Digital Product Design (In-Person Class)

You’re a Learner/Student

This page describes a class about software design- surprise, surprise! You’ll find a bunch of things here you can use on a self-service basis, but it’s mainly designed for instructors. If you’re looking for a more put-together learning experience, a lot of this material is in my course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking‘ on Coursera (part of the Agile Development specialization).

You’re an Instructor

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. Also, there are a bunch of general resourced on the LEARN/TECH page.

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 product development teams.

By the end of this course, you’ll be proficient in today’s most prevalent applied innovation methods, including:

  1. Discovering and validating your early market and focal customer problems through subject interviews
  2. Formulating testable propositions and design experiments to rapidly test them (a la Lean Startup)
  3. Creating development-friendly, collaboration-friendly inputs through user stories and prototypes
  4. Parallel prototyping and testing user interface concepts

Class Structure

Your final 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- Focused Exploration

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Evaluate and explain the relevance of key innovation techniques for modern digital design


The Win You Design


  1. Project Submissions (Optional)
    Submit a student venture project if you have one.A
  2. Review The Win You Design. Be prepared to discuss the following questions:
    A) Andrew went into his launch with data and insights that made him confident he’d encounter a lot of demand, but he didn’t. Why?
    B) What do you think he should do? Why?
    C) What do you think went well with his process for developing the venture?
    D) What do you think could have gone better? What would you do differently?
    E) How do you think he should develop the venture from here?
    F) Specifically, what should he focus on next week?
  3. Read the following post and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Paul Adams: Great PMs don’t spend their time on solutions
    What do great PM’s spend their time doing? Why?
    The author described a spectrum of time allocations across the product pipeline. Why do you think tends to be so much more emphasis on the later (design & development) parts of the pipeline?

Session 2: Manning the Lookout- Creating Actionable Observations 

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Create interview guides to test and develop personas and problem scenarios with human subjects


Knowing What Matters, Part I


  1. Review Knowing What Matters, Part IBe prepared to discuss the following questions: 
    A) How might Andrew find subjects?
    B) What screening, if any, is necessary to make sure he’s talking to a relevant subject?
    C) How might he interview subjects so that they stay focused on his topic of interest but aren’t led to a particular answer? In particular, how should he sequence his questions? Please prepare an interview guide.
  2. Read the following post and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Steve Blank: How Startups Should Do Customer Discovery
    Why is it important to ‘get outside the building’?
    How does this apply to a product or project from your experience?

Supplemental Resources

  1. Personas Tutorial
    See specifically the section ‘Drafting Discovery Questions’.
  2. Interview Guide Template
    Please see this section of the Google Docs template: Interview Guide.
  3. 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 

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Create actionable personas with Think-See-Feel-Do
2. Set the stage for innovative yet focused value propositions by using problem scenarios to frame underlying jobs-to-be-done and alternatives


Knowing What Matters, Part II


  1. Review Knowing What Matters, Part IIBe prepared to discuss the following questions: 
    A) What do you think about the transcripts? Are there parts you would have skipped? Gone into more depth?
    B) What do you think Andrew learned vs. still needs to learn?
    C) What might the hiring manager and the functional manager look like as personas?
    D) What problem scenarios exist for them? What metrics would you use? What alternatives are in place today?
    E) Based on the personas you create from the transcripts, how well understood are these personas? How about the problem scenarios? Where did you notice important consistencies vs. inconsistencies?
    F) What are some traits you noticed that you think might (or might not) suggest that a certain type of customer would be a good early market? Early adopter? Is there a difference?
  2. Read the following post and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) HBR: Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”
    What is a job to be done?
    What’s the difference between a JTBD and a solution?
    When and why is that distinction useful?
    What’s the JTBD for one of your favorite products?

Supplemental Resources

  1. Personas Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Personas Template
    This is a Google Docs template. Using it is optional but it’s already set up with all the applicable sections.
  3. Coursera Videos on Personas
    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.
  4. Problem Scenarios Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  5. 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.
  6. Coursera Videos
    This video from Week 3 of Course 1 reviews the Google AdWords exercise we did to test your personas and problem scenarios.
  7. The Design of Everyday Things (Optional)
    Chapters 1 + 2.

