Good Things Come in Threes

Guest blog post by Robert Onsi, Senior Vice President of Product Development, Discovery Education

As a young college student, I once took a course in which one of my professors emphasized the Rule of Three.  According to the professor, the Rule of Three is an important principle in storytelling suggesting that things appearing in a series of three help readers, viewers, or listeners better remember important ideas and make a story funnier or more satisfying.

Take a moment and consider this by looking at the Rule of Three in action. The Three Bears and the Tree Little Pigs are mainstays in children’s literature.  In teaching children about public safety, Stop and Look is less effective than Stop, Look, and Listen.  And finally, in the story of our nation’s founding, Life and Liberty were important, but Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is as American as Apple Pie.

At Discovery Education, where I serve as the Senior Vice President of Product Development, the team creating our products and services has adopted a Rule of Three that helps guide our efforts to continually evolve and enhance the digital resources we create for educators and students. Our Rule of Three is: Listen, Iterate, and Repeat.

In the Listen phase, we gather the input of teachers, school administrators, and students using (or sometimes not using) our services to learn about what features and content they would like added to our services.  Over the years, as we’ve honed the activities in this phase, we’ve learned some tips that have helped us create award-winning products that support the success of all learners.  Those tips include:

  • DO understand who you are talking to. As you are listening to feedback about your services, understand where the speaker is coming from.  Is the feedback from a “chooser” or “user”?  Is it from a power user or a hesitant user?  It is important to hear from all individuals, but how you weigh the feedback will change depending on who is providing it.
  • DO use multiple methods of gathering feedback.  Face-to-Face interviews, focus groups, surveys, listening sessions are all valuable ways of gathering feedback.  However, your subjects will provide different answers depending on the setting, so vary the ways you gather feedback.
  • DO ask open-ended questions. One of the best strategies I’ve found for uncovering penetrating feedback is to ask open ended questions.  “If you were me, what would be the your next step in evolving this service?” and “If you had a magic wand, what changes to this services would you make today?” are two questions that have uncovered for me some tremendously valuable feedback.

In the Iterate phase of our Rule of Three, the Product Development team processes the feedback we receive, and use that feedback as a guide to enhance our services.  I believe some of the best features of our services have been added during the Iterate phase, and the following pointers can help in the refinement of any Ed-Tech service or product:

  • DO separate the “Need to Haves” from the “Nice to Haves.”  I have often said that if I asked ten educators to provide one idea for improving a service, I would receive ten different answers.  There are no bad ideas or suggestions in this process, however, a variety of factors will limit the enhancements you will be able to make in the Iterate phase.  Be sure to weigh what needs to be done to improve a product or service, against what would be nice to do.
  • DO make your changes quickly. Remember, time is the enemy of product updates.  Once you have a direction for an enhancement, execute on it.  The window to satisfy your users with the updates they requested is small.
  • When releasing updates, DO remember that timing is everything.  When you are thinking about the release dates of new enhanced versions of products and services, think long and hard about timing.  If the update is a radical re-visioning of an existing product or service, it may be best to release that update during the summer with a companion communications plan that tells educators what the changes are, how the updates will benefit them, and where their favorite resources and features are found now.  The last thing you want to do is have a teacher stop using their favorite service because they no longer recognize their favorite service.

Finally, we come to the Repeat phase. In this phase, I make only one suggestion: DO approach the Repeat phase with humility.  Your work is never done, and the services are never quite perfect.  In fact, the value proposition inherent in digital services is that that they evolve and change as the environment evolves and changes.  Once you have completed an Iteration, start Listening again, as circumstances have changed and it is time to improve your service again.   

Faith, Hope, and Charity.  Mind, Body, Spirit. Veni, Vidi, Vici.  And of course, Listen, Iterate, and Repeat.  As my colleagues across the industry build and enhance new digital products and services that support the evolving needs of today’s learners, it is important to keep in mind that we cannot fail the teachers and students we serve. This means that building flexible systems into product enhancement processes that continuously gather user feedback and improves services is critical.  So, remember, as you evolve your services, good things come in threes! 

Robert Onsi currently serves as Discovery Education’s Senior Vice President of Product Development.  During his 11 year career at Discovery Education, Robert oversaw the development of Discovery Education Science, Social Studies, and Math Techbooks.  He is a graduate of the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. You can contact Robert at robert_onsi@discovery.com. Robert will be speaking at the Content Forum - Content Creator's REBOOT - during the 2017 Content in Context (CIC) conference from the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group.

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