This week we’ve been “sprinting” to the finish line with our DialOasis project. A “sprint” is a five-day push to design and create a prototype of a solution. The goal of a sprint is customer feedback on the last day. This provides maximum value with minimal investment; usually, it is apparent during customer interviews if the product will be a failure once it gets to market. If a product is not economically viable, it is critical to discover it as soon as possible to minimize losses and move on quickly. In traditional settings, the product is only tested in its final state which is after the vast majority of the total time and money is invested. However, sprint flips this and tests the product as soon as possible in order to improve it based on customer feedback or scrap the project altogether. This approach complements the needs-finding approach to innovation that we learned earlier this month. The needs-finding approach is to design a solution that meets a need, not to design a product that the creator thinks would be useful. This increases the probability that the solution will actually be successful instead of just gathering dust in an abandoned warehouse. A sprint further increases the probability of success by incorporating customer feedback. (The definition of success depends on the company but may include: marketability, profitability, utility, improvement to quality of life, or total impact.)
For our sprint this week, we focused on the DialOasis project, and we named the prototype “cuartito” which means “little room.” DialOasis is a device that was designed by the previous year’s GMI students to allow dialysis patients to receive treatment at home. This saves them about 50 hours per week in the hospital for treatment. We conducted our sprint in five days with the help of Invenio (a Costa Rican university) who aided in construction and provided indispensable supplies and expertise. We spent Day 1 finalizing our design, delegating tasks, and scouting the resources available. On Day 2 we bought materials and began construction. We continued construction on Days 3 & 4. Finally, at 9:00pm on Day 4, the prototype was built and loaded on a truck, we were ready for customer feedback on Day 5. We spent Day 5 at the hospital where we set up our cuartito for the current dialysis patients and physicians to critique. Overall, their impressions were very positive. In fact, because of the polite culture of Costa Rica, we had difficulties discovering what aspects of the prototype they would like to change. But after five patients, ten nurses, two engineers, and one hospital director, we had gathered some concrete improvements and precious feedback that will help us improve our design. The next steps will be redesigning, taking into account the suggestions we received, and then small-scale clinical trials in the fall.
As with any team project, I learned some valuable lessons during the week:
- Prototypes are vital to designs, the more the better
- Team dynamics should be frequently reassessed
First, I learned that prototypes are vital to designs and should be made frequently in the design process. Prototypes are useful because they translate abstract ideas into reality. They help us communicate ideas while pointing out design flaws that are almost impossible to foresee on paper but often obvious while building or using the product. Prototypes offer a reliable measure of the feasibility of the product because they force generalizations and overlooked details onto center stage. I also learned that prototypes can be functional or aesthetic depending on the purpose of the prototype. For example,
in our cuartito, the sink worked beautifully (functional), but the room was not draft-resistant (aesthetic). This was because the goal of our prototype was patient insights; patients needed to use the sink to tell us what they thought, but the cuartito could have drafts because we weren’t yet looking for regulatory approval or performing clinical trials. Another important concept I was exposed to was the balance between improving details of the prototype and focusing on the overall appearance and functionality. Since sprints typically last for only five days, it is vital to prioritize prototype features. Personally, I have a hard time completing tasks in a manner I feel is only half-way. This presents challenges for me then for prototypes because part of the definition of a prototype is unfinished. Thankfully, my teammates reminded me of this throughout the week and kept me on track. Another aspect of this was knowing when to backtrack and try a different approach before getting too deep or too attached that change is near impossible. This was a lesson hard-learned this week as we strove to optimize one part of the design and as a consequence neglected less important parts of the design like door handles and hose attachments.
Other important lessons that I learned concerned team dynamics. First, delegation is very helpful. However, it must be done carefully and reassessed frequently to ensure an equal distribution of work so that progress is made as quickly and efficiently as possible. This requires constant communication between each task-group. As an engineering student, I am not yet proficient at continual communication so our briefings at the start and end of the day helped me to understand what each task-group was working on and how all the pieces fit together. For my next sprint though, I would like to experiment with briefings at lunch as well to help reassess the workload distribution. Another lesson I learned about team dynamics concerned decision-making. Often, team decisions cannot be made unanimously because of time constraints and diverse perspectives, so compromising is important. This is reliant on an atmosphere that encourages critiquing design ideas at certain points. If ideas are never critiqued, then superior ideas cannot be synthesized. On the other hand, if ideas are never “frozen” to be beyond critique and change, then the work is hindered by second-guessing. So here we have another delicate balance. As a personal opinion, I think that aspects of the project that are moving more slowly than expected or are encountering difficulties should be “unfrozen” in order to reevaluate them and, as a team, decide the best way to move forward. I think this helps projects from getting bogged down. Also, it can be helpful to bring in another team member that has not worked as much on that aspect of the project as an unbiased opinion. This fights the attachment to one’s own work that is simply human nature. One of my personal goals is to learn to do this and to appreciate feedback that I do not want to hear. I have a tendency to get attached to my work, but one of the keys in a sprint is to be flexible and unattached to ideas in order to improve or quickly change tactics.
Overall, I believe our sprint was a great success. I know that I have been discussing mainly shortcomings of the week because those are what I learned the most from so let me say it again: I believe our sprint was a great success. We were able to construct and get feedback on a largely functional prototype of a very complex project in only five days. We worked hard and long to get it done, and it paid off. The feedback we received on Day 5 will propel us forward in our cuartito design. I greatly enjoyed the hands-on aspects of this project. Since I was little, I have loved to build things, whether with legos or power tools; I derive a deep sense of satisfaction in getting my hands dirty and seeing my designs come to life. I also enjoyed heading the effort of creating a CAD model of our design; it was just like seeing it come to life in the workshop, only virtually. I am very proud of the team’s performance in the entire sprint and our accomplishments, and I am very thankful to our partners at Invenio who made it all possible.
On a less serious note, more fun facts about Costa Rica:
- It is so humid in some parts that the air dissolves candy mints that are left out
- There are only two seasons: wet and dry and no summer or winter
- Speed limits are in kilometers/hour and are rarely followed
- Food is about the same price as in the USA while wages are well less than half which is why rice and beans are staple foods
At the risk of running a week behind my companions in narrating our trip to the beach last weekend, I’ll be brief: We went to two beaches, one each day. The first day, we surfed (which was an absolute blast!), we swam, and I galloped atop a horse on the beach (I’m not going to check it off my bucket list because it was so fun that I want to do it again). The second day was fun as well and more relaxing: we swam, got sand fleas laying on the sand, played Frisbee, and I made a sand castle.
This weekend, we toured Monte Verde via zipline. Monte Verde is a “cloud forest” which means that it is a rainforest that is high enough in altitude to be covered in clouds most of the time. It was amazing! We went on 9 normal ziplines (sitting position), 2 superman ziplines (laying position), and a giant Tarzan swing. The superman ziplines were my favorite because it felt like I was flying. The first one was actually the longest zipline in Latin America at just under 1 mile long and I went so fast that the rain actually stung my face. The Tarzan swing was certainly an adrenaline rush (so naturally I loved it). It was a 120-foot tall swing. I started at the top, and after being secured, I stepped off the platform. Since it was a giant pendulum, I free-fell the first 20 feet or so before being pulled into more of swinging motion. The trip was a welcome break to the 4-hour drive back to San Jose where we will be spending the rest of our time in Costa Rica.
Pura Vida! And hasta la proxima semana!