Session 4: Setting Course- Designing & Testing Your Proposition

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Pair value propositions with underlying jobs to be done for disciplined, creative testing of value to the buyer through iteration
2. Take ideas and structure them as testable hypotheses (a la Lean Startup)
3. Use product proxies (MVP’s) to quickly and inexpensively test the above, including pattern recognition for proven practices


An MVP, Not a 1.0


  1. Review An MVP, Not a 1.0Be prepared to discuss the following questions: 
    A) What do you think of Andrew’s hypothesis? Is it the right place to start for testing? Would you modify it? Decompose/unpack it into more detailed hypotheses?
    B) How would you imagine with core user experience with a storyboard? (Just a paper sketch that you photograph with your phone is fine.)
    C) What MVP options might make sense for testing Andrew’s hypothesis?
    D) Considering specifics, what might at least one MVP concept look like for each of the following archetypes: 1) concierge 2) wizard of oz 3) sales? (see Exhibit B for the archetypes)
    E) For the above, what would be the pivotal metric and what’s a reasonable threshold for that metric?
    F) Other ideas for testing the idea?
  2. Form teams and prepare for next week’s assignment by setting up subject interviews now.
  3. Read the following post and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Tristan Kromer: Concierge vs. Wizard of Oz Test
    What’s the difference between a concierge vs. Wizard of Oz test?
    This isn’t physics and there aren’t exact answers- how are these distinctions useful?
    What’s an idea you’ve wanted to test and which, if either, test pattern do you think is most applicable?

Supplemental Resources

  1. Lean Startup Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial.
  2. Storyboarding Tutorial
    See in particular the section on storyboarding the customer journey.
  3. Experiments Template
    The link above will take you to a simple table where you can pair experiment ideas with hypotheses. The section after that is a table for going into more depth on a particular experiment (which you may or may not want to do).
  4. 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.

NOTE: The next session will be the first group assignment and students will need to have formed teams. 

Session 5: Your Venture- Solving the Right Problem (Part 1)

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Apply the tools of design thinking/product design to identifying high-quality, testable product opportunities

Graded Assignment (Group)

NOTE: This is the first group assignment and the students will need to have to formed teams for completion of this assignment. The topic for the assignments below is the team’s selected venture concept. 

  1. Do/Group: Draft Project Personas 
    WHAT? Draft at least one persona, including:
    – Screening Question: How will you know if a subject represents this persona?
    – 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. See also #a1-part1.
    EXAMPLE? See sections ‘Example A‘ and ‘Example B‘ in the personas tutorial.
  2. Do/Group: Draft Problem Scenarios
    WHAT? Draft problem scenarios, including:
    – Problem Scenario (Make sure the problem scenario is framed in terms of a fundamental job-to-be-done. The description should apply equally well to the Alternative as well as your Value Proposition.)
    – Alternative (What is currently their most preferred alternative?)
    – Note: You do not need to formulate the Value Propositions at this point (but feel free).
    WHERE? Using the problem scenario-alternative,-value proposition template on your individual Venture Design doc. See also #a1-part2.
    EXAMPLE? The persona examples above are paired with problem scenarios, just like you’ll see in the template.
  3. Do/Group: Draft Customer/User Discovery Questions 
    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. See also #a1-part3.
    EXAMPLE? See the section on ‘Persona & Problem Hypothesis‘ in the Customer Discovery Handbook (the examples come after a few paragraphs of introduction).
  4. Do/Group: Complete at least Four (4) Subject Interviews
    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. See also #a4. 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).

Session 6: Your Venture- Solving the Right Problem (Part 2)

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Apply the tools of evidence-based innovation (particularly Lean Startup) to the job of testing a new value proposition

Graded Assignment (Group)

