The University of Aberdeen
The Computing Science Department


The practicals are all based around a team of 4-5 students forming an on-line business. You will use this to apply what you learn in the lectures and readings. Whatever your business it must be legal, and must be fronted by a website around which you can plan the business. You will not be building the website in this class, but rather thinking through how to make the business viable and how its different aspects would work together in order to be sustainable in a profitable manner. Your assessment should also use open data, as it provides a good starting point and brings the startup idea back to computing.

The competition option: This year the Converge Challenge has a deadline of early April 2017. This means you can use this term to craft an application for the competition based on the business idea you generate during class. You can find more details in the sub-categories of  KickStart Award or Social Enterprise Award for the Converge Challenge 2017.

Week 1 (20 Jan):  Gather problems to solve and ideate options

Explore issues in a 'painstorming' exercise  - which problems need solutions?

Step 1) Gather a small team of people from your year to explore some problems people face around:

Start with exploring individually the problems you face in these areas, and then compare these with the others in your team. Then group them to see which ones stand out. This becomes your starting point for the next step. Come back to this step if you're not finding things online.

Step 2) Go see where people talk about these topics online to see what's said in forums such as You can also search for issues in Facebook, or browse groups there too, or see what's in the comments of stories on the BBC, the news websites.

What problems do people repeatedly face? You can find forums, blog posts, and comments on news sites for people's opinions on issues. Research this for fifteen minutes, then compare notes with your team members. If someone has found a suitable theme that's proving useful, then share it with your team and go longer down this path. If not, then try a different one.

Step 3) Gather a number of topics that are the 'pain points' people mention and see if any themes or issues emege. You can put them on  this Painstorming-Template1.pdf.

Step 4) Complete this sentence with each idea: We're testing the assumption that <your assumption>, and use data from <data source> so that <target customers>, who have <customer need> can use <our service name>, which helps users with <one key benefit>.

That's it for now. Next week we'll push this further.

Week 2 (27 Jan) : Build some prototypes to test your ideas

This week there are two two-hour sessions (10:00-12:00 in FN 114; 12:00-14:00 in Kings College G5)

Session 1: Ideate upon the ideas from the first session to see what business ideas might be possible.

We'll build on the ideas from the session last week to see what might be developed as an app. We'll do this using a design-based approach following 'discover, design, develop, deploy'. We used 'discover' last week, so today we want to use 'design and develop' to test out some assumptions by way of refining 'discover' some more.

Session 2: Explore what system thinking and theory of contraints is about.

This will focus on system thinking and theory of constraints in a mixture of lecture and workshop.
System thinking slides
We'll first recap a bit of what happened in the first session of the class with the Marshmallow Challenge. or or for basic idea of what happens.
Tom Wujec 'build a tower, build a team'.

Week 3 (3 Feb) : Knowing your customers and channels

This week there are two two-hour sessions (10:00-12:00 in FN 114; 13:00 - 15:00 in MacRobert 107)

Design Challenge

We'll work through the Culture Coding exercise to better understand the options that we could push your app ideas towards. This is to stop you settling in on 'one' solution too soon, and to help you develop their different attributes to explore more possibilities.

Session 2: Deeper Design

We want to go over the practical application of what the different Cynefin domains feel like so that you understand that while you're designing and discovering more about the apps for the course, you realise that you'll not know as much as you think you do. To that end we'll play the 'Try or Die' game at the beginning of the session.

Watch the 'Journey Map' video and then work out what your customers journey will look like for your customers. Where and how does your site fit into their journey to a better future? You can use a blank piece of paper for this, or you can use the (or journey map) template. You may also want to do this as a service design blueprint from the Leeds GSJ site. You should do one of these for the business idea so that you understand the full customer experience.

When you think you're done capturing the journey, step back and consider where the interesting places are that you can influence your customers to help make choices easier, explore the different options, share their story, be motivated by what others are doing, or whatever else seems suitable for them. Go only as deep as you need to understand what is happening.

Week 4 (10 Feb) : Business model canvas

This week there are two two-hour sessions (10:00-12:00 in FN 114; 13:00-15:00 in MacRobert 107)

Session 1:

This week we want to focus on building an empathy map for each of your customer segments so that you have a better idea of the different customers and what their needs are. You can then use this to craft your value proposition for each of the segments correctly.

