Making Your Vision a Reality

Patty Wolfe,
Senior Director, Applications, Integration, & Data

At Unicon, I have been fortunate enough to work on all kinds of different projects. As an education consultancy, we help our clients solve their most complex and challenging problems. From K-12, Higher Education, to Education Technology companies, we help clients with a wide spectrum of solutions ranging from integration, to content development or hosting, and operations. As consultants, every problem is a good problem; however, my favorite is to work with our clients on “making their vision a reality.” Unicon’s sweet spot is having teams that know how to move the dial. In these types of efforts, we get the privilege of guiding our clients through the phases of the product development lifecycle. We help our clients put structure around their visions, define minimum viable products, outline milestones/releases, roll up our sleeves for development, and see our clients through a production release.

I get the opportunity to work with amazingly intelligent and talented people, and together we help each unique client turn some rough scribbles on a whiteboard or a list of bulleted points into working software. As the project is just getting underway, moving from concept to action can be a stumbling block. We work hard to make sure the entire team is on the same page in terms of mission and vision. Having this collective understanding and shared vision is vital to ensure teams are working towards the same common goal. The sky's the limit in this phase, where the full breadth of the features are outlined and all the ideas are captured.

Now the reality check - we outline the minimum viable product to plan for a release within the client’s timeframe. We work together to break this BIG IDEA into manageable and functional chunks. Taking the big red marker and striking features for the first cut can be brutal. Oftentimes, it is difficult to conceptualize how the product will work without all the features in place. Unicon has processes and methodologies led by our product development subject matter experts to help guide our clients in this decision-making process. This involves seeking feedback from our clients and their target customers early in the design process, and continuing to check in as a sounding board while development progresses.

Unicon’s Learning eXperience Design team works closely with our clients to make sure we have connection points with ACTUAL users along the way. Our recommendation is to not get mired down in the formality of this process. Research has shown that three to five users are more than sufficient to get critical feedback. Based on the Nielsen Norman Group studies, 85% of problems are identified after observing only 5 users. There is a methodology to soliciting feedback and engaging your digital learners at all levels. Unicon employs the Nielsen Norman Group techniques when working with our customer groups to help ensure users are providing actionable feedback on the critical workflows of the system. Once the data is collected, we analyze as a group, and then incorporate it throughout the sprint cycles. Completing this process two to three times before the actual release of the software is a good idea. It’s easy for designs to drastically change from the initial vision to the first production release, and reality checks with actual users are a good way to keep the project on track.

Managing scope throughout the development process for a new product implementation is always tough, and it takes a strong project manager and product owner to keep everyone on task. When the world is your oyster for the new product, it’s difficult to draw lines and boxes around features and what is included. Combining Agile processes with clear solutions goals, these fluctuations can be accounted for and priorities can be adjusted every sprint. From my experience, this has been a lifesaver. Due to the number of dependencies on the production release itself, we have found that small incremental releases to Beta customers help to mitigate risk, allow you to work out the kinks and flaws in the onboarding process, and make the necessary adjustments for a larger release.

Now that you have a minimum viable product, it’s time to plan for release. It is often thought - “if we build it, they will come”, but we have found that this is not actually the case. Careful planning for the release is often as time-intensive as planning for the development activity. Customer training, internal training, user guides, knowledge bases, these things all have to be created and socialized. Salespeople need to be trained on how to sell and position it in the market to drive demand. In some of my projects, a separate team has been created to handle all non-technical aspects of a product release.

One of my favorite projects I worked on was for one of our publishing clients. The development and design work was being completed by three different vendors and the key stakeholders were heavily involved throughout the life of the project. There were many opinions and personalities to navigate. I attribute this project's success to the team culture that we created. We had an “all for one, one for all” approach. This mentality was CRUCIAL to ensure that resources across the vendor organizations worked together in the BEST interest of the project versus their organization. The product was released within the timeframe committed, and has even won a CODiE Award. Talk about reward. We did what others said couldn’t be done.

Getting started is the hardest part for our clients. Let Unicon employ the latest processes and methodologies to get your new idea off ground zero. We will assemble the right team for the job and take your concept and make it a reality. Unicon partners with our clients to take on all or part of the project effort. Our education consultants span the entire spectrum of the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), and have years of experience in the education industry. Let us help you bring your idea to life!

Patty Wolfe

Patty Wolfe

Senior Director, Applications, Integration, & Data
Patty Wolfe is the Senior Director, Applications, Integration, & Data for Unicon Inc, a leading provider of education technology consulting and digital services. Patty has over 17 years of project management and consulting experience, managing all aspects of client relationships including strategic planning and implementation, project delivery, client satisfaction, and P&L. Since joining Unicon in 2001, she has worked with companies such as Scholastic, John Wiley and Sons, and Pearson Education to deliver a diverse portfolio of projects including sophisticated online learning applications, simulations, and progressive assessments that deliver an individualized learning experience. She holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), and a ScrumMaster® certification from the Scrum Alliance organization.
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