Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Requirements Strategery and Interview Propositionating

In order to build a plan for execution of an online dive community, it is crucial to find out the needs of the stakeholders within the community. This means working with divers, dive companies, and boat captains to find out the best way to connect the members of each group to one another. There will, of course, be conflicting priorities, as well as desired functionality that is outside the scope of this class. However the goal will be to find a way to mutually benefit all involved parties.

The first category of stakeholders to engage is divers themselves. They are the majority population of the social network, thus their needs will be our top priority. Divers will be asked to complete an online survey with the following introductory information and questions:

Thank you for taking the time to complete this brief survey. We are working to build an online community for divers, and we would like to find out how we can best connect you to the community. By answering the following 10 questions, you can help guide our implementation process!
  1. Are you currently active in social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.? (Yes/No)
  2. Do you use any online diving resources? (Yes/No)
  3. If so, please list your top 3 (_________________)
  4. Do you regularly keep your dive log? (Yes/No)
  5. Do you prefer to buy or rent gear? (Buy/Rent)
  6. When traveling, how important is it to dive? (1: not at all important, 2: not very important, 3: somewhat important, 4: very important)
  7. Which of the following features of a dive community would interest you? (Select all that apply)
    • Logging dives
    • Connecting with local divers/clubs
    • Forums
    • Buying new gear
    • Buying used gear
    • Reading gear reviews
    • Booking charters
    • Booking classes
    • Checking dive conditions
    • Finding dive coordinates
    • Sharing photos
    • Logging certifications
    • Emergency contact information
    • On-call dive support (gear rentals, tank fills, instruction, charters, etc.)
    • Insurance
  8. Of the choices you selected, which 3 are the most important? (Select up to 3)
  9. If a new social network were built that smoothly integrated these items you've selected, do you see yourself taking part in the community? (Yes/No)
  10. If you would like to receive updates on implementation, please provide your email address (survey results will otherwise be kept anonymous): ________________
Thanks again for your participation!
For those divers who do submit their email address for updates, an initial thank you note will be emailed, followed by a monthly newsletter as implementation proceeds.

The next stakeholder to guide the development process is the dive company. For the purposes of this project, we will focus on an established dive club in the local area, as well as several instructors. Individuals will be asked to participate in a brief initial interview, and those interested in continuing will be invited to additional scrums throughout the development process. The initial interview will be conducted face-to-face at a mutually agreed-upon location. The following questions will comprise the bulk of the initial face-to-face interview:
  1. What is your current process for booking dive trips/classes locally?
  2. When you first dive with a new friend/student, how do you ensure they are ready for the level of diving/instruction you are pursuing?
  3. What sort of emergency information do you currently keep for those diving with you?
  4. Upon completion of the dive, what sort of records do you keep? What information goes into those records?
  5. Is there any information you share with divers after a dive? (photos, dive log, etc.)
  6. Do you have any sort of long-term follow-up with divers? What does that involve?
  7. What is the number-one way in which technology could enhance your participation in the dive community?
The goal of this information-gathering session is to find out any current breakdowns in the process, as well as the information needed to facilitate a simpler process. After the initial interview, a thank-you email will be sent to those opting to not continue working throughout the project. Upon project completion, a hand-written note will be sent to the individuals who stayed active with developers through the semester as well as a possible invitation to attend an underwater launch party and become founding members of the community.

Finally, integration of a dive network would not be complete without including boat captains in the community. The interview process would be similar to that of the dive companies and instructors, but the questions will focus more on the needs of captains:
  1. What is your current process for booking dive trips?
  2. Do you have a way to advertise last-minute space available on your boat?
  3. What is your current process for determining your dive location?
  4. When you book dives, are you responsible for ensuring the appropriate expertise/certification of your divers, or does that responsibility fall solely on the companies who book through you?
  5. Do you have a list of instructors you work with, or is that also the responsibility of the dive shop?
  6. What is your process for ensuring all divers are accounted for after a dive?
  7. If a diver turns up missing, what is your emergency action plan?
  8. What is the number-one way in which technology could enhance your participation in the dive community?
The follow-up for boat captains will also follow the the same plan as the dive clubs/instructors, employing post-interview thank-you e-mails for single engagement individuals and more engaging interaction with long-term collaborators.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Do Not Hesitate to Contact

