Day 5 – Finalising the product and presenting!

So first of all, to recap on our activity during the week leading us to today:

Day 1 – Introduction to the process, team-building, and being presented with the challenge: How might we engage SMEs in Birmingham to deliver valuable experiences for young people (16 to 20 year olds) who are able to engage.

Day 2 – Initial market research – going out on to the streets to talk to people – young people, small business owners, employment advisors – to find out what their experiences of work experience and the barriers to delivering or receiving a valuable / worthwhile experience have been, and think about possible solutions.

Day 3 – More detailed conversations with people to hone down their insights into the form of empathy maps – what do they think about work experience, what do they see and hear about it, and what do they do regarding it? From the empathy maps (an empathy map for the experience providers – businesses and other organisations – and one for the receivers – young jobseekers) we created solution maps – what will our solution provide to users as gain creators, in what way might it relieve the pain of providing or participating work experience, and what will our solution actually do.

Day 4 – Design! With the research done and our ideas reasonably well formed, Thursday was the day to actually start committing those ideas into something more resembling a product to take around and show people to say ‘how does this look as an idea? Do you think you would use it?’ and get their feedback. As a team of people fairly well embedded in digital solutions, we made our prototypes by drawing boxes on pieces of paper and in notebooks. Even a man such as myself who generally refuses to touch anything which looks remotely like ink unless it’s in a printer cartridge accepts that sometimes it’s just easier to use a marker pen to convey an idea. We did an initial paper prototype to take around in the morning, came back and adjusted it based on feedback, and then took the more refined version out again in the afternoon.

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And by the beginning of this morning, with all the work we’d done during the week gathered together nicely on to the walls and connected together by a long piece of string, the room looked something like this:

(click the picture and drag it around to see the ghost of Nick!)

Day 5

The morning’s first task was to crystallise all of our thinking about the business model of our platform into one big piece of paper on which we documented our customer segments and relationships, the channels of communication to our customers, the value proposition of our platform, the costs of providing the platform and the revenue streams it will generate (in this instance less tangible than cash per se), the key activities which will be done through the platform and the key resources that platform will have, and the key partners needed to help deliver the service the platform will provide.

And then it was time to prepare our final presentation as the culmination of the week’s work!

Before doing that we had a couple of brief detours – first to listen to part of a talk / discussion in the main part of the Impact Hub led by Indy Johar about the sharing economy and what that means – good and bad – for freelancers in the context of employment rights and access to things like personal finance, and secondly to give a quick Skype call to participants at the Birmingham City Council / Service Birmingham partnership day to brief them about the process we’ve been going through during the week.

Those diversions accomplished we prepared our pitches, and waited for the audience to file into what was actually a small room for a group of about 15 people drawn from the Birmingham City Council, Service Birmingham, and Impact Hub communities. In the spirit of a meeting of the Privy Council we didn’t have any chairs out, so everybody had to stand to ensure it didn’t drag on. Our pitch began introducing the stories of Michael – a jobseeker – and Jo – a shop owner, and their experiences and the problems they faced with doing and providing work experience, followed by our suggested solution, with a lively – in the supportive sense – question and answer session following.

And as we finished our time on this project, we looked back on the real purpose of the week: to trial out a process for an alternative way of working between BCC and SB staff to deliver projects much more quickly than we usually do, by instead of the old method of disparate individuals engaged in small pieces of activity passed from person to person spread out over weeks, and indeed months, to instead get a project team together in a room to devote focussed energy on the project over a short period of time, identifying the problem, mind-harvesting the barriers and the objectives, and designing – and, most importantly, testing with real users the solution in an iterative, agile approach prior to sending on to an implementation team to make real. As the group of five staff members sent away to test this way of working on a theoretical project, we’re absolutely convinced of the enhanced value of it as a joint practice for the future. And as theoretical the brief of the project might initially have been, we think the outcome just might have potential as a real thing worth implementing as well…

Day 4 – Live, die, repeat…

Day 4 of Birmingham’s first Spaghetti Lab and it is prototype day. Cutting and Sticking Today

I know that it is prototype day because there is more Lego, playdough, coloured pipe-cleaners and cutting/sticking equipment around than I am used to in the office.