  1. Do/Group: Draft Value Propositions for Your Problem Scenarios
    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. See also #a3-part1.
    EXAMPLE? See sections ‘Example A‘ and ‘Example B‘ in the personas & problem scenarios tutorial.
  2. Do/Group: Draft a Summary Venture Hypothesis
    WHAT? This is just a very high level summary of what you propose to do for the user and how you hope they’ll respond. You’ll use the same general format we’ve been applying for assumptions:
    [If we [do something] for [persona], they will [respond in a certain way]].
    WHERE? This should go in your individual Venture Design template in the area right above your assumptions (Core Hypothesis). See also #a3-part2.
    EXAMPLE? See section ‘Example 1‘ in the Lean Startup tutorial.
  3. Do/Group: Place Your AIDAOR Storyboard 
    WHAT? The idea here is to imagine/hypothesize in more detail the customer journey around your Summary Value Hypothesis in order to improve your ideas on MVP and the detail + relevance of your assumptions. Take the AIDAOR storyboard from class and place it in your Venture Design doc.
    WHERE? In the subsection on customer journey within the section on your Value Hypothesis. See also #c2.
    EXAMPLE? See the customer journey section in the storyboarding tutorial.
  4. Do/Group: Draft Three MVP Ideas
    WHAT? The idea here is to a) apply your understanding of the 3 MVP archetypes (concierge, wizard of Oz, sales) and b) diverge some ideas on how you might test your core value hypothesis.
    WHERE? This should go in your individual Venture Design template in the area right below your Core Value Hypothsis (MVP Ideas). See also #a3-part3.
    EXAMPLE? See section ‘Example 1‘ in the Lean Startup tutorial.
  5. Do/Group: Draft a Working Set of Assumptions and MVP Ideas Against Your Value Hypothesis 
    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, but don’t worry too much about that- mainly, consider whether the hypothesis is truly pivotal or not. Consider if/how the MVP vehicles you drafted might serve to test these assumptions (feel free to revise those if you find them lacking!).
    WHERE? These should go in you Venture Design template in the section What are the key assumptions?. See also #a3-part4.
    EXAMPLE? See section ‘Example 1‘ in the Lean Startup tutorial. You’ll want to skip down to the subsection ‘Value Hypothesis’.
  6. Do/Group: Design (an) Experiment(s) for Your Assumption(s) 
    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. See also #a5.
    EXAMPLE? See section ‘Example 1‘ in the Lean Startup tutorial. There are two experiment examples at the very end of that section.

Session 7: Planning Your Expedition- Facilitating Narrative Collaboration

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Progress validated learning on personas, problem scenarios, and propositions to development-friendly narrative via user stories and storyboards
2. Sketch vivid, actionable, discussable user stories & storyboards at multiple levels of detail
3. Facilitate narrative collaboration and prioritization for learning with user stories & storyboards


The Testable Design


  1. Review The Testable DesignBe prepared to present your work and discuss the following questions: 
    A) Draft an ‘epic user story’ to summarize the interaction described by the storyboard. What initiates or triggers this story? When is it done and successful from the perspective of the user?
    B) Detail individual ‘child user stories’ within the epic to detail the component interactions in more detail. Do you think the storyboard is missing important details? It’s normal and healthy to swivel between the storyboard and the user story as you develop the details. Do you see any details they might have missed?
    C) Are the user stories testable? Could you take them, sketch out a testable prototype, and test it with a user?
  2. Read the following post and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Laura Klein: The Right Deliverables
    What are the three general reasons designers create deliverables?
    For a situation where you needed to design something, how would you have answered the questions the author poses-
    who is your audience?
    what are you trying to communicate?
    what sort of action do you want them to be able to take?
    What did you deliver? Would you have tried something different in retrospect?

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/User Stories
    My Coursera course ‘Agile Meets Design Thinking‘ covers the creation of user stories, the main topic of Week 4. Here are a few videos that might be helpful for review: 1) Preparing for Great User Stories 2) Writing Great User Stories 3) Adding Test Cases to User Stories.
  4. Coursera Videos/Working with User Stories
    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

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Explain how product design achieves simplicity through a disciplined process
2. Use a structured framing of user cognition to focus design and testing of a user interaction, linking to testable rewards
3. For a given user story, identify and analyze pattern elements + comparables for a user interaction


Getting Useful Software Out the Door Quickly


  1. Review Getting Useful Software Out the Door QuicklyBe prepared to present your work and discuss the following questions:
    A) As he thought about these activities, DeWitt wondered how his team should categorize the different types of tasks in current user stories in general user interface patterns (text-based search, saving a list, etc.). What do you think?
    B) What types of interface elements might a user be expecting to accomplish a task, like, say, searching for a part?
    C) What existing user interface pattern examples (from whatever site/application) might be applicable to that functional space?
  2. Read the following posts and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Donald Norman’s Three Levels of Design & Donald Norman: The three ways that good design makes you happy 
    What are the three levels of design?
    What design attributes are most important at each? How do the required skills and methods differ at each level?
    How would you describe a recent interaction in terms of those three levels?

