenda. I think it’s important to leave 5 minutes to step through the assignments and 10 minutes for the students to start discussing the projects.
– index cards: one persona per index card (these cards will come back into play in later exercises)
– give each persona a first name- ‘Andrew the Account’
– each team member should do this individually (they can compare notes later)
Step through assignments 5 Slide 40

I like to walk through the applicable parts of the template and how the supplemental resources provide tutorials and examples in the same format as the assignment.

Students meet and talk about projects 10

In-Class Materials


Assignment 1B

Due: End of Week

  1. Do/Individual3: Draft Project Personas (20-40 min.)
    WHAT? Draft at least one persona, including:
    – Description (Who are they? What makes them tick?) Note: You may find it easier to start with Think-See-Feel-Do. If you’re struggling to write something meaningful here, go light and come back to it (a day later, a week later, etc.).
    – Photo
    – Think, See, Feel, Do in your particular area
    WHERE? Using the persona template on your individual Venture Design doc
  2. Do/Individual: Draft Problem Scenarios (10-20 min.)
    WHAT? Draft problem scenarios, including:
    – Problem Scenario (Be sure to think about the level of abstraction. What is the parent problem scenario of what you described? The child?)
    – Alternative (related to the problem scenario)
    – Note: You do not need to formulate the Value Propositions at this point.
    WHERE? Using the problem scenario-alternative,-value proposition template on your individual Venture Design doc
  3. Do/Individual: Draft Customer/User Discovery Questions (20-40 min.)
    WHAT? Draft a full set of questions to expand your ‘persona hypothesis’ and ‘problem hypothesis’.
    WHERE?  Using the customer interview template in your individual Venture Design doc.
  4. Do/Group or Individual: Start Setting Up Customer Interviews for Next Week

Supplemental Resources

  1. Personas Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Coursera Videos
    The material in my Coursera course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking’ is relevant here, specifically the Week 2 content. Here are two specific videos you may find helpful for review: 1) Creating and Using Personas 2) Focusing Your Persona: Think, See, Feel, Do.

Session 2: Manning the Lookout- Creating Actionable Observations with Personas


Introduce students to design thinking tools and their use in an application development: personas, problem scenarios, alternatives and value propositions. Rather than struggling to get into technical details, the skillful innovator is able to frame key questions as design problems vs. technology problems. We’ll also review the role of agile methods in realizing design concepts.

Speaker- Madison Mount

An entrepreneur and start-up founder himself, Madison Mount guides his clients to build and grow their businesses with an emphasis on agility, prototyping, and leaning into intuition.

For nearly 15 years, Madison has been committed to helping organizations better understand how to thrive and survive in the face of emerging technologies and industry disruption.

In-Class Materials

Google AdWords Worksheet

In-Class Outputs

Personas, Problem Scenarios, Alternatives
Interview questions for persona and problem discovery
AdWord Ad Sketches for some of: Think, See, Feel, Do

Post-Class Assignments

(see Assignment 1 from Session 1 above)

Supplemental Resources

  1. Problem Scenarios Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Customer Discovery Tutorial
    see specificially the section on the ‘persona hypothesis’ and ‘problem hypothesis’
  3. Coursera Videos on Problem Scenarios
    The material in my Coursera course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking’ is relevant here, specifically the Week 2 content. Because the course is organized around agile, you will see references to user stories- don’t worry about those for now; we’ll cover them later in the class. Here are two specific videos you may find helpful for review: 1) Designing Problem Scenarios 2) Needfinding with Problem Scenarios.
  4. Coursera Videos on Customer Discovery
    The material in my Coursera course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking’ is relevant here, specifically the Week 3 content. Here are two specific videos you may find helpful for review: 1) Researching Personas 2) Drafting an Interview Guide 3) Drafting an Interview Guide (Problem Scenarios) 4) Interviewing Trent the Technician 5) Testing and Enhancing Your Problem Hypothesis

Session 3: Staying on Course- Avoiding Solutions that Look for Problems 


See previous. This session will close on the in-class persona exercises and cover problem scenarios.

