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Learn how this team came up with an idea and built it into an MVP in just 8 weeks while working remotely across multiple time zones
“I’M OFFLINE BECAUSE I’M DEEPDIIVING”
Huh? A little backstory. DeepDiive is the brainchild of Co.Lab7 teammates Alaina Zemanick, Dominic Stephenson, Adedimola Ogidan and Jerrie Feng. It was created as a solution to a problem rooted in remote work and virtual meetings. According to Alaina, the team’s Product Designer, “DeepDiive is a web app with a virtual conversation card deck to facilitate more meaningful 1:1 interactions with remote co-workers in the tech industry. The ultimate goal was for it to start not just conversations but more meaningful connections as a whole. Basically, a tool to make an excuse for people to say “I’m offline because I’m deepdiving”.
As a student during the pandemic, Jerrie, one of the team’s two developers began having virtual classes. This shift presented a set of challenges she had not previously encountered – difficulty making new friends and forming deeper connections with others because people couldn’t see each other physically.
Even though they were not students, each member of the team could relate to Jerrie’s challenge. From schools to offices, remote work has made it difficult for people to maintain connections despite all the applications currently being used to communicate. A survey conducted by the team revealed that because people were isolated, there was an increase in burnout and many were consumed by negative feelings as soon as they shut their computers.
Where many saw a problem, the DeepDive team saw an opportunity to initiate connections and perhaps even alleviate burnout by making more connections and building a stronger team at work. As a team with members spread across the world from Nigeria to the US to Canada, everyone was experiencing remote interaction and the question was “how do we make these more meaningful?” Thus DeepDiive was born – to allow people take social breaks during busy work weeks to strengthen bonds with their co-workers. Indeed, DeepDiive caters to the need for which it was created as those who have played the game have said that they felt more connected to the person they played with.
Dominic, the Product Manager likens the opportunity to ship an MVP to choosing your own adventure. However, when you work in a team, the team has to choose an adventure that everyone is willing to go on. For the Deepdive team, what worked was streamlining their ideas, voting on them and following due process. Each member of the team suggested an idea, gave the other teammates some time to sit with it and then conducted a free and fair survey monkey poll before deciding on the majority vote. The team ran with Jerrie’s idea and began work on DeepDiive.
MEET THE TEAM
The DeepDiive team is made up of four completely different people working cross-functionally to build a product. It is as the Product Manager says: “we’re all so different but from the beginning, we set the intention that this is what we wanted to do and we’ve stuck by it since then.”
Dominic Stephenson is the team’s Product Manager. She transitioned from customer care to Associate Product Manager at League Inc. As the Associate Product Manager, she was working on already existing products and felt the need to accelerate her growth curve by building something from scratch and having a product whose development she was integral to. Co.Lab's product management training online was an opportunity for her to build this product, to come up with a problem, then a solution and then implement the solution. Her company agreed with this reasoning and sponsored her Co.Lab journey to better equip her for her new role.
When asked to describe her role on the team during the Co.Lab program, she says “it’s the role of any Product Manager really; that is, to get the voices and opinions that are happening from the design point of view, tech point of view and even the business point of view. To determine whether the product is feasible to build and to come up with what direction the team should go in.”
In executing her role, Dominic had to remember that members of the team were new to each other and for the most part, new to the kind of work they were carrying out so she tried to create certainty in the face of the unknown. At Co.Lab and even afterwards, as the team continues to work on the project, her duties involve supporting the team with the rituals – scheduling meetings, prioritizations, creating processes, interjecting with knowledge from strategic things, analyzing the user’s voice and how to create a good understanding of the trends coming from user research.
She had to work with Alaina, the Product Designer, to understand what the problem was and make sure that they were building the right products, then work with the developers- Adedimola and Jerrie to make sure they were building in a way that was lean but still coming up with an incredible product. She stayed on alert to ensure that the team carried out QA testing as well as story pointing and did not spend too long on anything that was not valuable or taking too long but instead quickly found an alternative.
Alaina Zemanick who has a Masters degree in Art History and worked as an art historian in a gallery is the UX designer on the project. While she worked at the gallery, she enrolled in a Bootcamp to learn UX design. Soon after the Bootcamp, she left her job and joined Co.Lab because the Catch-22 situation had caught up with her – she needed a job to gain experience in tech and needed experience in tech to get a job. Additionally, working in 2-3 person galleries left her feeling like she was not equipped to deal with the management style that would be required in a tech job. For example, Agile methodology was not something that was implemented in gallery work or academic work at all and these were her only experiences. So Co.lab was a natural next step for her to gain relevant experience.
Jerrie Feng is currently a biology student in college getting ahead of the Catch-22 situation by working and gaining experience in her interests before she graduates. That’s how she found her way to Co.Lab as a Software Developer all the way from her major in biological data. In Co.Lab, she worked as a Developer on the team alongside Adedimola Ogidan who has a degree in Economics but decided to move to tech. He chose the Software Engineering path and came to Co.Lab to perfect the skills he had already begun learning.
