Tag Archives: workshop

Diverging and Converging Through the Creative Process with #Ideas2Action

We all make decisions at basic and more advanced levels every day. At the basic level it will be about where to eat when meeting friends, while at the more advanced might be about where to go on holiday. On beyond that it could be about which career path to take, or whether that business idea is worth pursuing, and if so, then how to do that.

At the basic level we probably work through our steps subconsciously without much thought. As we move up the levels of complexity we will start to pause and consider what we’re doing at each step.

The Creative Process uses Diverging and Converging

The creative process includes four stages of discovery, design, develop and deliver. In discovery we explore what is the issue to be resolved. Design sets the parameters of the solution. We prototype a solution in develop, which we then use in the deliver stage. During each of these stages we should be looking for diverse options (diverging) before we apply a set of criteria to select an appropriate solution (converging) to apply.

If we walk through the simple process of deciding where to go for dinner with friends you can see how this works, and why we often go through steps unconsciously. We’ll also contrast this with a startup scenario to see how as the stakes go up the conscious steps come into view.

Discovery is about context

We start with the idea that it would be good to meet for dinner. We check with friends to see if they agree, or if lunch would be better depending upon the occasion, and if anything specific is to be talked about. Here we’re framing the challenge to come.

In the business scenario the discovery phase is about determining who your customers might be, and how much demand there is for the service you envisage. You would also consider any competitors, and where you would position yourself in the market. This is setting the background and context of the service you want to offer.

Design clarifies the boundaries of your options

For our meal with friends we need to now agree upon date and time, as well as who should be included in the outing. We can diverge on the options of when as well as who should come, and then select the final options based upon who can make it for the meal on which date.

The business will need to explore what might be possible with the business given what it knows about its potential market and customers. Here it can be wild in its options, and then select the one that is the most promising, exciting, or novel.

Develop is where we create the prototype solution

Now we get to the part where we decide to go for the meal. We have many options in principle, but in reality are constrained by budget, availability of seating, or reservations, as well as likes/dislikes of food by our friends, and the time available for the meal according to the type of place we choose for the meal. We can float these options to our friends until we find one that everyone agrees on for the meal. We probably rule out, based on past experience, a number of these questions as we already know the answer.

In the business we’re selecting and arranging the components of the service in different configurations to find the one that meets customer expectations best. Our constraints might be tied to a range of options such as ‘which one is most adaptable in the long term’, or ‘which one offers the most return soonest’, or ‘which one offers a long, steady increase in development because it also opens the doors for more options in the future.

Deliver is for confirming our assumptions

This is when we meet our friends and have that meal. We talk, eat, drink and find out that ‘yes, we did pick the right place’, or ‘bother, the service here is horrible. We should’ve gone to the other place’. Now we know for next time. Because, there is always ‘a next time’.

For the business, this is where the item is produced, packaged and sold. Or, the service is deployed and we’re working with our customers. Now we discover that everything is as expected, or is better/worse, than we planned. We also now find new issues, challenges and possibly opportunities, which we hadn’t thought about. This is all information, which we can use and develop for our next round of changes to our business.

We can now start the process over too. For this is never a linear process, but more like a wheel that goes round and round with multiple iterations. We learn more each time around for a specific project, but also learn more about the process too and how to better develop options for diverging to gain more options, as well as how to choose how we should converge on few, and then on one option to move forward.

Diverging and Converging with the Business Model Canvas

You might be thinking, I don’t need this, I have the Business Model Canvas to guide me. Yes, it will help you determine a good mix of components for your business model. But… it doesn’t help you work out a good way to diverge and generate more options. Nor does it help you determine the type of converging that you need at each stage.

In addition, the business model canvas doesn’t help you validate the assumptions behind your ideas. This process could be used to help you prioritise the components of your business model. Which ones should be focused on first to confirm that your business model is worthy of your time and energy. This process will help you validate your ideas with prototypes so that you ‘know’ you’re going in the right direction with your idea.

Attend an Ideas2Action workshop to apply this process to your challenges

Janny and I can teach you how to use this process in our workshop. You come with a challenge and we help you work through it during the session. We provide you with space, time and support to diverge on options, select the right criteria for converging on the one to carry forward. You leave with your action plan and know what to do next to make your dream happen.

You can use this process to determine where to go for dinner, or you could also use it to help you

  • explore career/retirement options
  • choose which of those business startup ideas you should pursue
  • decide upon your special holiday destination/activity
  • choose which option you should develop next at work

Whatever you do at whichever stage of life you’re at, we can help you uncover more options than you think you have, so that you pick the one that will leave you more satisfied than you thought you would be.

Go sign up for our #ideas2action workshop on 2 December 2017 on Eventbrite. Attend before the holidays so that you can plan your new ideas further for the new year.

HEA STEM Workshop on Developing Student-Run Software Houses

In March 2014 I ran a workshop on developing student-run software houses for the HEA at London Metropolitan University in London. The day was broken into two halves with the morning devoted to short case studies with plenty of time for questions, and an afternoon of hands-on workshop starting with Strategic Play session using Lego Serious Play to let people think about their own situation followed by a wider focused World Cafe style approach to our main questions. This worked well for our twenty-five or so participants.

The seven short case studies meant we had at least one look at each of the four ‘live client interaction models’ I’ve identified at different universities. The ones in bold presented for us.