Speaker- Donald Norman

Donald Norman is one of the most durable and influential voices in design today. At 77, he revised his seminal book ‘The Design of Everyday Things‘ and it’s better than ever. It was an honor to have him speak to the class.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Personas, Problem Scenarios, Alternatives
Interview questions for persona and problem discovery
AdWord Ad Sketches for some of: Think, See, Feel, Do

Post-Class Assignment (Assignment 2)

  1. Do/Individual: Complete Peer Review of Draft Personas, Problem Scenarios, and Interview Guide (20-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Complete the rubric in Peer Review 1 and (optionally) add comments directly to your peer’s Venture Design Doc.
    WHERE? Peer Review 1 section in your peer review doc and (optionally) in your peers Venture Design doc (for comments).
    Note: When you create the Google Doc, please use this naming convention: ‘[Your Initials]-for-[Your Peer’s Initials](Your Peer’s Team)’ and please share to your peer and your instructor.

Supplemental Resources

  1. The Design of Everyday Things
    Chapters 1 + 2.
  2. Coursera Videos
    This video from Week 3 of Course 1 reviews the Google AdWords exercise we did to test your personas and problem scenarios.

Session 4: Setting Course- Designing Your Proposition


Focus your working understanding of the customer into a compelling, testable value proposition.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Converged Product Hypothesis

Post-Class Assignment (Assignment 3)

  1. Do/Individual: Draft Value Propositions for Your Problem Scenarios (10-20 minutes)
    WHAT? For each Problem Scenario+Alternative pair you’ve drafted, formulate a Value Proposition. What are you offering that’s better enough than the current alternative at solving the problem in question?
    WHERE? These should go in your individual Venture Design template in the same section where you drafted your Problem Scenarios and Alternatives (link to table with problems and propositions).
  2. Do/Individual: Draft a Working Product Hypothesis (~5 minutes)
    WHAT? Summarize your ideas on Personas, Problem Scenarios, Alternatives and Value Propositions in a Product Hypothesis.
    WHERE? This should go in your individual Venture Design template in the area right above your assumptions (link to Product Hypothesis).
  3. Do/Individual: Draft a Working Set of Assumptions and MVP Ideas Against Your Value Hypothesis (15-30 minutes)
    WHAT? These should be in the form of: ‘If we [do something] for [a certain persona] then [they will respond in some measurable way].’ See the note on the bottom of the table about rating the priority of an assumption. For the MVP/experiment vehicles, consider (very briefly) how you would use the following MVP archetypes: concierge, sales, Wizard of Oz. It’s not necessary to draft MVP ideas for each assumption, but do it for at least one.
    WHERE? These should go in you Venture Design template in the section What are the key assumptions?.

Post-Class Assignment (Assignment 4)

  1. Do/Individual: Complete at least Two (2) Subject Interviews (60-120 minutes)
    WHAT? Each student must complete two interviews, though you should feel free to work in pairs (on student assisting the other). Be sure to take detailed notes- they make look different to you in two weeks or two months as your perspective on the project changes. I like to touch type with lots of errors while I listen to the subject. It may be a minor distraction in the beginning, but you should politely excuse it and it’s rarely a problem.
    WHERE? There’s a template for organizing your session notes on the Venture Design template: Appendix A- Customer Discovery Notes. You’ll want to copy the heading and table you see for each interview you do (pro tip: have a blank table ready before you sit down to do your interview).

Supplemental Resources

  1. Lean Startup Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Coursera Videos
    The third week of my Coursera course ‘Running Design Sprints‘ focuses on the practice of Lean Startup. Here are a few specific videos you may find helpful for review: 1) Lean Startup and the Systematic Drive to Value 2) Focusing Your Ideas 3) Unpacking Your Assumptions.