We'll do this in two stages.

First, we'll use paper empathy maps for the first hour

This works better if you stand up and use the walls and windows with sticky notes instead of the small desk space in front of you.

1) Go to and use their empathy map poster to build up the picture of each customer type.

2) Draw one empathy map for each of your main customer segments. These are probably people experiencing the most pain now, BEFORE they know about your application.

3) Draw up character cards for each persona so that you get a better feel for each of them. This would be a quick drawing of the person, their likely age, family relationship, type of job and give them a real name. You can use this persona template if you like.

4) Then work out how you reach each of them via which channel in your business model.

Second, we'll use some Lego in the second hour

Now that you have an idea of who your customers are we should get a better understanding about how they will interact with your service. To do that we'll use a StrategicPlay idea using Lego Serious Play sets.

Session 2: Business Model Canvas

Part 1: The Happy Start Up Canvas

First, we need to elaborate on your idea and focus on the 'why' from the happy startup canvas and its ebook to better understand your business model.

Step 1) review your idea and its development from last week

Step 2) use the canvas to fill in what you can for the business idea - focus in particular on the value proposition and customer segments. Don't bother trying to write on the canvas itself, but use post-its to elaborate on parts - spread them out on a wall for more space

        i) focus on these four aspects outlined in the happy startup canvas to see how many ways  you can express this idea of your 'service'. Do this by each of you independently writing ten ideas on a piece of paper, and then passing it along to someone else in the group, who adds ten more. Then switch again. You want lots of ideas from which to develop the next part. The four key things are:

    • What top three problems are you trying to solve (and for whom)? These are the problems your customers have BEFORE they know about your application.

    • Who will be your passionate early adopters? These are the people who might be having the most problem now, and are probably the people you identified in your empathy maps.

    • How are you going to reach them? Where do they 'hang out' on line, or do you have to reach them in person?

    • What’s your main value proposition? What is the biggest gain you can offer them to alleviate the biggest pain they have now?

        ii) reduce your different versions to one fifteen word statement of your proposition

        iii) focus on the customer segments by looking at 'who' values/would use the refined 'version' of your 'service' expression and check that each of the other versions are also covered.

Step 3) before you finish make sure that someone captures all of the details with a photo of the post-its, or some other means so that you have the details for next week and that you look at the '10 Steps to Personas' worksheet so that you can gather information about your different types of users and customers. You can find out more about personas on their website too.

Part 2: Experiment Board

Look at the Experiment Board and the video for details on how to use it, and fill in the left-hand materials and then the first column under 'experiments' with the basic idea you want to validate today. Do this quickly leaving only a few minutes to do each box. Leave the solution empty for now. This should give you one thing to check. It might be that you need to confirm who your real customers are, or that you have a real problem that you're trying to solve. Your team should now go find out if your assumption is true or not.

Take your prototypes and show them to people outside of class. Go to the library, or the Hub, or the cafe in MacRobert and see what people think of your application idea. Take notes and gather up the ideas to see what changes they suggest. Maybe even try a revised version on the spot to see if it resonates with the next person. The more people you show it to, then the better off you'll be. To get an idea of how ideas change go look at how Sauron's Box changed to One Box and how Mad Box changed to EduPod at the Aberdeen Global Service Jam. Start with page 4 (last) and work forward chronologically. This is the sort of rapid transformation you want to consider.

Take what you learned and go back to your experiment board and update it with the new information and determine the next experiment.

Week 5 (17 Feb) - Testing your assumptions

I'm away this week, but I still expect you to meet and this is what you'll do:

Take your app to the people. Last week you should have cleaned up everything and worked out what you want to know about your idea.

You'll notice that you do this BEFORE you develop any wireframes, or possible screens for your app. The purpose today is to validate the assumption of your idea. There is still lots that you don't know about your idea, which these conversations with people will tell you. Listen carefully, and you'll hear what you need to know about your app idea and how it needs to be presented. This exercise is all about listening.