Supplemental Resources

  1. Prototyping Tutorial
    This is a written tutorial, including notes on the use of comparables.
  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) The Importance of Comparables & Prototyping 4) Creating Interactive Prototypes in Balsamiq.

Session 9: Charting the Right Course- Parallel Prototyping 

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Translate work from the last session into parallel prototypes with interaction for user testing


Parallel Prototyping for Beginners

Graded Assignment (Individual)

  1. Review Parallel Prototyping for Beginners. Submit your work and be prepared to present it, discussing the following questions:
    A) Based on the user stories and comparables, what are two (or more) parallel concepts that cover the entire functional space/user journey described by the user stories below?
    B) Why do you think those in particular make sense?
    C) You may submit your Balsamiq prototypes in native (Balsamiq) format, via Google drive, or as a PDF.
    D) Be sure to explain how your various prototypes relate to the individual user stories (organizing them by section, etc.). Bonus points for including your own comparable’s.
    E) How would you test this prototype with a subject? What would you ask them to do? How would you decide if it’s a pass or a fail?

Supporting Material

  1. Balsamiq Tutorial and Sample Files
    This tutorial is a good place to start: Your 20 Minute Prototype. It also contains sample Balsamiq files (which you may or may not need).

Other Preparation

  1. Read the following posts and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Michael Straker: Web Design: The Case for Parallel Prototyping
    What were the findings of the research the author cites?
    Why do you think they found what they did?

Session 10: Are we there yet? User testing. 

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Design and conduct usability testing


Sample Usability Test: Social Media for the Small Business

Preparation (Group)

  1. Review and run Sample Usability Test: Social Media for the Small BusinessBe prepared to present your work and discuss the following questions:
    A) Review the test and try it out for yourselves. Without leading the subject, do you think it’s clear enough?
    B) Run the test with a subject and record your results (Screenflow (Mac) or Camtasia Studio (PC) are good tools for this).
    C) How did it work? Did you notice certain things you did vs. didn’t do that you’d like to improve on?
    Note: You can fork the Google Doc (File >> Make a Copy) and modify it.
  2. Read the following posts and be prepared to discuss the questions below:
    A) Erika Hall: Just Enough Research
    What’s hard about doing things well?
    If your current design is a series of decisions, what are those decisions?
    Which are most critical to the success of the venture? How might you test them? I
    f questions determine results, what are the most important questions for this project?
    Why is ‘How do we get Millenials to like us?’ a bad question?

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) Fun & Affordable User Testing 2) A Test Plan Anyone Can Use (Part 1 & Part 2).

Session 11: Your Venture- Delivering the Right Solution (Part 1)

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Apply the tools of product design/Lean Startup/lean UX to extending validating learning on personas, problem scenarios and propositions with high-quality, testable designs.

Preparation (Group)

NOTE 1: The topic for the assignments below is the team’s selected venture concept. 

  1. Agile Epics 
    WHAT? Think through the major product experiences 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- epic sounds big, but 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 proposition/solution.
    WHERE? List the epics above the table you see in the Venture Design template section ‘Epic User Stories‘. The table itself is for child stories and test cases that pair with one individual epic (one table per epic). See also #a6-part1.
    EXAMPLE? See sections these sections in the agile user story tutorial: ‘Example A‘ and ‘Example B‘.
  2. Storyboard an Agile Epic 
    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, 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. See also #a6-part2.
    EXAMPLE? See sections these sections in the agile user story tutorial: ‘Example A‘ and ‘Example B‘. See also the section on agile user stories in the storyboarding tutorial.
  3. Draft Child User Stories & Test Cases for An Agile Epic 
    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.
    See also #a6-part3.
    EXAMPLE? See sections these sections in the agile user story tutorial: ‘Example A‘ and ‘Example B‘.

Note 2: For class discussion (no need to do separate write-up in assignment), be Prepared to Relate the Above to a Focal View of Your Work on ‘Solving the Right Problem’
Who is your target persona? What kind of shoes do they wear?
What’s the tension between how things are now and how they’d like them to be in your area?
What is your focal JTBD/PS? Top alternative(s)?
What is your focal proposition? What do you think you’re doing that’s better enough than that alt. (VP)?