Session 5: Finding the Points of Light- Actionable Experimentation


Tighten team experiments with a clinic on disciplined, metrics-driven experimentation.

Speaker- Tristan Kromer

Tristan is heavily involved with advancing the practice of Lean Startup. Tristan runs the Lean Startup Circle, Lean Startup’s community organization with >80,000 members and chapters worldwide. 

Tristan blogs about Lean Startup at GrasshopperHerder and is currently a consultant at TRIKRO.


In-Class Materials



Experiment Template

In-Class Outputs

Experiment/MVP Designs

Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 5)

  1. Do/Individual: Design (an) Experiment(s) for Your Assumption(s) (30-60 minutes)
    WHAT? Draft a structured experiment or experiments for what you feel is your project’s most important assumption. The best experiments are almost always quick, cheap, and scrappy. Bonus points for coming up with something you can do in the next 48 hours.
    WHERE? Use the Experiment Template in your individual Venture Design template.

Session 6: Mapping the Coast- Creating Actionable Narrative


Step through and complete a brief exercise in structure process design, linked to the design thinking inputs above.

Speaker- Bill Wake

A computer scientist by training, Bill Wake is an active participant and key influencer in Extreme Programming (XP), agile, and lean. His seminal post on the INVEST checklist for agile user stories (2003) remains one of the most heavily referenced sources for writing quality user stories.

Bill continues to explore what works in agile software development and blogs about it at XP123. He’s currently a consultant at Industrial Logic.



In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Draft agile epics
Draft storyboard for a selected agile epic
Draft user stories, including test cases

 Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 6)

  1. Do/Individual: Agile Epics (15-20 minutes)
    WHAT? Think through the major product interactions and draft a set of agile epics to describe the user intent and submit these for peer review. Key things to remember:
    1. Include all three clauses of the agile user story
    2. Pick specific interactions/tasks- this is not a description of the whole product
    3. These are inputs for a very specific discussion with a developer about building something. Make sure the stories have a functional, testable disposition. The stories should tie back to a problem scenario, but the two are different. Problem scenarios describe a source of motivation for the customer while user stories are a focal point for implementing a specific solution.
    WHERE? List the epics above the table you see in the Venture Design template section ‘User Stories‘. The table itself is for a set of child stories and test cases that pair with one individual epic (one table per epic).
  2. Do/Individual: Storyboard an Agile Epic (10-20 minutes)
    WHAT? Take your favorite epic and draft a storyboard for it. This is a great way to make sure you’re really putting yourself in the user’s shoes and thinking through mission critical details. Try for six or so panels. And take a nice, steady photo with your phone.
    WHERE? I recommend sketching on paper in your first couple of iterations. Following that, photograph your storyboard and drop the image into your individual Venture Design template (section ‘User Stories‘), directly after the applicable epic (see above). In the next exercise, you’ll follow that storyboard with a table that has a set of child user stories with more detail.
  3. Do/Individual: Draft User Stories & Test Cases for An Agile Epic (20-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Take the epic you storyboarded and detail out its specifics with individual user stories (same format as the epic, just more detail) and test cases. Remember, the stories are not necessarily a linear sequence- it’s more like a web. There are different things that can happen with the user over the course of most epics.
    WHERE? Put them in the template user stories table in your individual Venture Design template. Place that table after the storyboard for the epic you storyboarded. At the end of this, you should have at least one narrative that goes:
    – epic
    – storyboard (for the epic)
    – child stories and test cases for more detail.

Post-Class Assignment (Assignment 7)

  1. Do/Individual: Complete Peer Review of Propositions, Assumptions, Experiment Ideas, and Experimental Design (20-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Complete the rubric in Peer Review 2 and (optionally) add comments directly to your peer’s Venture Design Doc.
    WHERE? Peer Review 2 section in your peer review doc and (optionally) in your peers Venture Design doc (for comments).
    Note: When you create the Google Doc, please use this naming convention: ‘[Your Initials]-for-[Your Peer’s Initials](Your Peer’s Team)’ and please share to your peer and your instructor.

