WorkLife Design Series - Portfolio Hackathon
Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:00AM
Mair Dundon in WorkLife Design, WorkLife Design, evolving process, evolving process, transparent design

Creating a work life that makes sense and pays well is a task that most of us spend a majority of our lives focused on. This is why I've chosen to focus my "do to learn" on finding strong ways to support each of us on that journey.

I'm picturing a world where any of us are able to experiment and learn our way into rich, resilient and deeply interconnected work lives that are rewarding on a lot of levels - including financially. Instead of having a single path, we design a WorkLife that can change and grow right along with us - a constantly renewing resource that is fueled by our life experience and the insights we've taken the time to gather and share. I picture us as a community of practice - supporting each other in designing our WorkLife with focus and creativity.

Update 2/10: I'm iterating already - the new version is now called a Career Hackathon.

EXPERIMENT 1
Portfolio Hackathon

My first experiment in the WorkLife series is the Portfolio Hackathon. The idea came to me while I was doing a Business Model Canvas to explore the types workshops that I could create for my WorkLife Design series. I knew that I wanted us to end up with a strong overview of our WorkLife, to start understanding the people we want to work with and to have a way to run small experiments to head us toward those people. I also felt it was important for people to get a chance to "do to learn" during the event rather than just "planning."

The hackathon idea was perfect - a concentrated set of time to design and build something to solve a specific problem. It's familiar to programmers and designers but is cool enough that other folks can get excited about it as well.

My idea of what a "portfolio" could be is pretty broad. For me, anything that you can build or do that allows you to connect and share your skills and experience with other people would go into this category. I often hear, "I'm in a non-portfolio career." Really? Do you need case studies? Do you need a resume? Do you need to be able to get through an interview? Do you need to be able to tell a coherent story about who you are and what you can do?

Do you need a time set aside to get that moving? Yes. Then I'd say you're my person!

WHAT WE DO

Let me take you on a little tour of the most recent version of the Portfolio Hackathon. I run these on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon so I can catch people on a day they might be able to set aside about 4 hours to concentrate. The flow, timing and actual process we run will be changing as I iterate the hackathon. Luckily, the general goals will stay the same so this should give you a good feel for the adventure.

Overview (15-minutes)
Currently, I'm using an adapted version of the Business Model Canvas to provide a quick overview of what our guesses are as to where we are and where we need to go. This tool was developed by Alexander Osterwalder to provide a simpler way to communicate your business plan.

When we adapt it for individuals the canvas allows you to lay out the major elements of your career building efforts, including guesses about the people you'd like to work with, how you might connect with them and what you have to offer. Most people are shocked by just how much they already know or have some ideas about.

 

Awesome Company Picture (15-minutes)
When we design a product or service, one of the most important things to do is to understand is the behaviors, needs and pain points of our customers. When we're designing a career, we need to shift our efforts slightly. It turns out that looking at one specific person in the company that we'd like to work with is not as helpful as understanding how the company itself looks and behaves when they match our values and interests.

This exercise uses a very simple 4-up structure to let us make guesses as to what kind of company or client we might want to pursue in order to get to our goal. The reason we work this way is so we have assumptions and guesses to validate. While this might be a picture of a great company to work for - we don't really know for sure. So we guess - and then we begin to investigate whether those guesses hold up as we get out and talk to people.

Sprint 1 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
Begin validating your customer picture
Enough paper work. Let's get to doing. In this part of the hackathon we go over ways to research and run informational interviews to validate the picture we created. We do this by using the web to find a few examples and hone our picture. And then we create a short information interview script that let's us get to the stories we need to hear about how things work for other people.

Building the interview is one thing, running it is the actual validation. So we practice our interview with another participant. It doesn't matter that they aren't the person we think we need to talk to…the reality is that we can gain insights no matter who we talk to if we're asking the right questions. We're listening for behaviors, pain points and stories that provide us insight to make sure we're aiming correctly. Then, based on what we learn, we iterate the script so we're asking the open ended, enticing questions we need to inspire others to share.

Self Persona (20-minutes)
After a little break we come back for one of the most fun exercises of the day. One of the major challenges for most of us is figuring how to connect and then what to do in order to get the work we want. I've turned an exercise to explore a customer persona on it's head to allow us to design our own persona. This lets us design and guide every decision we make in terms of what to create, what tone of voice to use in our writing and even what things should look like.

I'll write a longer post about this tool soon, but the basic prompt is simple. What if this persona was you, but just a little more _______. Be sure to choose something just a little bit uncomfortable and intriguing. We draw a picture, we list out behaviors and things that we would communicate that would keep in character with this new shift. The goal of this persona is to have it be one that allows you to head toward your goal and communicate more powerfully with the people that you want to connect with while you create your career.

Sprint 2 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
Applying the Self Persona
Back to doing. We begin by looking at our goal and the company or client we want to connect with - and then we choose a profile or bio from Twitter, LinkedIn or some other important location that we can alter or write from scratch using our new persona. Then we share with another participant and see if they can reflect back what we were going after. Finally you tune it together so it reflects what you're after more clearly.

Opportunity Mapping
This is a pretty powerful method for mapping out all of the ways you could interact with your customer. In our case, we'll focus on the people that we want to hire or employ us and only the first 3 parts of the full lifecycle. We'll use this to call out content and items that we already have in place and those that we feel would be helpful to get to our goal and connect with our awesome companies and/or clients.

Experiment Design
We'll use the opportunity map we made to decide which items or activities might provide us with the most bang for our buck. Once we decide we can then design the experiment that we want to build or run in our final sprint of the day. You'll find this worksheet will be very useful once you begin working on your own.

Sprint 3 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
One final experiment

Choose one of the most scary or daunting items that you called out or designed. What is that thing you've been avoiding getting started on. Today's the day. I'll help you choose and execute. We wrap this sprint with one final share and iterate.

Insight gathering and updates
Time permitting we spend a little bit of time updating our different worksheets from what we learned during the hackathon. As a group we share our biggest insights and things we might do to continue our progress when we leave. I ask each person to commit to accomplishing one experiment and sprint in the next week. 

Community of Practice

If you made it all the way through the post you may be wondering why I'm sharing all of this. Well, I've been working to be more transparent about what it is that I do and how I do it. I find that transparent design - the act of sharing as you develop products and services is a powerful way to start conversations.

If you're familiar with Lean Startup principles, you'll also notice that the hackathon allows individuals to run 3 full learn - build - measure - learn cycles. The idea of experiments and validation is a powerful one to help keep us up and running. I use it myself to iterate these frameworks. For instance, the build sprints came all at the end originally...but that really didn't allow us to get to doing fast enough. The concern now will be that this is wide enough to cover quite a few circumstances.

Would you like me run a Portfolio Hackathon in your city or community? Please let me know (md @ site url). If you'd like to keep up with me around these workshops you can add your email to the right and I'll contact you as I get new events moving.

Article originally appeared on Mair Dundon | quietAction | Creative Entrepreneur & Lean Product & Business Design (http://www.quietaction.com/).
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