We finished yesterday with empathy maps populated and bags of insight from our young job seekers and SMEs.  So today we got down to some serious (and not so serious) prototype building.

Then – before we know it – Chris and Dan ushered us off to get feedback on our prototypes.  If I’m honest, I think we are going out too soon.  I want to spend another 30 minutes (or an hour or two) getting the prototype to look better.  But, that is not how it works.

Before getting into things we spend a few minutes watching the first Flash Build.  A team arrive in a sunglasses shop to build an app, there in the shop, in one week.  Worth a watch:, they didn’t spend any time messing about with their prototype, they just built it, tried it and learnt from it.  The real meaning of time-boxing, and the real value.

Is it in hereSo back to Broad Street job centre for more insights:

With our half-arsed prototype we talked Somia through what we had done and immediately she gave us a great insight for benefit that she would want as a job seeker.  Something that we could have taken ages to think up (if we had thought of it at all).  The power of Build, Measure and Learn proved.

The staff at the Job centre also gave us their time, we showed Dave our good-enough-for-the-job prototype, he talked to us about how this solution could work alongside the other systems that are in use; yet more useful insights.

Next it was back to the Impact Hub, a little lunch, while sharing out feedback and then some serious prototyping.

Creation underway

To be honest, I mainly did the lunch while Nick, Laura and Simon did the art work.  (Consistent feedback was that no-one could read my writing in the initial prototype; I see my role in life as something of a supervisor.)

Prototype 2 done we were back out on the streets looking for more feedback.

This time I felt like we were honing the idea.  At Millennium Point, Isha gave us some real confirmation on the concept plus she underlined the importance of making progress on this problem.  Searching for a job is not fun and doing this I have met lots of people really searching but just not finding work in Birmingham.

An interesting conversation with Ben and Hiram highlighted the importance of filling in some details: what are the skills that should be tagged and tracked in the system?  Hmmm

Last part of the day was pitching, thankfully to a friendly panel.  Suddenly our simple idea seemed very difficult to summarise, I begin the pitch but realise that I am was babbling and waving my hands – where did I put that prototype?  I handed over to the next member of the team – phew the spotlight is off me – argh, but now I just want to interrupt my team mates flow.

We get reasonable feedback – but more practice is needed.

Some pointers from the Spaghetti guys follow:

Great advice and inspiration; but a daunting day tomorrow: its big pitch day.

Reflecting today, I realised that at the start of this week I was saying “It’s not about the outcome, I just want to show that the process is worthwhile”, but now I actually CARE.  I give a [#] about those people I’ve met who are looking for work and can’t find it.  I want this product to be built so they can benefit from it. 

I don’t know if it is some strange Impact Hub magic or complex Spaghetti Lab science but in 4 days I feel more connected to this great city of Birmingham than I have for a very long time.


Spaghetti Labs Day 1 Birmingham City Council


Monday – the start of a week long jam based out of the Impact Hub Birmingham with the none too small task of trying to tackle the problems faced by Birmingham City Council (BCC) in a vastly different way by collaborating and co-creating.


There were 4 of us primed to enter the unknown – Tim, Laura and Nick from Service Birmingham and Stuart from Digital Birmingham the sole representative from BCC, although extra help is on it’s way tomorrow in the form of Simon.

The morning was very much the getting to know you session – making sure everyone was comfortable with the other members of the team to create open and honest dialogue in a comfortable environment. I suspect as the week moves on this will be much needed when the pressure is on. It also helps to foster a team spirit between 2 areas that can be seen by the outside world as less than collaborative partners. This is a perfect example of how we should be working together to deliver effective solutions for the citizens of Birmingham.