Supplemental Resources

  1. Agile User Stories Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Storyboarding Tutorial
    So is this- see the section on storyboarding an epic user story.
  3. Coursera Videos
    My Coursera course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking‘ covers the creation of user stories, the main topic of Week 4. Here are a few vidoes that might be helpful for review: 1) Preparing for Great User Stories 2) Writing Great User Stories 3) Adding Test Cases to User Stories.

Session 7: Creating Actionable Narrative


Boost your ability to formulate and communicate compelling narratives through the use of storyboards.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Draft Storyboards

 Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 8)

Note: For all the storyboards, please take a photo with your phone and add it to your Venture Design template

  1. Do/Group: Story Mapping (variable)
    WHAT? Complete a working story map, converging the team’s work on storyboards, epics, and user stories.  f
    Note: This is where we’ll spend most of our time during this class session.
    WHERE? Use the board provided in class. Then photograph it and place it at the beginning of the ‘User Stories‘ section of your Individual as well as your Group/converged Venture Design template.

Supplemental Resources

  1. Coursera Videos
    My Coursera course ‘Managing with Agile‘ covers the use of story maps, particularly relative to the jobs of ‘learning’ and ‘deciding’. Here are a few videos that might be helpful for review: 1) Good Collaboration 2) Slicing the Lasagna.

Session 8: Consulting the Atlas- The Inexact Science of Interface Design


Introduce students to a structured understanding of user cognition, visual literacy, and the use of comparables for designing user interfaces.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

7 Stages of User Action for a selected agile user story
Parallel Prototypes

Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 9)

  1. Do/Individual: Parallel Prototype a User Story (90-180 minutes) 
    WHAT? Select an important user story, probably an epic. Group members may wish to select the same story or different stories. Consider applicable patterns and comparables- in most cases, you’ll have the best outcome by thinking through the story functionally and looking for related patterns and comparables (vs. just looking at similar businesses). Find enough comparables and patterns to prototype (at least) two separate directions.Organize your patterns and comparables, including screenshots and notes about what you like, don’t like, and find applicable and then use Balsamiq to wireframe an interface that supports your story which is based on these patterns. Do this at least twice for your two parallel directions.
    WHERE? Place the screenshots, notes, and Balsamiq mockup’s for each of your (min) 2 directions in the ‘Prototypes‘ section of your individual Venture Design template. Also, create printouts of your mockups to use in the next section where we’ll do dot voting.

Supplemental Resources

  1. Prototyping Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial, including notes on how to set up Balsamiq on Google Apps.
  2. Coursera Videos
    My Coursera course ‘Running Design Sprints‘ covers the process of prototyping against user stories in Week 4. Here are a few videos that might be helpful for review: 1) The Inexact Science of Interface Design 2) Usability with Donald Norman’s 7 Steps Model 3) Creating Interactive Prototypes in Balsamiq.

Session 9: Prototyping



In-Class Materials


Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 10)

  1. Interactive Prototype (20-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Pick what you think is your best direction on the user story you prototyped and make it interactive in Balsamiq.
    WHERE? You’ll create this in Balsamiq and then link to the Balsamiq file from the subsection in the ‘Prototypes‘ section of your Venture Design template. Make sure to include your team, your instructor, and your peer reviewer in the permissions for the Balsamiq file.

Session 10: Are we there yet? User testing. 


Enable students to assess usability objectives and translate those into practical but structured user testing.

