Test Phase

The test went pretty well.  Our goal was to revisit those who had originally completed our survey and ask them how we’d addressed their observations and experiences to improve the service dining experience.  Our intention was to express our efforts on empathy and make them feel like their needs were addressed and that they were at the foundation of our innovation.  We encouraged our testers to activate the test from their phones or tablets as they would if using in real practice.

We received strong feedback from our first survey as to the extended length of the questions (which may have lead to reduced feedback to the testing phase).  Therefore we limited the explanation and simply asked our users to play.  We then presented a feedback grid with four simple questions:  what did you like, question, want to change and what was a bigger idea?  While the responses weren’t overwhelmingly large in numbers the quality of feedback gave us enough insight to understand the application of our project.  From questions such as “how much overhead will be required to provide such details of the process” and ” how can you be sure the information is correct” to suggestions of a refill button and a suggestions box or user review forum/link, I think we accomplished our goal of testing for refinement.  What we were really seeking to understand is the reaction to our ideas to address their problems with restaurant service.

This step, in my opinion, is not done enough in the workplace.  When an idea is generally brought to light, developed, and is developer approved, it is pushed through the system as a generally accepted application to a process.  Many times I think people generalize that the developer who realized a need and who has worked to address that need is in a better situation to judge the viability and practicality of putting the product or process in place.  This is clearly a mistake.  In my experience, it is a mistake because even if the developer is 100% correct, the end user is much  more likely to accept the new product or process where they feel as thought they have had an influence.  Many times I’ve used this “test” to my advantage.  When I think I have a solution, I approach the situation with  “beginner’s mindset” just to allow the user to be more in control and feel less threatened by any influence I may have had on the project.  At times, this method has worked not only to get acceptance, but has led to further refinement by being open (or at least appearing so) to suggestions.  So it is not as if I’m fooling the user, but maybe even fooling myself toward refinement.  Either way the goal of improvement to the ultimate end user is applied through a test.


The prototype phase was more focused on the details of our solution.  We had to bring our problem definition to a point where we could incorporate our research and apply the ideas we’d gathered for something that was actually usable.  What we realized is that as “breakthrough” as some of our ideas were, the real solutions to our process would need more basic structure.  We had to understand how each feature of our “app” would solve for our point of view.  The use of POP (prototyping on paper) app was a great way to lay out our ideas.  We started by each developing a screen or menu selection for our app and what we wanted it to do, and discussed the reasons for each component of the app.  Hopefully this created a rich “low resolution” of ideas for our users to test.  I personally struggled with such a primitive draft, knowing we were going to put it out to an audience to evaluate.  However, the process did lead us to think more strategically about what we wanted to learn from the testing phase and what we would need to include to get constructive feedback.

I recently presented a prototype of a report that I had been working on.  I developed a rough draft with our syndicated data partners (with dummy data) as an example; which could explain why I was a little gun shy of the RetaurALL app.  When I presented the “prototype” (even after explaining that is was not real data) the only questions and feedback I got was about the inaccuracy of the data.  What I understood from that project was a better prototype resulted in a better application of the real thing.  However, I can admit that there was not a lot of time invested in the project, so there was not tremendous waste of effort.  However, I do have to worry with the acceptance of the actual report, given I tested on future users that may now doubt the validity and value of what I was trying to assist them with.

Nevertheless, even our basic prototype gave a generalized approach to what we were trying to accomplish.  It allowed us to further develop our product and question each element of the design.  I also allowed us to put together the different pieces of the puzzle to see how the feature would work together cohesively and effectively.


