Every Tuesday this fall I’ve been teaching a class at my alma mater, VCU Brandcenter, on strategic thinking and mobile technology to first year creative technologists. This Tuesday I used an in-class activity to teach about some of the principles of Build-Measure-Learn from the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The end result was that my class learned while enjoying a memorable experience that they later shared with their peers.
To set-up for the activity I sent out an email a week in advance to the class telling them to start hoarding cardboard boxes, milk jugs, paper towels rolls, and any other kinds of packaging materials. I told them the purpose was to manufacture a leaf collection device in the next class. For the future I would recommend that the class be told to bring lots of duct tape and box cutters etc. We had tons of building supplies but not enough tools to put our devices together.
The night of the class I arrived a few minutes early to collect leaves from outside the school since I didn’t want to have the students constructing in the dark and frigid November weather. I walked into the classroom and dropped four small trashcans worth of leaves on the floor and arranged the pile into a circle. When the students arrived I gave a quick lecture about how agencies are looking for faster way for work to move through an agency. I talked about the “Agency as Startup” trend and gave some opinions. After the class discussion wrapped up we started the activity.
I prompted the students to quickly create two person teams based on what supplies you would like to join forces with and then to wait further instructions. As soon as the teams seems collected I immediately put the rules on the projector and told them to start building. The rules were to create a device that collects leaves into an enclosure using the supplies available in the room. They would be competing for three categories; Best Design, Most Leaves in One Scoop, and Most Leaves in 30 seconds. I put 5 minutes on the clock and told them to get started.
The tension in the room immediately rose as the teams realized they did not have a lot of time to complete their builds. Teams rushed to attach boxes to bags and other strange mashups. The 5 minutes passed quickly and the teams all agreed they didn’t have much in terms of a final product. I then explained that this first “sprint” was exactly how they should be working. The first attempt at solving the problem would be to identify which goal you were going for and then to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to achieve that goal. For example, if you were trying to achieve the biggest single scoop the MVP would be attaching something to a large box that would make a good first scoop. Trying anything else besides a big scooper would be a waste of time and not an MVP.
Next I gave the students ten minutes to go back to their build. Most teams kept with their initial design, a few scrapped theirs to create an MVP. A few teams while they were building tested their design to see how many leaves they could pick up. Based on what happened in the test they modified their design. When the ten minutes elapsed these were the groups I called out for the next part of the lesson. I told them that all the groups should be testing as they build, that this iterative process was the foundation for the best way products were made today.
I gave the groups ten more minutes to finish up before we started the competition. All the groups were testing their designs as they added materials and everyone was having fun. When time was up the teams competed for a category that they designed for and everyone cheered them on as their designs either succeeded or failed. It was by far the most successful class I’ve ever taught and I look forward to repeating the experiment in the future.
Video coming soon!