Scrumbook – bringing an idea to life – part 2

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In the first part of this series, I’ve explained how I started implementing my idea for a paper notebook for SCRUM teams. With the initial prototype made in MS Word and printed on my own laser printer, I started to gather feedback.

In this article, I would like to describe how I used that initial learning to kick-start and iterative product development.

Finding a Designer

I am not a designer, I wouldn’t even claim to have a decent eye for little details and I don’t know much about preparing anything for print. I knew that I needed a proper designer to help me with the next version of the notebook. Finding the right person for the job turned out to be a bit of a hustle. As with any profession, there are many kinds of designers, and it seems to me like most of the popular form of design nowadays is digital for consumption in Social Media. However designing a notebook and making it ready for print is a different set of skills, many specialists turned my request down. There’s always an option to go to places like 99designs.com or freelancer.com. However, I wanted to be much more involved in the design process so I wanted to find someone local, with whom I could meet face to face to talk about all the details. Here’s where a vast and well-groomed contact network comes handy. Within a few days, I found the right person for the job.

Turning feedback into a Backlog

Since this notebook is aimed at Scrum teams, I wanted to see if I can apply Agile Framework principles in developing this notebook. The main theme behind Agile is a value-driven, iterative process leading to a better match between user expectations and product features. After gathering all feedback in one pace from the initial batch of users, I started to prioritize it. To do that I used a few questions:

  1. Is this feature essential or a nice to have? For e.g. a few people asked for a colour ribbon to be used as a bookmark. Is it a good idea? Yes, but it is not essential to adding value to any Scrum Team.
  2. Does it bring value to just one user or to many? For e.g. there was a request for a page to capture action items from the retrospective meeting. That is something that all teams could benefit from.
  3. What would be the cost? For e.g. there was a request to have a perforated page corner that could be torn off to make it easier to get to the current page. Great idea, however an expensive one, and similar to the ribbon, a nice to have.

With the prioritized backlog of requested features, and a designer willing to work with me, I wanted to see if I could use my own creation for the process of developing the next version of the notebook. I decided to time-box the next set of tasks and arrange them into a sprint. The sprint priority was rather simple, get the design ready for printing. The deliverables were rather simple too:

  • Find a local print shop and find out what requirements do they have for printing notebooks
  • Include the most important feedback from the initial design
  • Produce a PDF file in accordance with the aforementioned requirements and design improvements
  • Submit a request to print 20 copies

I am used to working in two weeks’ time table. I’ve cleared out my evenings and weekends to make all of this happened, and I made sure my designer has the availability to work with me in that time-frame.

The only problem was that we would meet every day to have a daily stand-up. For one, we were both working full time in our regular jobs, and this was a side project we both were doing in the evenings and on weekends. At first, using the notebook was a bit odd, as it was intended to be used during the daily stand-up. However, an interesting thing happened. I started to notice that even though we don’t have a stand-up face to face, because I used the notebook to keep track of my daily tasks and to make sure I stay focused on delivering my part in the sprint, working with my designer became much easier. I would catch up with her over WhatsApp, sharing the status of my tasks and she would give me quick bites of design via screenshots to make sure we were heading in the right direction. I was more focused and more on-point making decent progress on a daily basis.

I know this process works in collocated teams, but this has proven to me that is also can work for remote teams. The key here is proper preparation and great communication. Which reminded me why I started this in the first place. I wanted everyone on the team to be well prepared for the daily standup, to review their progress, update JIRA issues or move sticky notes on the board, in general, to be prepared to collaborate with each other.

By the end of the sprint, we had everything ready and the new design was submitted to the print shop for printing.

There was one more interesting thing at the end of the sprint. When I was reviewing two weeks of work to prepare for the retrospective, I noticed how much work was completed. In our busy lives, we always look at the “To-Do” list and we are overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks ahead. It is good to stop for a moment and look at the “Done” list to appreciate how much has been completed. I made me feel good about myself.

The following sprint was focused on improving the content of the mini-guide, which focuses on the benefits coming out of using the notebook. I think it was a good decision, as waiting for notebooks to be printed and delivered meant I can’t do much else, but I knew that there will be more revisions to the design, so I could update the content as well. This is where two weeks sprints and iterative approach pay off the highest dividend. Even if you or your team is blocked on one part of product development, in the next sprint you can move to something else. The trick is to keep it small enough to fit the sprint and deliver it within sprint time-frame.

Finding the Product Market Fit

With the next batch of notebooks ready for new users to try them out, I got back to people who reviewed the initial prototype and I found a few new reviewers too. Following advice from the “Lean Startup” and a few other books, I decided to start asking for feedback as often as possible, but I also wanted to see if people will be willing to pay for a product like this. I gave a few notebooks away for free, and I sold a few at a discounted price, just to see if the feedback would differ if the price is anything else than free. Interestingly enough, feedback from paying customers was very similar to those who got the notebook for free. More writing space and better cover were the most common elements. The cover is something I could not control very well as it is very much dependent on what the printing company offers. Design inside was something that I could change quite easily.

But the essential question is “would you pay $20 for a notebook like this?”. At the end of the day, the notebook can be perfected, but would anyone buy it, that is the question. The answers were mixed. The quality of the cover, cheap printing paper and early-stage page layout design in the current iteration made the product feel the rather low quality, so $20 seemed rather steep. However, when I stated the question in a slightly modified way “if the print quality was higher, and there was more space to write, would you pay $20 for a notebook like this?” the answers were slightly more encouraging. From the conversations I had with my reviewers, it seems people like notebooks and their utility, but it needs to feel right in the hand, it needs to be a pleasant experience.

I was happy to see that people still see a value in a quality product. As much as we are all used to cheap items from the Dollar Store, and we do not pay attention to many quality shortcomings of daily used items, most of us like to surround ourselves with quality items, especially if we pay a bit higher price for them. The feedback I got confirmed to me that I am on the right track. Moreover, it gave me clear priorities for the upcoming sprints. At this stage I am not sure if I found a perfect Product Market Fit, but I think I am getting closer.

In the next installment of this story, I will share with you how I found a drop-ship, print on demand company, that would help me reach another level in the print quality.


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