So this was our chance to flare and I was very pleased with the “flaring” that we did!  The team did a great job of listening to each other and building on ideas without criticism or judgment.  Some crazy ideas were proclaimed, however thoughts that were otherwise craze led to some real breakthroughs.  We started with analogous contexts trying to link processes we know and apply them to restaurant service.  While we touched on a few ideas, it didn’t go very far.  So I tried to apply a technique that I had learned, “yes, and. . . “. While this appeared to be a complete disaster as the story line quickly led to throwing food and water filled objects to waiter is white T-shirts.  Despite the failure of this technique, I think it did serve a purpose.  Our reading refers to “stoke” to “loosen up and become mentally and physically active”.  The ridiculousness of “yes, and. . .” ideation led to other topics that would otherwise be out there, seem a little more normal.  The next method we applied was false faces as we attempted to counter the intuitive context of service at a restaurant.  We debunked theories such as ordering from a menu, sitting down to eat, actual servers and paying for the meal.  This brainstorming opened up a whole new world of opportunities as we sought to understand not the feasibility of the project, but the potential need we could breakthrough.  With so many ideas, we were then able to focus our “how might we statement” and uncover potential solutions.  Now that we were open to all kinds of wacky ideas, we were able to revisit the analogous context method and apply our ideas to similar industries or familiar processes, i.e. gym membership, health-care plans and rental cars.

I would love to apply another technique we covered at work, No Way!  There are so many practices and process that are carried out in my office (especially of a hierarchical nature) that are simply continued because, “that’s how it is done around here.”  It’s almost as if Smithfield hires you for your background and experience and then brings you in to form you into their mold.  I think that is absurd.  Maybe that is why they are hiring so many kids out of college.  I feel strongly that they did/do not want that from me.  I am clearly a very outspoken person; that was obvious in the interview process.  The company realizes there are some personnel deficiencies (women, esp. in management) and hopefully I can be a step toward that change.  So I asked a few people last week when they opposed some of my radical (not really) ideas, “do you think it would get you fired?”  Some looked at me like they weren’t willing to find out, some shrugged as if I had a point.  Going along to get along is a safe place to be, but that’s not ideation and that’s not how progress happens.

I really enjoyed this exercise and my key takeaways are that refraining from judgment is the key to flaring and that people need to be in the right frame of mind to apply their “creative juices”.  We all have them, we just need to be “stoked” sometimes.

Define post

The define mode is clearly an important step in the design thinking process.  While we began our project with some clear initiatives, the define phase became evidently imperative as the empathy stage not only validated some of the concerns we anticipated, but really brought to light the different directions our “problem” could take.  When we culminated the different thoughts, actions, quotes and feelings, we were able to comb through the different reactions and group similar items and themes to one need that we can hope to solve.  We were able to see patterns that we hadn’t anticipated, like seating, and validated patterns we hypothesized, like timing.  We were able to define a few users, but narrowed our focus to a unique set that filled a greater context.  We felt as though we better understood our target user due to the feedback of our data set.  While our need was currently narrowed down to “control”, that was actually more of an insight that linked the various behaviors and actions, (whether actual or desired).  However, our defined insight was also a bridge between conflicting statements, including, “eliminate haste/waste, open bar seating — awesome” that gave us clues as to how we can help create a more enjoyable experience for the casual diner.

Work life is currently like one big empathy phase.  We surprisingly [at Smithfield] have found ourselves in a whirlwind of transition with both a Chinese buyout and a IOC merger.  In the midst of this turmoil, I’m constantly grabbing at solving for the current state while preparing for the future state.  We are a new group of category insights and each day the list of possible needs grows.  The ability to define a specific challenge is of utmost importance if for no other reason, we will not be able to solve all of life/work’s problems with category management.  A short specific focus is the only way we will stand a chance of accomplishing any (if even small) wins.

A possible POV would include:

Sales needs simplicity and clarity to understand the opportunities to grow WITH their customer.


I’m truly hoping that empathy is the most difficult step in the process.  What I needed. . . was empathy for what we were trying to do.  It was difficult to get people to participate in the questions we had.  I also felt uncomfortable “probing” for a class project.  We put together a survey and got mixed responses.

What I did observe on a personal trip with my family (extended to 14) to a restaurant was such a variation of experiences, it makes narrowing down the need or satisfaction drivers difficult.  I was immersed with them and had my own set of opinions.  I was perfectly satisfied, but what I noticed was:

  • My son (4) needed bread, etc. and something to draw (as opposed to clanging silverware).
  • My other two kids, needed lots of beverage (after a hot day on the ball field a pitcher of Gatorade would have been right on point).
  • My father in law needed traditional standards (we were at an Italian restaurant).
  • My sister and brother in law needed economy.
  • My mother in law needed a “special”.
  • My mom and “friend” needed less options.
  • My husband and I needed alcohol!
  • We needed more than one waitress.