In-Class Materials


Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 11)

  1. Do/Group: Draft usability Test Plan & Interactive Wireframes (60-90 minutes)
    WHAT? The basics steps here are:
    1. Select User Stories to Test. You should have at least four discrete test items, which probably means at least four user stories.
    2. Complete Research Design as defined in the template (see below). Be sure to hit each section.
    3. Prepare and test the interactive wireframe you’ll use for the testing. You may be converging your existing wireframes, but remember that revision is healthy at this point and if you see the need to start fresh, go with that.
    4. Dry run your test- run it with at least one subject, even if that subject is not the greatest proxy for your user (doesn’t pass your screener). That’s still better than nothing.
    WHERE? The test plan itself should go in the User Testing Appendix of your converged group Venture Design template.The interactive wireframes should be shared with your the same set of reviewers as your Google Doc and linked to from your Appendix B.

Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 12)

  1. Do/Individual: Peer Review on User Stories & Prototypes (20-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Review these items for your peer, filling out the rubric below and (optionally) making notes in their Venture Design doc.
    WHERE? Peer Review 3 section in your peer review doc and (optionally) in your peers Venture Design doc (for comments).

Supplemental Resources

  1. User Testing Tutorial
    The ‘Usability Hypothesis section of the Handbook deals with user testing.
  2. Coursera Videos
    My Coursera course ‘Running Design Sprints‘ covers the process of user testing against user stories in Week 4. Here are a few videos that might be helpful for review: 1) Creating a Good Test Suite 2) Creating Good Test Items 3) Running Usability Tests 4) Running a User Test.

Session 11: User Testing II


Enable students to bind all their execution activities back to the systematic progress of their innovation.

In-Class Materials


Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 13)

  1. Do/Group: Conduct at Least Four User Tests (variable)
    WHAT? Complete at least four users tests against your usability test plan. If you have an appropriate protocol in place, it’s highly useful to record these (at Darden we do). Camtasia Studio is a popular tool for the PC and Screenflow for the Mac. With these tools you can also capture the users facial expressions (your research protocol permitting) and place it, for example, in the bottom right. Here’s an example using Screenflow:
    User Testing with ScreenFlowMake sure to user your screener- or revise the one you used for discovery interviews if you see the need.
    WHERE? Secure the file on Google Doc’s (permissions as usual) and link to the file in the subjects notes in the Usability Testing section of your Group Venture Design template.

Session 12: Under the Microscope- Finding the Details that Matter


Deepen students fluency in the application of design thinking to software innovation problems.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Post-Class Assignments (Assignment 14)

  1. Do/Individual: Create Notes on MVC for a Selected User Story (25-35 minutes)
    – Select a user story (probably a very specific child story is best for the first go)
    – For the model, describe at least one substantial entity, including has-a and is-a relationships
    – For the view, identify it (referencing building comp’s and wireframes if you have them)
    – For the controller, pseudocode at least one transaction/interaction (for bonus points relate this to Donald Norman’s 7 Steps of User Cognition)
    WHERE? Please place this under the table where the applicable child user story appears. You can put it in your Individual or Group doc depending on where you have the current version of your stories, but please be sure to let me know where via Canvas.

Session 13: Bow, Stern, Boom- Understanding Software Plumbing


Introduce students to the fundamental components of software applications, enabling them to provide better inputs and create structure and focus in discussions with developers.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Example model description …
…and its relationship to …
…Example view description…
…and its relationship to …
…Example controller description

Session 14: The Crew- Understanding Software Foundations


Introduce by example the core concepts of software architecture choices as well as the key questions and implications of build vs. buy and vendor selection choices.

In-Class Materials


In-Class Outputs

Notes on key product building blocks

Post-Class Assignments

  1. Do/Group: Submit Final Venture Design
    WHAT? Review your work to date and what you’ve learned and converge and improve your Venture Design. This might involve more work in whatever area you think is most important to the venture- user research on problems, motivation testing, UI concept develpment, user testing, consideration of building blocks for future development. The section below has some ideas on items you may wish to add to the Venture Design.
    WHERE? Please submit a single, converged Google Doc. Please complete the appendix ‘Venture Design Submission

Optional Enhancements to Team Venture Design Deliverable

These are items you may wish to add to your team’s final deliverable to deepen your understanding of the customer/user and the actionability of that understanding for your colleagues in development.