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EXPERIENCE AND LEARNINGS WORKING IN A TEAM AT CO.LAB
As a group, their most significant learning at Co.lab was the importance of building lean. At any given moment, the team was thinking of how to make the product lean. Given that the program was 8 weeks long, they had to learn to prioritize an MVP. They had an assortment of ideas but when they put into perspective how much time they had to achieve these, they did what needed to be done. What needed to be done was the card deck and then subsequently they have iterated on the product to have more interaction and include features that they felt improved the app. Co.Lab taught them that the first iteration is lean.
Individually, they had unique experiences and takeaways.
For Dominic, coming to Co.Lab was amongst other things, an opportunity to find out if Product Management was really for her. What she learned was “this is new but you can do it”. The program allowed her to stop second-guessing and doubting herself and to acknowledge that she had come a long way from her days working in customer care.
Before Co.Lab, Adedimola had not worked as part of a team outside of work. It was different because at Co.Lab, he had to learn to code someone else’s designs while consulting with another developer. He also suggested that team meetings and working hours be fixed using the time zone that was most convenient for most members of the team. This meant that the meetings and calls sometimes took place at late hours for him but he adapted in a couple of weeks. Jerrie was dealing with her own learning curves. Many aspects of Co.Lab were a first for her. It was her first time working with another developer, first time working in a cross-functional team that was not for a class project, and her first time building this sort of product.
Working in a team as a designer was also a new learning experience for Alaina. She had only recently left her job at the art gallery and here she was building an MVP with a team. She had to work closely with each member of the team on different aspects of the design. She and the Product Manager Dominic worked closely on gearing the visuals design towards the incentives of the product and the environment they wanted to create which was both calm and revitalizing and so they worked on things like the mood board and color scheme.
Then with the Developers Jerrie and Dimola, she had to present designs and allow them to decide whether the designs were feasible at every step. Alaina was in uncharted waters with UI/UX design because a lot of her previous design work represented her art background whereas this was just different. Oftentimes in a tech space, you’re working on an already existing product where you don’t have complete say over the UI as you would if you were working alone from start to finish. She had to learn how to keep her designs authentic while taking in lots of team opinions but she considered this practice for when she would need to consider stakeholder opinions.
Alaina appreciated the opportunity to learn at Co.Lab because she was able to design something that she was proud of and she learned new things about herself in the process. She learned that she is able to take feedback in good faith and that she enjoys the process of speaking to users and catering the designs to user needs as well as team desires.
IN THE REAL WORLD
What kind of lessons did the DeepDiive team pick up at Co.Lab that currently serves them in their current careers? Alaina learnt “not to attach emotion to my designs so that my ego isn’t bruised if things are not implemented the way I assumed.” She learnt how to hand things off to developers and came to learn that a design is not always going to be executed the exact way it looked on the Figma file and that’s okay. “As long as the end product is a version that is most useful to the consumers then it’s alright.” This is a lesson that has proven to be extremely useful to her as she now works with more and more developers.
Currently, she works as a freelancer and the fact that she is able to take meeting strategies and use skills she picked up from the Product Manager at Co.Lab to interact with managers has been really helpful, especially as someone who didn’t have traditional management in her career.
Dominic learnt that working with a designer was no longer optional for her. Before Co.Lab, she didn’t work closely with a Product Designer. Her team at work would do what they had to do and then borrow a Product Designer from another team if they really needed one. Working with Alaina made her sensitized toward the design process. “I learnt to ask the designer what ways they’d prefer to receive design feedback whether through Figma comments or any other tool they might use.”
She has more respect, awareness and familiarity with the design process even without having a close Designer-Product Manager relationship at work and she has seen the improvements that having a designer brings to the quality of her work. Now, she looks forward to working with more designers borrowing from some of the skills she learned working with Alaina.
Dimola learnt to give and take feedback which was not how he previously operated. Pre-Co.lab, he was not one to say whether or not things were wrong or to offer his opinions on things. However, he realized that it was important to members of the team for him to give and take feedback and so he has learned to do so. Jerrie on the other hand learned to communicate. She did not previously appreciate the importance of constant communication as this was her first experience working with a team so she had to learn to communicate her ideas, to keep everyone updated on her activities and to participate in team sessions.
“Gratifying and insightful”, “challenging and rewarding”, “eye-opening”, “exciting” are some of the words the members of the DeepDiive team used to describe their learning experience. Each person left Co.Lab with exactly what they came for and then some. Those who wanted something to speak on during job interviews found that, those who wanted to be better primed for current and future roles gained it, those who wished to work in teams did so.
They each left the program confident to call themselves Product Managers and Designers and Developers and they learned to work alongside others while being accommodating and supportive. They found friendship in their teammates and have all continued to work together on DeepDiive, constantly making iterations to make it an even better product.
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