Can 6 tech students help a telecom giant innovate in 6 weeks? Telenor Norway wants to solve real problems for real people. As summer interns in Iterate – the lean startup consultancy in Norway – we’ve been hired to build, measure and learn how to unleash the power of future telco technology. Every week we blog about what we’ve learned.
Here’s week 3.
We knew from the beginning this internship was going to be different.
Most tech student summer internships follow a standard format: You show up the first day to a round of introductions, you get assigned a workstation, a task, and maybe some company swag. The first week is focused on workshops and courses, and then you are set to work. For the next few weeks you work on your project in order to bring it to completion on time.
Certainly a cool internship when you get to brew your own beer and design a matching label.
This is what we expected when we went hunting for a summer internship. We would get to do some coding, probably in a new language, and we would get to do it in a company setting. We would get to experience the “real world”, and tell all our friends about the cool new technology we worked with. However Iterate had a new style of internship in mind.
Iterate builds on Lean Thinking, Lean Startup, and Lean Development. Before our internship we were asked to read the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya, which gave us the background behind these concepts. Now we needed the practical experience to go with the theory.
Our mentors gave us these core guidelines to use in our work;
Document everything in a Lean way,
Never sit still.
Then, in typical Lean fashion, we got working. On the second day of the internship we got 30 minutes to prepare a script, and then we had to find people to interview. In 2 hours we had interviewed 13 people, and made the first iterations of our Lean Canvas.
What’s more important than talking to the customer?
They gave us some tools and threw us out in the deep end. To do anything else would be to go against Lean thinking itself, it would be a waste of time and resources. Our job is to figure this out as best we can, while having our mentors at our backs, available to answer any questions along the way.
We were taken good care of from the first day, with mentors to ask for help about anything.
The first two weeks was a stumbling learning process for both teams in different ways. Team Support struggled with narrowing down a focus goal and trying to navigate the corporate jungle of who knows what about whom. Team Phone was started further along in the development process. Their struggle has been (and continues to be) the balance between activation and retention. When does the focus shift between gaining customers to keeping them?
Team Phone made a registration page for exchange students so they can sign up the pilot test this fall
This is where our first key value Validated Learning comes into play. Everything that goes into our product has to be validated as something our customer needs and would use if it existed.
Team Support has been working with this throughout the first three weeks of the project, constantly coming up with new hypotheses and ways of testing and experimenting on them. The focus has been to see how customers currently use customer support, and how satisfied they are with the current methods.
Our results show just how important these tests are, especially when customers sometimes say the complete opposite of what we expect.
Team Support is on a testing roll, listening in and interviewing customers!
Team Phone has also experienced the need for Validated Learning when they first tested their product. They went to the streets to test different mockups on the public, and quickly had some incling to what worked and what didn’t. When it turned out that a key feature was more confusing than useful, the team could quickly implement a solution.
Team Phone preparing the street interviews.
This idea of Validating everything has also proven more difficult than anticipated. As budding engineers, we’re used to focusing on solutions, and ways to find them as fast and efficient as possible. We build the solution we can imagine for ourselves, and it’s difficult so find the problem rather than the solution.
In the real world, that’s not going to work if you want a successful product.
What is the problem we need to solve? You can’t build a solution if you don’t know what the problem is.
Luckily we have the full backing of Iterate, so there is good advice all around. We also have the support of each other, and when one team struggles, the other comes in and helps out.
Team Support helps Team Phone with the registration page. Feedback is important!
The second key value is Document Everything. This is a common task in many companies, but with a catch. The core struggle here is to do it in a lean way, and not feel as though we have to spend time making a weekly report. In a lean work process, the report you poured several hours of work into might be near useless tomorrow.
Team Phone takes documenting very seriously.
By far the biggest struggle has been with the value Never Sit Still. In this business you always feel like you’re waiting for someone or something. The principle of never sitting still leads us to find new ways to do experiments and tests. It also forces us to come up with ideas we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.
Team Phone experienced this during their first week when they couldn’t get an answer from the representatives in Telenor. They split up and Kjetil started working on a solution while the rest of the team looked into other ideas.
When it turned out the problem had been a typo in the email address, the team had already done most of the background work and could go straight to the next level. This value has forced both teams to keep working when we otherwise would have stopped, and it is the reason behind a lot of our new ideas.
Long and creative days..?
We’re at the halfway point of our internship. Both teams have had their struggles to overcome and situations to figure out. We’re experiencing what it’s like in the real world, working with a big corporation and customers in need of results.
This method of working was difficult at first, but by now we’re really experiencing how useful it is. It gives us an opportunity to figure everything out for ourselves, and do things in our own way with our own ideas.
Where will we be in three weeks? Hopefully we’ll keep improving with at least the current rate. We’re coming more and more into our own, and trusting our instincts. Our mentors have always made sure not to control us, and let us make our own decisions.
In some cases these values had lead us to take longer to come to a conclusion, but the learning experience is unparalleled. You won’t get anywhere in this industry without making some mistakes, and our mentors are always there to guide us back on the right track.
Every failure is an opportunity to learn.
We don’t expect these next few weeks to go without failures. What we do expect is for them to be less frequent, and for us to learn more from each one.
We really look forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring, and hope you’ll follow us along the way.
Our mentor Anders has also blogged about the project setup – from the point of view of the employer. Read his thoughts in his post: The Values of Innovation.
You can also read about our first and second weeks, and follow our twitter for more updates.
The Iterate Summer Students of 2015:
Nils Inge Rugsveen,
Kari Eline Strandjord,
Aina Elisabeth Thunestveit,
Blog by Pernille Wangsholm