Excerpt from Chapter 3 “The Plan”

“We need to flesh out the characters, observe the weaponry in use to understand any unstated limitations and requirements, and then determine what our happy ending looks like. Ben, can you walk us through how you’ll use the story to inform the research approach?”

Ben unfolded from his seat and strode to the white board, accepting the marker from Manisha. He started by writing “Characters” and underlining near the top of the white board. Max noticed it was a good foot higher than Manisha’s “Problem”.

“Using the story, we can identify three explicit characters that need to be mapped and one implied. The explicit characters are, of course, the squad members who will be the direct users of the product, the uninfected non-military humans who will not interact directly with the product but will benefit from it and may react to it’s use in unpredictable ways, and the zombies that will be the target of the product. “

Reaching up, he wrote “Explicit” under “Characters” and listed each of the characters, each with its own stick figure.

“We also consider software and hardware “characters” for this exercise so we can keep them in context.” He listed the weapon and each type of software next.

“Implicit characters are those implied by the narrative, but not directly mentioned. In this case we have implied that they have the equipment they need to do the job, so there is an implied outfitter who would have provided and configured the product for the team before they entered the situation. Also, I want to point out that we have made the implied assumption, through what isn’t on the requirements list” he nodded to the list under problems, “that field configuration is not currently on the table for the RFP. “

Trevor spoke up “Maybe not, but it’s a good point – we need to make sure we have an alternate timeline that handles that so we keep it in mind for future iterations.”

Everyone started talking at once. Max stayed quiet trying to decide what kind of whacky science fiction “alternate timeline” would take them down.

Ben raised his voice “Folks, hang on, one at a time! Trevor, you’re right, we should start notes for an alternate timeline. Quick definition – an alternate timeline is how we term stories that cover features we want to consider including but aren’t part of our scope for a given release. They are things that we need to keep in mind to provide room for them in the future – they keep us from inadvertently boxing ourselves into a solution that isn’t extensible or losing ideas that come to light during ideation.”

On the white board, he wrote “Implicit” and listed the outfitter with his own stick figure. Then next to that he wrote “Alternates” and started a bulleted list with “Field configuration” as the first item.

“Now wait, “ Max said thinking out loud. “there could be an infinite number of rabbit holes we run down with this. How do we keep it from getting crazy? I don’t want to end up putting a cup holder on this thing because someone might want a cold one in the middle of a shoot out!”

The room laughed and Ben, smiling broadly, nodded. “Great question! You don’t really need to keep them in line from a practical standpoint because we’re not actually going to do anything with them at the moment. So if you have a crazy what-if idea, we write it down to acknowledge it. That’s the important part. It’s a way not only to keep things in mind but to also clear the board so we can concentrate on what we have to do for the current problem.”

Max sat back, crossing his arms. “Ok…let’s see how this goes.”

Ben turned back to the board “Now that we’ve identified the characters and started an alternate timeline, we need to determine the best research approach for this situation. Let’s list the unknowns.”

“This is a new weapon system, so the usage is completely unknown” Next to the weapon system he drew a circle and colored it in completely.

“Next we have the zombies – zombie behavior in these situations is pretty predictable, at least for our software. Otherwise we’d all be out of jobs!” a smattering of laughter greeted this assertion. He drew a circle next to the zombie that was not colored at all. “Same with our software.”

“But the shooters and outfitter are both new personas for us, so we need to see how they work – what environment are they operating in and what types of interactions they’re currently dealing with within the context of our story. We don’t need a complete picture of what they’re doing when not on a mission.” Squad had a half colored in circle.

“The non-infected folks need to be researched from a tangential point of view – we can rely on some interviews with squad members that have been through these types of situations and don’t need to do direct observations.” The non-infected happy stick figure got a circle with a quarter of it colored in.

“Using this, we can easily see we need to do get a demo of the weapons system in use and interview squad members and the outfitter as well as review any video we can grab that shows them preparing for and dealing with zombies. Fortunately, I got a call back this morning from our government contact and we should be able to have a demo later this afternoon. I’ve also got inteviews lined up with three people on the first squad that is in line as an early adopter of the weapon after the demo. I haven’t gotten an outfitter yet, but I’m hoping we can get in touch with one later today. The government has been very helpful in getting us the contacts we need.”

Sylvia sprang up, moving quickly to the board.

“So, if I’ve got this right, this is the identification formula you’re using.” She snatched the marker from Ben’s stunned hand and started writing.[1]


[1] Discovery/observational research includes ethnographic studies and other forms of in –context research that require researchers to observe the subjects in their environment. Contextual inquiry/interviews involve speaking with end users to elicit specific information. Both of these are qualitative research methods (http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qualmeth.php) Secondary research includes non-direct research forms such as a literature review or reading through reports.(Byrnman A., Bell E. (2015) Business Research Methods pp 320 Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK)

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