Note: For all the storyboards, please take a photo with your phone and add it to your Venture Design template

  1. Do/Individual: Before & After Storyboard (5-15 minutes)
    WHAT? Complete a working storyboard for a ‘before and after’ scenario. See this section of the storyboarding tutorial for more background: Storyboarding a Before & After Scenario.WHERE? Use the Storyboarding Squares to sketch, photograph your sketch (with your phone), and place the photograph directly after the relevant problem scenarios in your individual Venture Design template.
  2. Do/Individual: AIDAOR Storyboard (5-15 minutes)
    WHAT? Complete a working storyboard for a customer journey using ‘AIDAOR’. See this section of the storyboarding tutorial for more background: Storyboarding an AIDAOR Journey.WHERE? Use the Storyboarding Squares to sketch, photograph your sketch (with your phone), and place the photograph directly after the relevant persona in your individual Venture Design template. BUT, you’ll want to hold on placing it in your Google Doc until you complete the next step, which is an expansion of this storyboard.
  3. Do/Individual: Customer Journey Map(10-30 minutes)
    WHAT? Extend the AIDAOR storyboard above to a Customer Journey Map by adding notes on think-see-feel-do at each step. See this section of the storyboarding tutorial for more background: Storyboarding a Customer Journey Map.WHERE? Use the Storyboarding Squares to sketch, photograph your sketch (with your phone), and place the photograph directly after the relevant persona in your individual Venture Design template.
  4. Do/Group: Start at least Two Day in the Life boards (60-100 minutes)
    WHAT? This will be due next week. See the Day in the Life Tutorial.WHERE? Record your results right after the Think-See-Feel-Do for your selected personas.
  5. Do/Group: Draft Process Designs (~60 minutes)
    See the Enterprise Software Playbook for examples and templates.

Teaching Notes

Relationship to Existing Curriculum

The course will complement any existing offerings in entrepreneurship, product development/prototyping, product management, and design thinking, immersing students in hands-on application of these skills within an application development context. The ideal feeder class would help the students initially vet the basic product/market fit for their venture idea- Does this customer exist? Do they really have this problem? What alternatives are they using today?

I follow this course with ‘Software Development‘ where the students do initial coding against these concepts (learning about the relationship between design and implementation in the process).

Student Teams and Projects

I think the class works best with student-led venture ideas. That said, this is not an entrepreneurship/venture creation class. The perfect idea already has at least a) a notional product/market fit and b) a compelling ideas of how software will propel key value propositions. The minimum I usually require is first-hand knowledge/investigation of the customer and the problem area.

Here’s a list of vehicles for getting these projects into the class (not mutually exclusive):

  1. Classes in Entrepreneurship, Design Thinking
    Curriculum in this area usually has student projects where the venture would arrive at something like an understanding of product/market fit.
    Pro’s: In addition to qualified projects, the students will enter the class with extremely useful, applicable foundation skill sets. The Software Development class will deepen their skill sets in entrepreneurship and design thinking through application of those ideas.
    Con’s: There are few. Possibly, the students may wonder if the material ‘overlaps’, but this question is unlikely do persist after a year or two of word-of-mouth about the class.
  2. University Incubator
    This is a program that assists student-led ventures.
    Pro’s: The ideas are more organic since they’re student-generated. Since one or more students has invested time, you’re likely to have project sponsors that are paying close attention.
    Con’s: You may find the quantity of available/qualified projects coming out of these programs varies a lot year to year.
  3. Independent Student Preparation
    Students can, of course, advance venture ideas on their own to a point where they’re a good fit for this class. I’ll be posting a checklist for this purpose.
    Pro’s: I think the preparation material is pretty accessible and this is a good option for students who have ideas they want to pursue, but don’t have access to these other options.
    Con’s: Going it alone is a good fit for some, less good for others. The Codeless Hackathon below is a good option for students who would prefer more student and/or instructor collaboration on idea preparation.
  4. Codeless Hackathon
    This year (’15/’16) is my first go at this, but the basic idea is to have a weekend event where students drive to a focal definition of their idea and a preliminary understanding of product/market fit.
  5. Industry Projects
    Corporate sponsors could supply current problem areas where they’d like to develop and/or deploy software. I’m working with my colleagues and collaborators to collect best practices on this (for this particular application) and will post them here.
    Pro’s: This can be a great source of relevant real-world problems with existing customers/subjects whose needs are well understood.
    Con’s: Strong structure for the student-sponsor collaboration and strong motivation on the part of the sponsor to participate is critical and a possible failure point.