In conducting a search to find an appropriate project, it is necessary to initiate contact with potential clients. For many introverted or socially awkward programmers, this first attempt at making contact may prove quite daunting. Here is a recommend outline for that initial outreach:

Always begin contact with a polite introduction. I usually try to keep it short and sweet, while simultaneously packing in a good amount of information about myself.
"Aloha! I'm Allison, a senior at Hawaii Pacific University, pursuing a double major in Math Education and Computer Science."
Although it is common in many cultures to spend a great deal of time socializing prior to getting down to the nitty-gritty of business, Americans tend to prefer direct, concise communication. When I give my reason for initiating contact, I try to keep it to one or two sentences. It is important to be both clear and complete in these phrases.
"In my software engineering course this semester, I have been asked to reach out to the community and work with a local non-profit. I was wondering if your organization has any technological needs that might be fulfilled by software development."
Once you have stated your reason for contacting your target organization, I recommend giving available times as well as contact information, allowing effortless scheduling of your first meeting.
"I would love to speak with you regarding any ideas you might have. I am available Tuesday and Thursday after 1 PM, and can be reached most quickly via cell: ###-###-####.
Again, the closing should be polite and succinct.
"Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to meeting with you!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stakeholders: Military Processing

As stated in a previous post, the military could use a lot of help when it comes to management of paperwork. For those not familiar with some of the problems, posts by classmates Eric Gagnon and Thomas Wassum introduce some other issues aside from those I have experienced. Here are some of the potential stakeholders for a streamlined, virtual paperwork processing program:
  • The military member
While it seems rather vague, the military member referred to here is the one who is being in- or out-processed. Often, once a member arrives at a new duty location, they find out they missed some step of the intricate process, and they have to call back to their previous unit to request support from one of the offices. This would ensure that once a member departed, the paperwork needed was already complete.

  • The mission
Every military member is part of a mission, whether it is directly fighting an enemy, or otherwise supporting those who do. The amount of time spent managing all the paperwork takes an exorbitant amount of time away from the mission. This is the case both for the member being processed as well as the office doing the processing. Streamlining this will give time back to the areas where human decision-making and action is necessary for mission completion.

  • Support services
For those offices where members are supporting our front-line warriors, having the correct information is absolutely critical to getting the job done. If the right information doesn't get to the right office, sometimes it means people don't get where they need to be, and other times it means people don't get paid. Information is an incredibly valuable resource, and expediting correct information will prove to be priceless to our military!
Initially, this program would probably be best built as simply an SMTP-style sending of information. Further development would include integration with the numerous programs already in-use, such as the Defense Travel System, LeaveWeb, myPay, etc.

Stakeholders: Divers' Social Network

As mentioned in a previous post, one of my visions is to create an all-in-one access point for divers. After attending Startup Weekend Honolulu, I had the opportunity to refine the idea with the help of some business mentors. First, we discussed the potential stakeholders and came up with the following:

  • Divers
It is not a hard stretch to imagine divers benefitting from software tailored specifically for them. But what are some of their benefits? As mentioned in the post last week, having a virtual record of dives allows for permanence of one's record. As tourists travel the globe, they are able to have this online way of presenting their certificates and logs to companies where they want to rent equipment. Additionally, they are able to check out dive information for "hot spots" when they travel. 

  • Dive companies
Having a social network of divers is a fantastic way for dive companies to have access to the particular market to which they are catering. Not only does this benefit their advertising, but it also allows them to have hands-free booking of charters and classes, saving time and ensuring integrity of records as they are stored online.