Session 12: Your Venture- Delivering the Right Solution (Part 2)

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Tune and extend user stories as a foundation element of a continuous design process
2. For a given user story, identify and analyze pattern elements + comparables for a user interaction
3. Design and conduct usability testing

Preparation (Group)

  1. Evaluate Comparable’s for a Selected User Story
    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’s functional contours and looking for related patterns and comparables (vs. just looking at similar businesses). Find enough comparables and patterns to prototype (at least) two separate and parallel (same story) directions for your user stories. Organize your patterns and comparables, including screenshots and notes about what you like, don’t like, and, most importantly, what you find applicable.
    WHERE? Place screenshots, notes (including, probably, links) in the section on comparables. See also #a9-part1.
    EXAMPLE? See ‘Example A‘ in the prototyping tutorial.
  2. Parallel Prototype (Min. Two Versions) a User Story 
    WHAT? For your selected user story, use Balsamiq to wireframe an interface that supports your story which is based on these patterns. For your key user stories, you should have two different prototypes that are substantially different.
    WHERE? Place the screenshots, notes, and Balsamiq mockup’s for each of your (min) 2 directions in the prototype/executions section of your individual Venture Design template. See also #a9-part2. Also, create printouts of your mockups to use in the next section where we’ll do dot voting.
    EXAMPLE? See ‘Example A‘ in the prototyping tutorial.
  3. Interactive Prototype 
    WHAT? Pick what you think is your best of the two parallel directions 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 on ‘Product Version’ of your Group Venture Design template. See also #a10. Make sure to include your team, your instructor, and all your teams’ peer reviewers in the permissions for the Balsamiq file.
    EXAMPLE? You can find an example in the appendix ‘example A‘ of the prototyping tutorial. At the end, you’ll find links to sample Balsamiq files you can use as a starting point. For reference, here they are: a) Parallel Mockups (Static) and b) Interactive Mockup (Concept 1).
  4. Draft & Dry Run Usability Test Plan
    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, but I would only revisit your prototype after you complete the rest of the test design. The test design should drive the wireframe- not the other way around.
    WHERE? The test plan should go in the User Testing Appendix of your converged group Venture Design template. See also #a11-part1.
    EXAMPLE? See ‘Example A‘ and Example B‘ in the Customer Discovery Handbook. Also, there is the sample social media automation test you ran in Session 10: Sample Usability Test Plan Social Media Automation.

Session 13: Final Clinic & Contest

Learning Objectives

After this session, students will be able to
1. Integrate and practice the course learning objectives through continuous design and iteration
1. Effectively communicate the quality of your work as a designer and innovator through a portfolio entry

Group Assignment (Graded)

  1. Complete at Least Four User Tests 
    WHAT? Complete at least four users tests against your usability test plan. 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 video files on Google Doc’s (permissions as usual- but make sure they’re not public) and link to the file in the subjects notes in the ‘Post-Test Debrief & Footage‘ of your Group Venture Design template. See also #a14.
    EXAMPLE? See this Coursera video- Usability Testing Demo, though in your case you only need to record your screen and the user’s face from your computer’s camera.
  2. Finalize Your Venture Design and Explain Your Perspective on the Venture
    A) Complete Appendix C: Venture Design- Final Submission.Use the left column of the table to make sure your submission is complete. Use the right column to explain your perspective on the project. The left column is the core rubric for grading of the assignment.
  3. Draft Your Team Portfolio Entry
    WHAT? Using the Google Docs portfolio template and the instructions on the tutorial on creating an application design entry, draft a portfolio entry for your group’s project. Make sure everyone on your team has an account and is added to the entry. Note: This will serve as the primary input to our end of class contest!
    WHERE? You’ll use the template above to create a portfolio entry on Behance (the free plan is fine). Submit the URL of the Behance entry.
    EXAMPLE? See Trust the Process app example.

Session 14: Final Clinic & Contest

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 
    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 regular paper or 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
    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 regular paper or 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
    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 regular paper or 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 
    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 
    See the Enterprise Software Playbook for examples and templates.

Speaker Footage

Donald Norman (Author/Faculty UCSD)

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.

Madison Mount (IDEO)

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.

Tristan Kromer (Lean Startup Circle/Kromatic)

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.

Bill Wake (Author/Industrial Logic)

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.




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 30
4. Team Portfolio Submission Exam period 10

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. 

B.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 instructor 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