Here is the text I use to describe the projects to students:

‘While the assignments are a mix of individual and team assignments, students will work in teams of 3 (min) to 5 (max) individuals. Students can organize around student-submitted or company sponsored projects. Student projects must be accepted in advance or by the first week of class.

The ideal project topic already has some validation regarding product/market or proposition/user fit, since this is a class where we’re learning to design software vs. vetting a new entrepreneurial idea from scratch. Students will receive a list of a available projects and submission criteria by email in the weeks leading up to class.

The list of available projects is available here: [your Google Doc or similar with projects- including team leads]. ‘

Classroom Environment

This is primarily an ‘experiential’ class- there is some instructor-led explanation (aka lecture) and no traditional cases. Taking this class from 26 to 55 students, the single most important thing I improved for both scalability and student experience is bringing examples of student work into the class sessions as the central learning vehicle. For example, in Session 11 we run ~5 of the teams’ user tests and have time for comments and questions after each. Approaching the class sessions this way certainly improved my own learning and practice. There are notes on this in the individual class sessions.

I highly recommend a no-laptops, no-phones rule unless the students are on deck to present work from their laptops. With all the distractions those devices offer us and the harried nature of student life, a lot of students find it hard to maintain focus in class. It’s particularly important that they listen to each others’ presentation to create an encouraging, collaborative environment.

Assignments & Grading

Student Workload: The assignments for this class run ~90 minutes per class session. I’m always looking for ways to lighten the load on students and get them an equivalent (or better) outcome, but these are applied skill sets and I think there’s a certain basic necessity for students to invest substantial time in practice.

Cadence: At Darden, we have consecutive class days and in that situation it’s probably better to batch the assignments up weekly or thereabouts.

It is particularly important to avoid cramming/doing all the work at the last minute. The material is easy to understand conceptually but hard to relate to if you haven’t gotten your hands dirty. The items are tightly related as well. The student that waits until late in the game to catch up on assignments risks a major downgrade in their experience.

Templates & Tools: Templates and examples play a key role in making the class workable-the class covers a lot of ground, most of which is almost completely new to students. The templates’ job is to avoid pointless ambiguity about what best practice output looks like and just about all of the assignments above come with them.

The final output and most of the assignments happen on a Google Docs template, a working doc that encapsulates product-centric material for a new venture. I’ve implemented the template in Google Doc’s and it’s available here: Venture Design template.  Students generally work in teams where they’ll first complete the assignments individually and then converge to a group result together (following a classic divergence-convergence pattern from product design/innovation).

If you’re not on Google App’s, you’ll need to collect and share student’s Gmail addresses to do this (make sure this is kosher with your university rules, etc.). It is possible to make the doc’s available (read and/or write) to anyone on the Internet but not have them indexed. I think this is dicey, but I’ve seen students go this route.

Preparation & Systems: If you have a system like Canvas, it’s a great idea to get all the assignments up on the board in advance. I’m planning to publish a file to help with that for systems with a batch import function. See below, but, if you can manage the time, I highly recommend reviewing and supplying notes (via Google Doc’s) on each of the individual student assignments as they arrive

Use of Readings

In principal, I’d love to do a full flipped classroom, but it’s not realistic to expect that most of the students will do the readings. Given the novelty of the material and the pace of the class, even a small portion of the students (say 20%) getting behind on the readings is likely to create a downward spiral in student experience and outcomes.