The goal is to ask people to describe their problems and to uncover the parameters of the solutions, which they would find acceptable. From that you can work out if your potential solutions would work for them. You need to listen to their problems, and hear what they say about what they do now to relieve the problem and then ask if your solution would help them. You are not there to sell your solution. That comes later.

Week 6 (24 Feb) : The smallest component you can develop

The goal this week is to explore what the smallest component is that you could develop for your app. You've probably developed an idea that does many things. However, not all of those will be needed so we want to take the time to reduce what you're trying to do to essentials. We'll do this by exploring your options via the value proposition canvas. It's explained in this video. Fill this in as follows: The box is what you're offering, and the circle is one type of customer.

Pick one customer segment and list the jobs they need to do: do they need to buy the groceries, or find a place for dinner tonight?  Now place 'gains' what gets them closer to getting the job done; and 'pains' the annoying things that get in the way of 'getting the job done'. These are probably NOT the same ones as you've put on the empathy map.

Next look at the box. This is what you're offering this customer segment. What are the 'gain creators' that you can offer them to match their gains? What are the 'pain relievers' that you can use to ease their pains? How do these combine to become a service or feature?

Explore the smallest step you can deliver. How can your pain relievers remove or reduce customer pains? How can your gain creators help them achieve desired customer gains? What could you deliver as the smallest deployable, useful portion of the app? This is what you want to prototype next.

Week 7 (3 March) : You need to test your ideas again by showing your prototype ideas to people

This week there are two two-hour sessions (10:00-12:00 in FN 114; 13:00 - 15:00 in MacRobert 107)

Based on last week's work you should be able to revise your Experiment Board and find your next riskiest assumption to tackle. Develop a prototype to validate that assumption. Every tea, should be able to develop a paper prototype to get its idea across. You might need to leave the room to confirm if you've found the right fit between customer needs and what you're offering. Go show the new prototype to people and get feedback.

Week 8 (10 March) : Pushing the boundaries of the application

Step 1) work out which features will need to be on the website. You can write each single one on a sticky note.

Step 2) arrange the sticky notes on a sheet of A4 paper (with one A4 being one web page) so that you can understand the home page and what it might look like. You should try at least three different layouts to see which seems to work best.

Step 3) work through the other parts you're customers will need to use the service you're offering. For example, how do they sign up, choose the product/service and how do you deliver the service? How does the customer get in touch if there's a problem, or wants to change their order?

Step 4) Model each of these screens and the flow between them so that you've got a sticky note website that you can show to people next week when you go see what people think of your application.

Week 9: (17 March) Application prototypes

We'll explore different ways to prototype ideas beyond those you used previously so that you can take your idea out again for more feedback.

By now you should've come full circle with your idea. You developed the basic idea, worked it over some more with the Happy Startup Canvas and/or the Lean Canvas, and explored the likely customers by developing their personas using empathy maps. You will have also shown your basic paper prototype to people outside of your group. Using the feedback from the people you showed your prototype to you now need to revise that paper prototype design to build a better version and then see if people understand your idea better now. Keep doing this cycle a few times if possible to refine your idea more. Do this using the assumptions you identify on the Experiment board from the last session. This will help you confirm whether your customers are who you thought they were, and whether you are solving the problems you thought your customers experienced In other words, are you providing the value that you assumed they needed?

Week 10: (24 March) XML

During the week you'll need to work on your XML schemas for the assessment.

Go to  and click the 'accept' link to download the files in order to work through the Powerpoint documents until you understand how XSD works and XML fit together. Then write an XML and XSD pair that represents one of your typical customers purchasing an order through your online ordering system. This will probably be something like 'customer' buys 'order' using 'billing address' comprising 'orderitem1' and 'orderitem2', etc to be delivered to 'shipping address' and paid with 'payment method'. Each of the 'items' will need to be done as a suitable XML instance validated by the XSD file.

Week 11: (31 March) Presentation

Your presentation next week should cover the topics required in the assessment due next week, and last up to 5 minutes, and no longer. In particular this should focus on the parts of the Happy Startup Canvas so that we know why you're doing what you doing, and why your solutions will solve the problems faced by your early adaptors and live up to suitable values all explained in your story. You do NOT need to present the XML documents.

Each team gets 5 minutes to present their idea followed by questions from other teams.