This event did drive home the point of our research.  How is a server supposed to address multiple needs at one time?

I thought the waitress did a great job; we obviously were not an easy table.  Yet, she kept apologizing.  “For what,” I thought?  She did not feel adequate in her service, but it was not especially her fault.  Hopefully our design solutions could make a server like her feel more confident in her ability to deliver a pleasant dining experience.

We have identified a need at work.  I’m not especially clear yet how we are going to approach it.  I am taking project management in the fall and would love to use those lessons to develop a work flow process to help define the usage and engagement expectations of the rest of the organization as it applies to syndicated data management.  However, before any process is to be applied, it needs to be adopted by senior management or our efforts are DOA.  I’m hoping to use some of the empathy techniques we’ve covered thus far to observe, engage and immerse myself in the current issues and seek solutions from those that will ultimately enable or disable the application.  This, like the empathy stage, should more of a lesson in listening.  I think I currently understand the problem, but if management doesn’t think it’s a problem or doesn’t agree with our potential solution, then our efforts will be lost.  I love the idea of an inspiration board and may go ahead and implement that for our future design, both in the classroom and in the office.


Empathy & Wallet Blog

Honestly, I was a little frustrated by the wallet exercise.  I was interviewing a “customer” that clearly felt as though he had no need for a new or improved product.  While I saw opportunity to assist him in my eyes, this was clearly not the exercise and would not be a viable approach for product innovation.  However, in reading the material for this week I decided that the empathy phase as presented in the class room setting was not ideal to what we were trying to get accomplished, at least with my partner.  I think the flaw in my example was that my partner knew the end state and therefore drew conclusions/answers to his situation because he knew the questions.  The design thinking process guide stated “the best solutions come out of the best insights into human behavior”.  Much like the article indicated, I think my partner had already begun the filtering process in his mind.  The article also mentions the paradox that I face each day in my real job — people don’t always behave the way they say they do (or even the way they think they do).  While not especially practical to the classroom setting, I think I would have gotten further if I had instead observed my partner in a variety of settings and watched his behavior as it relates to his wallet in order to better empathize.

“Forget B-School, D-School is Hot” seemed to be more like propaganda for Design Thinking than practical application of the concepts.  The table that explains why D-School is way cooler than B-School completely ignores that fact that as useful as design thinking may be, it is an additional skill set that completes a portfolio of stodgy economics and financial accounting practices.  I was glad to read that the d.school “doesn’t award degrees” in that there isn’t diploma for this discipline.  However, the article did indicate that the popularity of design thinking was going in that direction with programs such as the M.B.A./M.A. in Design Leadership at Johns Hopkins and Maryland College or the master’s degree in Strategic Design and Management at Philadelphia University.  In an era of “online degrees” this curriculum could contribute to the dilution of M.B.A. and other graduate level certifications – “murky” to say the least.  I completely see the practical application of this theory as an component or elective within a traditional program either as a more creative approach to business or more economic approach to arts.  I also see real value as a “boot camp” or corporate leadership program.  I am very excited about the course and benefits I can take back into the workplace, I’m just not ready to “Forget B-School” just yet.

I work in the field of category and consumer insights for a manufacturing company that is trying to enter more into the arena of consumer package goods.  While either definitions can sell the same exact product, the approach is completely different.  I recently took this position from a similar role in a very progressive and advanced insights team.  The challenge that I am having is that while the concept of customer and consumer centric design is not new, this company just hasn’t made the paradigm shift.  They need to alter the thinking to break away from a cost plus mentality and move toward a philosophy that integrates not only the business viability, but includes learning and applying the technological feasibility and adding the element of people’s needs — desirability.  I’m hoping that this course helps me add value not just in the consumer data mining aspect of my responsibility, but in the design thinking of the organization toward a common goal.