  • Model one focuses on the degree with a core live client module for all students (Durham, Lancaster, Sheffield Hallam and Aston)
  • Model two starts small when someone offers services to community supplied by students across discipline or university (Aberdeen, Greenwich, Worcester, Plymouth and Chester)
  • Model three is an umbrella where a commercial and entrepreneurial unit organises activities (Edge Hill, Hull, and Napier)
  • Model four is a commercial unit where a manager liaises with live clients and organises students as staff, or as freelance developers (London Met, Southampton Solent, Kent and Sheffield)

The afternoon sessions started with the warm up using StrategicPlay approaches using Lego Serious Play with each participant reflecting on their own situation by building models to share with others at their table reflecting these questions:

  • what is your biggest challenge to the next step of starting, or developing further, a student-run software house
  • add how will you have overcome this challenge in the next six months?

StrategicPlay session
The goal was to have people reflect on their situation and take in what they’d learned from the morning case studies and general discussion over lunch. The next step was to widen out the discussion using a World Cafe approach that addressed these four questions:

  • What might the ‘next level’ look like at your institutions?
  • What don’t you know that you wished you did know?
  • What is holding you back?
  • Where do we want to go?

We gathered the results on sticky notes on flip charts which have now been collated here.

What might the next level look like for our institution?

Sticky notes say:next level at your institution
HR/finance/IT/legal departments informed and engaged
IP and contracts
IT support?!
senior management support
investent in future
long-term planning, sustainability
visibility internally and externally
Plan B
more staff involved
greater engagement of staff
incentives for staff to engage
train students to do some work for staff autonomy

enhance first year lead in
opportunities to engage at every level capture results
opportunities both inside and outside curriculum
separate or linked?
graduate/industry mentors
external clients
curriculum keeping pace with industry
guessing the next gen.
maintenance/support ‘surviving the summer’
working around inertia

How might we achieve this?

how might we achieve thisSticky notes say:
motivate by linking to drivers – employability, income, student satisfaction
reward staff appropriately
enthusiastic staff members setup team – perhaps as their own loss of time initially
less talk, more action
academics working in collaboration with software specialists
find large org’s in local area that would support idea and business costs
get external partners
focus on lean and agile – reduces risk
specialised contracts
research orientated software solutions
make initiatives self-financing
institutional mandate to support this including legal, finance, etc
departments recognise value of this and willingly invest money
skip the university – set it up externally!
seek approval/support from relevant departments. exchange knowledge with similar schemes
students develop own ideas initially!

What’s holding us back?

what's holding us back?Sticky notes say:
support from university service teams, e.g finance, legal, etc
buy-in by key people
lack of sustained support from senior decision makers
sustainable future and proof planning
visibility for the university’s programmes
increased pressure on staff time. Limited staff resources
incentive misalignment (workload reluctance)
the contractual process ->timeliness
space: labs, group working areas
IT services
structure for this new initiative
industrial involvement (of the right type!)
assessment strategy
good infrastructure needed
(small?) numbers (of students), lack of vitality, feedback (about how we are doing), atmosphere
quality assurance
managing TA support
can we deliver what client’s want? within budget, timeline, etc?
module descriptor and latency issues
getting the right type of students and staff on board
varying skill base of students
how to get the first project out?
visibility for students (student motivation)
management: unreasonable expectations and promises

What don’t we know that we wish we knew?

What don't we know that we wish we knew?Sticky notes say:
how to engage less-able students safely in outreach-like activity
how do we group students?
engaging with mid-range students
is here an unaddressed market for ‘safe’ student activity? (i.e. not addressed by existing business)
how to identify bad projects (and clients)
how to identify good projects
how to combine live projects with rigorous assessment efficiently
use cv* to filter the type of students and not necessary be a cv
students do not get paid in many successful cases
how much trouble will I get into if i short-circuit university procedures?
things that active software developers know
future skills to demand
what barriers to entry prevent students joining software development teams
better lead and networking
costing and planning
a fair commercial contracts that is business, not ‘academic’
when IP is given away. Should source code be accessible by client, or just the final product?

Where do we wish to go?

where do we want to go?Sticky notes say:
Happy students (NSS)
flexible and adaptable students
develop confidence in students by giving them positive opportunities
generating good quality professional [students?]
generating successful students
good score DCHE (festinate of leavers in higher education)
enable students to develop skills that industry want
maintain links with former students
catching the next wave (wearables)
happy, satisfied customers
maintain connections with industry (be in their little black book)
will develop good reputation with industry
a successful cooperation with industry
assist local companies
able to adapt quickly to changes (in IT industry, HE, accreditation, etc)
grow talent pool in the UK
cross department links
ease of implementation of programmes
ease of assessment
have fun
efficient resourcing
showcase research
generate income
improve overall reputation
feedback in connection with modules and programmes
manage numbers realistically
depends upon obstacles in your way?

Pulling some of the thoughts together across these boards we see recurring themes:

  • Support from higher levels of the university, and coordination with other important departments like finance, legal and human resources as well as IT. In order to make this work smoothly each of these aspects needs to be addressed.
  • Support and recognition for the time and effort in managing these projects with students, and possibly some sort of incentive beyond this to encourage more staff to participate in these programmes too.
  • The difficulty in finding good students to participate, and levelling up those who are willing but lacking some skills to work on these types of projects.

So there is still more work to be done here, but we’ve made a start. There is also intention from the workshop participants to move ahead with this work. To start with the JISC mail list STUDENT-LIVE-CLIENT-WORK has now been created for those interested in talking about this more and keeping in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.