Product exercises – postcard from the future etc

7 Apr

Introduction

Below is a set of exercises I have run or participated in – that are intended to facilitate product discovery & product development early in the project lifecycle. These exercises help teams generate a product vision and solicit high-level features/themes around which a prioritised product backlog can be generated.

Postcard from the future

Format

  1. Split the group of participants into pairs. Participants include senior project stakeholders (UX, product, tech etc). Try to create cross discipline pairs.
  2. Assign each pair a user persona. User personas are designed to provide insight into your market by identifying how different types of consumer will use your product. An example persona which you could assign to a pair would be “Mobile Mark. 24 yrs old London professional with the latest iPhone. Likes new technology. Regularly checks Twitter etc …”
  3. Ask each pair to write a postcard from the future as their assigned persona. An example would be “imagine we have just launched our new responsive website. Mobile Mark is a tech savy user. He is so happy with our new website that he has decided to write a postcard to our team.” A pair would then write a postcard as Mark – about why he loves the new responsive website.
  4. Once the postcards have been been generated – ask each pair to introduce their assigned persona to the wider group and present that persona’s postcard from the future. Allow the wider group to ask any follow-up questions.

Note – I have also run this session with Tweets/Vines from the future. The Twitter format is particularly useful for capturing a concise summary – often with the single most important feature. The Vine format is an interesting variant, it allows people to be more creative and tell a story (e.g. “Mark gets on the bus, checks the website, jumps up and down in excitement and spills his drink, Tweets his friend”).

Postcard

Tweet

Vine

Benefits

This exercise is useful for:

  1. Getting senior project stakeholders to think about the product from a persona’s point of view. It’s easy for stakeholders to think of features their own viewpoint – this exercises allows senior project stakeholders to empathise and create a vision from their user’s perspective.
  2. Identifying “warm fuzzy features”. It’s a great technique for discovering features that would delight your users e.g. everytime Man Utd score Mark’s phone cheers, otherwise it boos”. The format and persona based nature of the exercise encourage creative and out-of-the-box thought.

Hopes and fears

Format

  1. The facilitator will introduce the project goal to the stakeholders e.g. “We are planning to create an Apple watch app. Here are several potential designs. Before we proceed any further – we want to ask everyone for feedback about their hopes and fears for this project”. Stakeholders in this context are anyone who has an interest in the success of the project.
  2. The facilitator will ask stakeholders to write down their hopes and fears in silence. These hopes/fears are then placed on a board.
  3. Once all the feedback has been captured on the board – the facilitator will talk through the hopes and fears. The facilitator will: seek clarity on specific points, encourage an open dialogue on each item, seek agreement and identify common themes.
  4. The hopes and fears will then be taken away and captured in the project space (e.g. a wiki space).

Benefits

  1. This exercise allows stakeholders to convey their aspirations and perceived risks early in the project lifecycle. It reduces project risk and builds consensus.
  2. Individual hopes can form the basis of high-level themes or features. For example “I hope we can provide content that is useful to a user’s context”. This hope may become a feature to “vary the content/format depending on time of day”.

Now, next and later

Format

  1. The facilitator will hold up individual features (features are prepared in advance). They will describe each feature and encourage an open dialogue with the audience. The audience is typically senior project stakeholders.
  2. For each feature, detail and clarity will be added through discussion. The audience will be asked to assign each feature to either the now, next or later column. If too many items are added to the Now column then the facilitator should challenge this.
  3. Once all features have been presented to the audience – the facilitator will review the content in each column. The facilitator will confirm whether each column contains a logical slice of features and verify consensus within the group. Items can be moved. Particular emphasis should be given to the Now column – because these features could become the 1st phase of the project.

Benefits

  1. Primarily used for early product prioritization. The “Now” features can become the MVP. The exercise produces the phases required to achieve a vision.
  2. The Now, next and later technique is similar to MOSCOW prioritisation – however it offers a slightly fresher format.
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