An End to the Plan-ic

By Maya Sussman, director of product

I almost didn’t see the little girl on her Strider, sliding down the hill. I was so focused on my plan for getting up this steep hill, dodging kids just wasn’t on my radar. Thankfully, while I was panicking, she gave herself another scoot, propelling her bike in a new direction. And as she turned, I caught a glimpse of her face. Her joy was unmistakable.

As I caught my breath, and waited for my heart to restart, I reflected on the scene around me. And how it was NOT what I had planned for.

I had spent the past year and a half building up the courage to bike up my hill. I’d ridden my bike all over the city and beyond. But I was terrified of this one really big hill. What if I got tired and couldn’t unclip my shoes from the pedals in time to stop? What if a car got stuck behind me and had to slowly follow me up while watching me struggle? I was full of anxiety. So I focused on creating the perfect plan. I spent months training, visualizing this climb, and researching the various possible routes. With this rock-solid plan, there would be no chance of failure. 

Meanwhile, thanks to my city’s new “slow streets” program, the neighborhood is suddenly filled with young kids on bikes. Their attitude about the hill could not be more different than mine. Some of them, like my Strider friend, have hardly been alive as long as I’ve been stressing about riding up this hill. And yet they approach it without any of my fear or hesitation. As an adult, it seems like they must know there’s no way their little legs can propel them to the top! But if they are aware, that doesn’t stop them from trying. When they undoubtedly fail, they get right back up and try a new strategy. Like a push from a parent, a running start, an extra loud cheer.

I compared my own 18-month journey to their in-the-moment experience. And I realized that I could definitely learn a lesson from them about fearless cycling. In a year of so many unknowns, their spirit reminded me that sometimes it’s best to stop panic-planning – or “planicking”. Instead, it’s the perfect time embrace iteration.

Is a ’20-’21 School Year Plan Possible?

Plans – really good plans – require having a lot of high quality information. As educators go back into session this fall, they do NOT have the kind of information they need to create a plan they know will work. With so many stakeholders, and such a complex system, expecting a plan for a totally unpredictable school year that’s going to work really well from Day 1 is pretty unrealistic!

But educators don’t have the luxury of researching options, diving into immersive professional development, and creating the Perfect Plan. So rather than focusing on the plan, this is a great time to channel that kids-on-bikes spirit.

How would it feel if we just gave it a go and expected that there would be successes and flops? What if we just accepted that we don’t have enough information? That there will be missteps? And that we will end up changing course as we try to get to the top of the hill?

It all starts with the MVP

As director of product for Ready4K, I wish we always knew enough to launch the best possible version! But no matter how much we plan, it never works that way. So, in the language of agile, we iterate.

And in order to iterate in the right direction, we need to know how people are responding to the current version. So as soon as we update any of our products, we start gathering feedback from our users. Not through formal studies (though we do those too!), but by asking questions, analyzing real-time data, and encouraging our users to share their feedback. Both good and bad. 

About two years ago, we set out to add a new feature to the Ready4K Dashboard. We knew our partners needed a way to share time-sensitive information with parents. They wanted to quickly get resources into the hands of all of their families.

As a passionate team of problem solvers, we got excited and quickly brainstormed dozens of fancy features that we could create to support our partners with this need. But it would have taken us many months to build out all of these features, and we knew our partners and families couldn’t wait that long.

So we asked ourselves: What can we do right now to address this need, with the resources we have in front of us?

In product development, this is called the “minimum viable product.” This is the version of the product with just enough features to address your users’ need. But you know it’s going to change.

It’s what you offer so that you can start gathering feedback quickly, and learn what’s working and what needs to change. (For some practical ideas, check out our recent webinar on getting family feedback from afar).

With our MVP in mind, we quickly launched the first version of our custom messaging feature. 

Critical Friends Are Invaluable!

As soon as it was live we started gathering feedback. We watched how partners were using it and reached out to hear more about their experiences. We also reached out to those who weren’t using it to understand why it wasn’t meeting their needs. 

This kind of feedback can be difficult to hear when you’ve worked hard on your plan. We had put a lot of effort into this first version of custom messaging, and we were proud of what we’d come up with. But we knew that feedback was an important step of the process. So we listened carefully to each and every comment. And we learned a lot:

  • Our partners needed ways to target more specific groups of families.
  • They didn’t have time to write and send a message in the middle of a busy work day.
  • They wanted to know how to see responses when they sent families a message with a question. 

This input helped us design the next iteration. Then we gathered another round of feedback from our users. After many iterations, we now have a feature that partners are using to quickly share information with families and gather family feedback on key questions.

And it works because they informed the development all along. Best of all, families are now using this feature to provide partners with feedback. And partners are using that feedback to iterate on their school plans, too.

Iterative Bike Ride

Planning can feel really empowering. But as it turns out, my carefully crafted, elaborate bike plan was just an MVP. It was a beautiful artifact of my 18 month planic. Lesson learned!

So this weekend, I might go back to the hill. Now that I’ve tried it once, I’m eager to give it another go. To try another approach. To get inspired by more fearless 4-year-olds. Because when it was all done, the ride didn’t go exactly as expected. But when I got to the top, the look of joy on my face was unmistakable.


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