Ron, Jessica, Alex, and my other Labs teammates have many posts about how we nurse a loosely-defined project into becoming one of the prototypes you see here at JSTOR Labs. But we often get asked how an idea goes from, well, an idea to a project.
Taking an idea from seed to sapling, so to speak, starts with us getting a handle on it—asking simply: what do we know about this idea? Is it the result of a colleague’s brainstorm? Is it a strategic direction for JSTOR that needs incubation and testing? Is it a piece of functionality we think would be really useful?
Then we ask: can we do this? What would it take? Would we benefit from a partnership with an organization outside of JSTOR?
Turns out, we have many ideas. To keep track of them all, we created a visual backlog:
Each Post-It note represents an idea: a piece of functionality (purple), a product-line (orange), a product (raspberry—yes, raspberry), a potential collaboration with a partner (teal), and since all categorizations need one, there are ideas categorized as “other” (chartreuse).
We organize—or, maybe, orient is a better word—the potential work along two axes:
The ‘x’ axis defines how much we are working on that idea, bounded by the descriptions “Not working on it” on the left and “Working on it!” on the right.
The ‘y’ axis defines how much we understand about an idea from “We don’t know what it is!” at the bottom to “We understand it!” at the top.
Why do we use these two axes instead of a more typical backlog, which might be organized either by Priority (that is, the items we believe will have the biggest impact are ranked higher) or by Readiness (that is, we won’t start working on a thing until we understand what it is)? As a labs team, we don’t know the potential impacts of our ideas–we have guesses and interests, but our purpose is to learn about this impact by doing. That eliminates Readiness as a ranking approach: we need to sometimes work on ideas that we don’t understand yet on the assumption that it is only by working with them that we can understand them. So, as an idea first starts firming up—we have a concept taking shape, the timing for a partnership is just right—we pick up its representative stickie and move it to a place approximating how much we understand about it and how close we are to beginning work on it.
Next, we start forming the central hypothesis we’ll test. Though, to borrow a phrase from Jeopardy, please put your hypothesis in the form of a question:
What would it look like to use a primary text as an anchor for (or portal to) secondary text found in JSTOR?
What would it look like to use a picture as the starting point for a search?
What would an alternate way of engaging with a primary source collection look like?
How can we provide researchers with better topical finding aids and keys to influential articles within a given field?
Can we create a better reading and display experience for page scan content on mobile devices?
With an idea and a hypothesis in hand, we’ve got a project. If we’re partnering with an organization, we start by meeting with them and brainstorming around the idea. If we’re not, we usually brainstorm in-house and then we start by interviewing scholars and users to validate both our hypothesis and our approach… but that’s a whole other blog post. Interested in learning more about our process? Let us know!