No course is perfect, and that's certainly true of Widgets Inc. as well. Below, we hope to outline some of the pitfalls we've experienced in teaching the course so that other teachers may consider and avoid them. Please feel free to add your own.
Troubleshooting and FAQs
Stage 2 — How many product proposals and elevator pitches?
One of the crucial points in the course is that each team must submit several different product proposals and several different elevator pitches at the end of Stage 2. That is, if there are four students in a team, then that team must submit four different product ideas. This is quite important, because the different ideas will be evaluated and the best one selected in Stage 3. Students are sometimes confused about this, and misunderstand that each team submits one idea each; it's good to watch out for this.
Stage 2 — Teamwork or individual work?
Another important point to keep in mind about Stage 2 is that students are working within a team, yet must produce several "individual" product proposals and elevator pitches. In fact, the task shouldn't be seen as individual submissions, but as the product of the whole team brainstorming together and helping each member to do the best work possible. If this means that they share the work in other ways, then that should be fine. For example, perhaps one student prepares more than one proposal form, and in return another helps more with the video production. In fact, it should be part of the project manager's job to help organize this. Remind students that the team will get a joint grade that is proportional to how the whole team achieves the task of jointly submitting a number of product proposals and elevator pitches.
Stage 2 — What if my students just aren't coming up with creative ideas?
There are several ways to help them. One is to follow the Think of a problem in your life lesson pattern, and focus the student on the whys of each problem. This will help to find a solution. For example, many students identify not being able to wake up on time in the morning as a problem. However, the real issue is why they have this problem: Is it because they are staying up late to play video games? Is it because the neighbor's dog barks all night? Is it because they're living away from home and don't have a parent to wake them up? Each of these problems can lead to different possible solutions.
It does sometimes happen that a student is simply stuck and can't think of anything. In that case, you could try giving them one of the blank product ideas at the end of Appendix B, and have them fill in the name, product description, etc. A variation on this idea is to have them visit a crowdfunding site such as Indiegogo or Kickstarter (in English!), and "borrow" an idea for the purpose of completing the product proposal task.
Stage 3 — What if one team has not submitted the required number of product proposal forms?
For Stage 3 to proceed smoothly, you should ideally have at least four product proposals to be evaluated. If you are short a product or two, you can handle it in different ways. One way is to use a product page from Appendix B. Another way, if you've taught the course before, is to bring in a previous student's product proposal form (be sure to get permission or to remove any identifying information). It's a good idea to come to the first Stage 3 session with several extra product proposal pages printed and ready, just in case.
Stage 3, 4, 5 — Can product ideas be changed during the product cycle?
Certainly! Students can sometimes be hesitant to change aspects of the original product proposal, but in a way this is an important aspect of the product development stages: to consider how viable the product is (or isn't), and to suggest improvements regarding how it looks, to add or remove features, to rename it, etc. It's more fun as the course progresses if the core idea stays the same, but even changing that is possible — if, for example, the focus group absolutely hates everything about the product.
As with other questions about the course, our rule of thumb is always, When in doubt, keep it authentic. In this case, would a real company change/discard a product or keep going despite poor market research results?
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