Introductions went as far as identifying moments that defined who you are as a person and the biggest influences on your life – in itself it was a wonderful therapy session – even with strangers! Laura must think it is always like this as it is her first day in a new job, what a quirky introduction.

The journey plan over the week was placed on a wall where we could critique, raise fears and ask questions. Every aspect of the day was fostering critical thinking and ensuring no-one jumps to conclusions. It looks like the work ramps up rapidly around Wednesday and Thursday where the real solution design and iteration is created and tested. This early part of the week is really teasing out the problem and looking at what is manageable in a week.


Post-lunch the theory kicked in – this for me was of massive value. Essentially we are trying to take start-up methodologies and look how we can embed them into traditional corporate culture. Firstly we looked at Dexler/Sibbet’s ideas of creating and sustaining a team. This was followed by putting projects into context – choosing the right methodology for the job, the principles of Wysocki were presented here and very much reminded me of Donald Runsfeld’s known unknowns and unknown unknowns, etc.

The real stand out for me was the “ambidextrous business model” looking at how you  can approach innovation and build it up in a large enterprise whilst maintaining the existing way of doing things to ensure business continuity. The idea of a corporate startup approach is the work of Dr Tendayi Viki, which is about moving from the existing model to an emerging  model.

I think that there is still some work to be done to shift people culturally and crucially contractually away from an existing model to a start up model. Risk is the key and the economic model to  support this is what will  really sell this co-creation way of working to senior people. The existing models do not foster rapid and flexible innovation, these new methods need to financially manage risk and have a legal framework to support this for the contractual side of things.


With the theory bubbling away we were then visited by Jules from the BCC employment and skills department and Roger from the DWP. The problem we have been asked to pick apart is no small task – getting 31,000 Small, Medium Enterprises to engage and provide work experience for 30,000 job seekers. This is a phenomenal ask, in addition it can be sliced and diced in many ways to provide us with tangible and manageable outcomes after just 1 week. After giving Jules and Roger a grilling we had a post-it note grouping session to try and pull the problem together and provide us with the basis of the overarching problem and give us food for thought on what we can tackle realistically. Perhaps the hardest thing here is not to start designing solutions – the natural instinct is to start working, however greater understanding is what is really required at this point. Plus we need to take stock of the fact that a LOT of people are looking at this, what can we add to existing work in the area.

The potential objectives, the barriers, the key actors were all identified. The interesting part is when looking at a problem this far up is where to start, it is very much interlinked systems – tackling one problem means considering other problems that influence – it is very non-linear.


To relax the mind we undertook some more team-building, energiser session (I shall leave that part as a surprise for future participants) and an analysis of us as a team – in effect it is setting the ground rules so that we can be honest with each other in a way that is all about moving the team forward in trying to tackle the objective.

So it was a busy first day – but nicely paced, I think after this it will ramp up. Already I can see real benefit to this approach – the chances are that we will develop a workable “product” at the end of the week, not necessarily a physical project but certainly the beginnings of an approach. More importantly though we will have a methodology to really influence how BCC works – and now is the right time to take this forward with the work for the future operating model beginning in earnest where innovation will be the key to moving Birmingham forward in response to the challenges it faces.



We are intrigued…

This coming Monday it will have been 8 weeks since we hosted Birmingham’s first Service Jam at Impact Hub. Along the way we’ve learned so much with the amazing people who made the event what it was.

We are really excited for next leg of this journey where we’ll be hosting a one week design and innovation lab with Birmingham City Council, Service Birmingham and the public to co-create something new for the city.

From 27 April – 1st May we will be taking a team of people who work for the City Council and Service Birmingham to find fresh solutions to a complex problem through a service design thinking approach. This will take place against the backdrop of Impact Hub Birmingham’s Opening Festival ‘Demo B’ which aims to explore, celebrate and demonstrate how we can build a better Birmingham together.

If you’re as intrigued as we are, then you’ll probably want to watch this blog over the next week or so for live coverage of the journey. It all begins on Monday.