Smart Lemming Diary: Using Post-it Notes as a Creative tool

post-it-notesOctober 28, 2005

Unknowingly Signing Up to Redesign our Product: A Demo Redo

I’ve learned to be careful when taking on projects that have blurry boundaries because of potential office politics. I’ve also learned the my Post-It Notes system always works for me, when I’m coming up with new products features, departments, or businesses. In one our Management Team meetings, I was delegated or offered to come up with an updated demo approach.

The CTO and my CEO, Tom, wanted me to come up with something new for the third version of our Web application. Tom started asking me about tabs and how my former company had used them. “You’re in luck. I was the product manager in charge of the redesign. But after our branding and the redesign project, they looked great. I can come up with a tabs approach for you to review.” What I didn’t realize is that this gave me the opportunity to not only redesign into a tabs approach, but to add future product functionality (reporting/business intelligence) and an admin center for the backend, so our customers can manage their own product (we do it manually right now).

rapid-problemsolving-postit-notesInitial Brainstorming with Post-It Notes – One of My MacGyver Tools

Finally, after three Webinars and many deliverables since that meeting, I started working on the demo on Friday. I used my MacGyver tool of Post-It notes on a really big Post-It note or wallpaper. While I was running out juice on Friday around Noon, I decided to use the sales tools I had created for CTO’s new v3.0 product enhancements. Here’s how I proceeded:

  1. What are the tabs and navigational buttons within each tab?: I started a typical work breakdown approach so I could sort out the functionality and feature set. Visualize an organization chart with the Executive on the top and manager reporting into him. The Executive represents a major tab navigation bar for the product (think Amazon tabs). The managers that report into the Executive are major functionality and these are the secondary navigation within each tab. I use Post-It notes for the primary and secondary tabs, features within each, and even functionality that’s used in a left navigation bar area.
  2. What are the features that belong within the functionality of each secondary navigational area?: I added all the features to the appropriate buckets. I continue to write each detail on its own Post-It note.
  3. What are the new features?: I added CTO’s new features in appropriate buckets.
  4. Review the work with someone: I picked our Solutions Architect/Sales Engineer to make sure I had the features and functionality in the right spots. I had to be careful since I’m proposing a new tab approach. I didn’t want to look like I was disrespecting our CTO, especially since this persona reports into CTO.
  5. Review with CTO: I went straight to the source. CTO had already had a glimpse of my Post-Its on my wall. In fact, 60% of the office had noticed them. The CTO loved it. Again, he wasn’t threatened. Openly shared how he liked this approach and was curious to see what I’d come up with. I was careful in how I positioned that I had to add features and functionality that were “implied” by his enhancements. He was totally fine with that.

For more information on how to use Post-It Notes, check out Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes.

Next Steps: Document in Visio and Wire frames

Before I went home, I documented all my work in Microsoft Visio. I had intended to work on this project over the weekend, but that didn’t happen. I also created wire frames for each tab, laying out the secondary navigation and left navigation functionality. Not all the features are represented in wire frames. I would be using product screen shots eventually or creating mockup ups of the features later.

Monday: Create Mockups

I didn’t intend to create as many mockups as I did, but that always happens when I propose new redesigns. I prefer to be comprehensive, showing landing pages, each screen, or additional screens for secondary pages, etc. I use Window’s Paint rather than Photoshop because it’s fast and easy for me. I typically have several applications open at the same time: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I work in Word to get the right fonts and color palette down. I’m able to create the tab colors and names with the appropriate background color. From there, I’m just taking a screen shot, copying into paint, then open another instance of Paint and use that one as the target mockup. The first Paint instance is just a place to always copy and paste screen shots from Word or the product. I managed to create new mockups for everything except the new reporting tab, key differentiator from our competitors. I emailed my initial deck to Tom to lay the groundwork, even though he was taking Wednesday off and then would be out of the office on Thursday.

Mockups Look like Product Screenshots on Tuesday: Fun Stuff

By the time I submitted to Tom on Wednesday, I created four new tabs for our product after I was done. I had even outlined a new Admin Center that CTO hadn’t intended to build. I was able to identify the major things it needs to do. When I was done, my PowerPoint deck had 26 slides. I didn’t even mock up a couple of secondary navigation product functions and screens, but my mockups were detailed. I love how I’m been able to make them look like real product screen shots. I even created the new reports that I had outlined (I knew CTO would eventually define them, but I took the liberty of doing now).

More Mockups on Wednesday: Adding Business Intelligence to the Mix

I thought I was done, but I had a nagging feeling that I really needed to change my secondary functionality to reflect the business intelligence features. I redefined the secondary navigation buttons, the left navigation, and all the reports/results displays. I think created and mocked up all the new reports/results. The first set were based on CTO’s approach to ROI and the second set were my approach the ROI, combing an impressive offering that provides a way for our customers to use our sales tool as a way to track the progress or our product implementation.

Pre-Selling, Laying the Political Path

After I was done with the final PowerPoint that was now 43 slides, I decided to get buy-in for the concepts by updating the CTO. We had a nice casual conversation. I started with “Did you see the news about Microsoft going into Business Intelligence? This is good news for us. You, especially, will love the power it will give the product.” CTO, always multi-tasking, barely looked at me during our conversation, he was busy trying to learn about business intelligence as we talked. “I don’t know much about BI, what is it exactly?” he asked. I told him and then framed it for him in the context of its potential for us like our ROI. He was interested. Then I casually mentioned that I was the product manager for reporting in a previous life and had to evaluate BI vendors. I mentioned that since the Management Team and identified that we wanted to get into reporting later, I thought through the Admin Center piece that would allow us to do that reporting. He was cautious, but I think because he couldn’t visualize it. I sent my deck to Tom and CTO.

An Unexpected Response

This is the fun stuff. I don’t miss being a product manager as long as I can dabble like this. I know I have much to contribute with what I just outlined in my mockup, identifying new features and functionality that CTO never thought through. I was hoping he’d be as open as he has been since I started, but it appears I may have been wrong. I’m currently trying to determine how threatened he was and won’t know until later today. His email response was guarded and disconcerting.

I understand his perspective. I hope he remembers my work experience with the healthcare  industry’s product categories that I have web application with admin tools; in addition, to healthcare technology expertise in our  industry for the past ten years. He’s new to healthcare technology, only knowing this small niche. I’m bummed about any level of potential clash I could have with CTO. I was working hard to not surprise him and prepare him for my presentation. I’ll know more after today.

The Smart Lemming Diary is a series that chronicles a journey of laid-off worker, who becomes a Vice President of Sales Operations & Marketing for a small entrepreneurial healthcare technology company. For previous entries in this series, click here. For the first diary entry, click here.