The image is titled "Combine Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile." It includes the key stages and intersections within and between design thinking, lean startup, and agile management practices and processes.

One of the goals of the i3/EIR Dissemination Team is to ensure grantees have the tools and knowledge to scale and sustain their programs and products. Last month, with help from our friends at the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and eMINTS, we held a rapid prototyping workshop at the Department of Education. Together, we unpacked some of the terms and techniques related to rapid prototyping and management practices (e.g., user-centered design, lean startup, agile, and scrum), and made sure grantees and participants had access to useful materials and opportunities to apply to their own work.

The image is a caption. The text reads: The three approaches are interrelated and can be mixed/matched.  Design Thinking refers to creative strategies used during the process of identifying problems and defining solutions.  Lean Startup helps turn proposed solutions into business models, rapidly testing assumptions with actual customers and iterate product market fit.  Agile is characterized by frequent and incremental deliver of product, ongoing reassessment of and adaptation of plans.

LDC drew on its experience as an i3 grantee working to improve teachers’ ability to improve student writing in response to reading complex text. As they discovered during the first year of their grant, their prototype for tech-enabled literacy coaching that could drive teacher learning was not hitting the mark. But it wasn’t clear why.

To identify the problem, they applied user-centered design.

How does user-centered design work? First, you must frame your design challenge by identifying the design elements of the problem in the context of the desired result. This is the “problem ideation” stage, and it involves getting as clear as possible about the problem (or problems) you are trying to solve so that you can prototype and test a solution for the right problem. After you have identified that problem, you create insight statements and “How might we…” questions in order to identify a potential solution to that challenge. Next, you crystalize the aim and the impact you are trying to have and develop and test your prototyped solution.

LDC had a starting point (the problem; e.g. literacy coaches were not effectively pacing teachers through lesson study cycles) and a goal (the solution; e.g. online course content that sequentially paces teachers through lesson study cycles; a coach certification process connected to that content; and analytics reports to monitor teacher progress -- and coach impact -- through those cycles). LDC then implemented a two-week rapid prototyping sprint and iterative testing process -- similar to eMints 'scrum' process -- to move from user-centered design and problem ideation to the application of those solutions.
As eMINTS explained, scrum supports the following rapid prototyping process:

  1. User-centered design and problem ideation
  2. Testing and iteration of prototypes
  3. Implementation/product delivery

During the workshop, participants experienced that process firsthand by teaming up according to the principles of scrum and then working to design and prototype city plans - using legos.

When using the scrum process, the first step is to empathize with the users - in the scenario, the inhabitants of a city badly damaged by a hurricane - and to design from their perspectives. This includes asking the central question, “What are the users’ stories?” (A story is a formulaic statement that defines the needs of a particular user. For example, “Every city needs to think about fire safety. We need to make sure that our fire department is able to get anywhere in the city quickly enough to save lives and property.”)

After writing stories for all users, the scrum team re-envisioned them as tasks (e.g., design a centrally located fire department), organized them by effort, and placed them on a scrum board. Then the team planned a sprint. (A sprint is a defined period of time for accomplishing tasks.) After the sprint, the team reviewed their task progress and did a retrospective of the whole process to identify improvements for the next sprint. 

At the end of the workshop day there were two results: one, participants gained hands-on experience with user-centered design, scrum, and the principles of rapid prototyping; and, two, the Department of Education acquired a unique collection of Lego cities. Win-win!

If you missed the workshop, don’t worry—the presentation slides are all right here! And be sure to check out this Scrum Glossary. Still hungry for additional prototyping and management practices? Visit for tons more. 

Hope to see you at the next workshop!