Getting Started: Don’t Play Telephone With Your Product

Building a web platform, mobile app or ecommerce business there are unlimited factors and options that can be considered.  Most people asking this question of us tend to be in an organization of some form.  Whether you are an established company, a Series-A funded startup or a first time founder stepping up to the plate, the choices ahead of you will shape your product.  

We find it can be like a game of telephone when communicating your product idea.  You tell your teammates, boss or investors.  They tell their teammates or move the idea up the chain to their boss.  Just like the game you used to play in kindergarten, the idea morphs slightly with each telling.  While it can be great to get others excited about the product it can risk running into unmet expectations of killer features down the line that don’t exist.

Getting Everybody on the Same Page

When a project is just getting going it lives through verbal communication.  Like a story told from person to person it mutates a little in each person’s mind.  This is why people quickly start to put their ideas down visually and build a paper prototype.  It is much easier to reason about a product and how features are composed when you can see them for yourself in a prototype.

However, ahead of building a comprehensive prototype, we use language to describe a user experience.  The first step to getting something down on a page is getting all of the stakeholders in agreement.  This could be a founder and the product team he is hiring (like Fulton Works) or it could be project stakeholders across an organization that aims to collaborate to build a solution.  

Crazy Eights

The first and best exercise to run in this case is pulled from the Google Ventures Design Sprint process known as Crazy Eights.  There are a number of benefits to this exercise.  It is quick and requires participants to think under pressure.  The instructions for the exercise are as follows:

  1. Hand out blank paper and Sharpies to all participants.

  2. Have everyone fold a sheet of paper in half 4 times so they all have 8 panels on the sheet.

  3. Give 5 minutes total to draw eight sketches of user interaction, 40 seconds for each panel. Sketches should be really rough.

  4. Throughout the exercise continue to remind people of the time and make sure that it is clear which sketch they should be on.

  5. Repeat as necessary.

[source: thoughtbot’s github] which they also note that Crazy Eights is based on the 6-8-5 game.

By running this exercise alone we are able to quickly identify common features that have been verbally discussed but never formally agreed upon.  We try to emphasize that the panels should be filled in order of the most important screens first.  This brings the killer features that everybody has spoken about up front and tends to show the small differences between each stakeholder or founder.  We’ll repeat this exercise a few times depending on the depth of the project however we find that in just the first round our team has vastly more material than when just playing telephone.

Download our Crazy Eights Template to help you get started.