Given this, the class material is designed to provide a solid but basic introduction to the topics. The readings are designed to deepen that understanding and act as a reference for the situation where a student struggles with an assignment.

Divergence-Convergence Pattern

The group project is a mainstay of graduate business classes and the final deliverable here (a Venture Design) is a group deliverable. That said, most assignments are completed individually, peer reviewed, and then converged with the rest of the group’s work.

This may be confusing, vexing for students who are used to classical ‘divide and conquer’ mentalities. They may wonder why everyone’s doing the same thing.

There are two primary reasons. First, this is an applied/experiential skill. You can’t learn how to write a persona just by watching someone else do it. Same thing with a user test, persona, etc. Secondly, the divergence-convergence pattern is a foundation practice of design thinking/innovation. Innovation involves a lot of ostensible waste- lots of ideas are generated and few are chosen. That’s just part of the grind of creativity and innovation in real life. It’s work- not so different from everything else in that regard.



The following is a reference breakdown on grading:

Category Due Date Percent of Final Grade
1. Attendance, Participation, & Peer Reviews Every day/ongoing 30
2. Completion of Individual Assignments (as stated on Canvas) 30
3. Venture Design- Team Project Exam period 40

1. Attendance, Participation, & Peer Reviews: 30%

My objective is to provide a stimulating classroom environment for you to learn the process of software design. As you know, such a classroom environment results from a blend of course material, visitors, instructor input, and most importantly, student input.  I anticipate high quality student input into our discussions despite the pressures faced by many second-year students in finding the right career opportunity.

I plan to be prepared for every class and expect you to do the same. I will try very hard to use the class time effectively and request that you do also. This includes starting and ending the class on time.

I expect you to inform me before class if you will be missing.  Absences for reasons other than illness for which I do not receive prior notice will count against your class participation grade.

Since this class is fundamentally experiential and about doing (vs. just discussing), your work in peer review is an important part of your learning experience and grade. You will each have an assigned peer from outside your team and your peer review notes (as comments in the applicable Google Doc)

2. Completion of Individual Assignments: 30%
Product design and innovation are contact sports. You can’t learn it by watching someone else and so your individual work is very important and a critical precursor to successful group deliverables.

3. Venture Design- Team Project: 40%
See notes above on course structure for more on this.
Ultimately, you’ll get the best overall result from a combination of strong individual execution and well considered group collaboration. Your final Venture Design document (in the form of the template below) is the final deliverable for the class. There is no exam. The deliverable is due at the end of the exam period.

Teaching Notes by Item

A. I use a Google Doc and a Google Form to manage the list of available projects and signup’s, respectively. The Google Doc is available here: Software Design Project List. That doc has a link to the signup form, which you can copy. I screen all the student projects, emailing before the first day of class to ask for project in the submission format.

The only requirement I have is that the students has validated that the customer/user really does exist and really does have the problem they describe (in a material way). Depending on when and how you teach this class, taking projects out of, for instance, an entrepreneurship class could be a great way to screen. That is what I do between this class and the Software Development class that follow this one. 
At Darden I typically teach on an ‘early week’ schedule, which is 85 minutes Monday and Tuesday. The assignments are calibrated to (very) roughly 90 minutes of student work. I make assignments (and all large ones) due on the Friday we have class. The only exception is smaller assignments, which I make due the next day so they’re ready for use in class. These are typically items we’ve mostly finished in class. 
This is something that’s in the intro. slides, but as an intructor you’ll probably need to continue to explain and reinforce: the diverge-converge pattern is ostensibly wasteful but that’s just how good design works. If you want to produce something really good, you have to try a few things and do some discarding 


1. Standish Group study reported by their chairman Jim Johnson at XP2002