Lessons Learnt

Momentum is key.

Momentum is an important factor that plays into the successful completion of a project. We learnt that a loss of momentum could lead to a loss of motivation in the team and can significantly hamper the ability to get things done. This is especially important when you are working on problems that have fuzzy end goals. In the early phases of our project, we had periods of lull and inactivity and we were unable to realize why the project was not moving forward. We also had periods of hyper activity where we got a lot done. As the project progressed, we learnt to acknowledge the role momentum played, not only on getting things done but also on team morale and were better able to use it to our advantage.

Build with them, not for them.

One of our biggest lessons from the project is the power of building something with people rather than for people. In the early parts of the project, we built some things for our staff but without their engagement. While these things were appreciated, they never truly attained the kind of use and ownership that we imagined. Conversely, the things we built together with our staff are the ones that are the most widely used and loved. Remember the responsibility - adjustability slide rule: The more responsible users are for something, the more adjustable that thing can be.

You have to get creative to understand what people really want.

People do not always know what they want. You have to get creative to understand what lies at the heart of what people are telling you. Just talking to people did not give us a full picture and we as a team used various methods to hear what our staff members needed. We were surprised at how much we learnt every time we went back to our staff for their input. You have to engage all of your senses if you want to really learn what people want.

Over communicate.

Change is hard. The only way to reduce anxiety about change is to genuinely communicate what you know with the people that are going to be affected by it. We learnt that when we felt like we had done a good job of communicating something to the staff, they were only beginning to hear of it. We realized that unlike us, they were not working on our project everyday and hence what we thought was clear to us was not always clear to them. Communicating clearly and often really helped us be on the same page with them.

Be nice (and genuine).

Through this project we realized the power of being nice and having empathy. We noticed that people were more willing to hear our (sometimes outlandish) ideas because they knew we meant well. Being nice helped us be more vulnerable in front of our peers and the staff at large. We realized that empathy and well-meaning intentions can get you through a lot of sticky situations, especially in a public engagement project like this one. That being said, we also found out that people can easily tell when you are trying to be nice but are not genuine, and that can really hurt progress. Being nice is not something you can teach as much so we need to form our teams with this in mind.

Be flexible.

Flexibility is key when it comes to fuzzy goals. You need to be flexible in your management, in your interactions, in your ideas and even in your timelines. We ended up changing what we planned countless times through the process and realized that as long as we were able to communicate the changes and the reasons for them well, people appreciated the ride.

Stay at it.

Persevere to achieve what you believe in. There were some ideas that only the core team believed in but for whatever reason, we were not able to bring the same passion through our staff. We stayed with our ideas and today some of those are the most successful aspects of the project. Remember that no one knows the whole project better than your core team and hence there will be times where you will have to stay with what you believe in.

Baby steps.

Start small. Get feedback. You will be amazed at how much you did not think off in your first try. We were able to spare ourselves from the pressure of trying something new by working on a small scale and iterating over time. Baby steps helps exploration and experimentation.

Have fun!

If there is one thing that we learnt through the project, it is the value of having fun at what you do. We truly believe that if you want to create something, joy plays a heavy part in your success. Having fun while working frees the mind and body to imagine alternative realities and ways to move in the direction of those nebulous goals. We would never have achieved what we did, had it not being for the pure joy we felt while working on it. We learnt that as far as achieving nebulous goals is concerned, having fun is not an add-on but a pre-requisite.