All you need to do is not spend time listening to people, follow only what desk research tells you is best, not show users what the service will be like and then only let them try it once it’s finished.
Unfortunately with Doc Ready, we didn’t do this.
Instead we spent time understanding the problem, watched people try out potential solutions and then built something really simple that focused just on performing its core function as well as it could.
Since September 2013 Doc Ready’s already been used to create over 5000 checklists, getting people ready to talk to their GP about their mental health. We like to think this is because we made a service that people like to use.
Following on from my first article in this series about why you shouldn’t ask young people for solutions, here’s its follow up about how we got Doc Ready, ready.
We Spent Time With People
You can’t design from generalities, not if you want people to actually use a service.
At the beginning of Doc Ready’s development we ran a ‘Discovery Phase’. A Discovery Phase (aka Customer Development) can be a few weeks or longer where you spend time living with the problem you’ve set out to solve, working out whether it really is a problem, working out all of the things that go into making it and what this means .
Our Discovery Phase Objective: Get to know the problem of attending GP appointments inside out and from as many angles as possible.
The discovery period is the time for exploring, learning, and realising that your wish to be the white knight with the idea that will change the world might be over optimistic. We burrowed down into the issues and met people who found appointments difficult, spent time with others who were concerned with any solution actually working – like young people, young people with mental health difficulties, GPs, carers, mental health services. In essence we got out of the building, interviewed people individually and in groups, bent ears and checked out our assumptions.
The biggest difference between a Discovery Phase and a literature review or best practice search is that it’s about people. Not statistics. Not academic overviews. You can only design good things for people if you spend time with them. If you don’t you will spend your time trying to hammer people into the shape needed to justify a service that fits their general statistics only.
We rarely do discovery phases in mental health services. Maybe that’s why we keep developing projects that no people with mental health difficulties actually like.
We Showed People Real Things, Really Quickly
When I talked to people about the Doc Ready idea their response ranged from ‘cool’ to erm…’. Some of them had plenty of opinions about how it might, or might not, work. However, as expected this didn’t really give us any solutions about how to make Doc Ready happen or what the final thing should actually be like.
In app development it’s also pointless showing people a photoshop mock-up of your app and asking them what they think. They’ll either say ‘lovely!’ or ‘rubbish!’. This won’t tell you anything about the thing that you’re actually making. As the folks from Neontribe are fond of saying “Photoshop mockups sign checks with the end user that your development team can’t cash.” The point being it’s only worth showing people things they can break, play with and make fall over.
Adopting ‘fail often, fail fast’ and other similar lean development mantras we sprinted ahead and created six paper prototypes of ways the app could work. Made entirely out of paper, these were real concrete devices with sliders, buttons, text panels, menus, and even pop-ups. Watching testers try them out and pull them to pieces gave us direct, experiential insight into the functions and methods of interaction that people would value most in the app.
Using this learning we built a quick, rudimentary working version of Doc Ready. It included a version of the cloud of experiences and feelings that was very detailed. When we showed this version to people they hated it. So we created the same function in a different way, with more space for people to input their own experiences and far less ‘symptoms’. They much preferred this.
What’s important to realise here is that it didn’t matter how much we’d talked to people about how this core bit of the app would work, it was only when they saw it and used it that they could see what they did and didn’t like about it.
It’s vital in innovation to have this kind of flexibility in your development process. You may need to change, change and change again before something works so quickly getting to the point where you have something you can test is vital. If you don’t, you’ll be a year and megabucks into your project before the people who you’re building it for get the chance to tell you it’s crap.
We Offered People A Simple Product First
Though Doc Ready is already available and being widely used it isn’t finished. What you see now is Doc Ready as a simple minimum viable product form. It all pretty much works and we’re looking for people to tell us how and where it could work better so we can understand how some of its aspects could be better realised.
Focusing on the question ‘what is the minimum that Doc Ready needs to to be Doc Ready?’ was vital to keeping it simple.
The challenge of building Doc Ready wasn’t about which products and features to keep in. As with most good ideas, it was about what to throw out in the name of keeping it simple. Having done so much work with young people and GPs made it much easier to see what didn’t need to be in the app for it to work. As a result, getting to the minimum viable product stage was quick at only 6 months.
Here’s some of the features thrown out as a result of discussion and paper prototyping with young people:
- Ability to track your appointments over time
- A personalisable interface
- The ability to create a profile and make your appointments ‘social’
- A diary or reminder function
- Integration with other apps like Google calendar
While these features may be worth exploring in the future, it was clear that they were non-essential to Doc Ready’s core purpose. There were lots of cool things that Doc Ready could have done but the version you see shows exactly how the idea works, what it does and gives you an experience that makes it easy to work out if it’s working for you.
Getting It Right For Your Mental Health Service
In a mental health service world of limited resources and squeezed funding it’s tempting to see doing stuff with people and spending time with them as a luxury.
But if you don’t spend time with people, if you don’t get up really close to how they feel about the problem you think needs to be solved then you run the risk of piddling all of your innovation money down a great big drain labelled ‘we built it and they didn’t come.’
Which is no fun at all.
This is the second in a series of posts on why Doc Ready got to where it is so quickly and what this means for the way we make mental health services. You can read the other posts at Don’t Ask Young People For Solutions and Why Behind Every Great App Is A Great Team.