  • Boat captains
When boat captains are making the decisions about where to take their customers for the day, having an all-in-one access point for wave height and dive coordinate information allows for simpler decision-making. This information can also be instantly transmitted to the customers. Furthermore, when the captain launches, the stored dive coordinates can be uploaded into the integrated GPS system, reducing the amount of on-board technology required.
The MVP for such a system could take one of two routes. It could either be a social network developed for the dive community, or it could be an online booking system developed for dive companies. Ultimately, the two aspects will be part of a singular, seamlessly integrated system. Additional functionality includes some of the following components:

  • GPS integration (as mentioned above for boat captains)
  • Dive log management/storage
  • Dive certification management/storage
  • Retail store
  • Events (for local clubs; separate from paid events sponsored by companies)
  • Forums
    • Q&A
    • Community Highlights
    • Gear sales/swaps

Stakeholders: Assignment Tracker

The following information is in reference to a previous post about a software idea for those in the education system. The idea centers around developing a system that may be accessed by smartphone users in the K-12 school system, with stakeholders as follows:

  • Teachers:
Teachers would have the capability to post assignment details and due dates, as well as student grades. This would benefit teachers as they would have a way to ensure communication with parents regarding children's assignments. It would be unreasonable to ask a teacher to call each parent every night to let them know what was expected of the student. This system, however, would facilitate that communication.

  • Parents: 
By having an easily accessible location to find out student assignments, parents can help ensure their children complete required tasks on time. Additionally, as teachers are able to post grades, parents receive communication regarding their child's performance in school at an earlier date than following traditional methods of waiting for report cards and parent/teacher conferences.

  • Students:
One of the essential components of raising a child is training them to become more responsible for themselves. This software allows a parent to slowly let go of the reins, as the parent encourages their child to independently make sure they have completed all assignments. It also provides a transition, as students who are used to using software to manage task completion will find it simpler to use similar software on the job. Numerous companies employ digital methods of time and project management, and this facilitates an early introduction to those processes.
I originally felt this should be an app designed for mobile users, as the number of smartphones in the home, especially in impoverished neighborhoods, outweighs the number of computers. However, upon further consideration, I feel this software would better service the public as a web app, which can be accessed by consumers of all styles of digital media, computers and phones alike.

Additionally, while the MVP contains only the essentials listed above, and may even be boiled down to an even smaller set of essential components, the following is a list of other potential add-ons and upgrades to be considered in the future:

  • Integrated calendar with other dates, such as extra-curricular activities practice/games/tournaments as well as school appointments such as parent/teacher conferences
  • Alert system in case of emergencies at school
  • Alert system in case of child absence
  • Integrated discussion boards for students
  • Integrated assignment submission
  • Integrated activities and assignments

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Under Da Sea

Problem Description
While the dive community around Oahu is thriving, it is rather difficult to get off-shore coordinates for dive sites. One must currently scour multiple websites, which do not agree with each other regarding the correct coordinates for the wrecks. Additionally, one must visit another site to find whether wave conditions are favorable for diving. Finally, dive logs are still generally kept in paper books that are subject to the water that may splash or drip onto them from dive gear.

System Capabilities
An all-in-one information site for local divers would be an incredible asset to the community. A diver could look up wave heights, then link to dives available in the favorable parts of the island, both shore and boat dives, with coordinates for launch points and mooring lines. Once the dive is completed, the dive can be logged digitally, providing a permanent record, stored in the cloud. Dive shops could log into the system to certify training dives virtually once away from the water.

Business Benefits
Simplifying all these resources into one single-access point would facilitate simpler decision-making prior to diving. Additionally, verified coordinates would allow individuals to know they were going to the right location. The less stress an individual experiences in diving, the likelier they are to have a safe dive. Also, the permanence afforded by a digital dive record ensure data is not lost, thus allowing an individual to prove their capabilities when applying for advanced certifications.

"There's nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you've been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent." -Dave Barry

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Dog Ate My Homework

Problem Description
While this sounds like a horrible excuse to most, I was actually chased home by an ill-behaved dog as a child, and in the tizzy dropped my homework. Why I was carrying it in my hand rather than zipped in my backpack, I'll never know. Unlike my timid former self, most kids don't lose their homework to a dog, yet there are undoubtedly a number of situations in which children forget, or misplace, or even  ignore their homework. This problem is confounded by the lack of communication from teachers to parents regarding daily assignments. We have entrusted our youngest children with the responsibility of their own education, a trust situation most children are not prepared to handle.

System Capabilities
The proposed system would be similar to the current "Blackboard" system employed by many educational institutions, but would instead be a mobile application. While many lower income families don't have computers in the home, they do often have smart phones through which they could access the system, a feature not well facilitated by Blackboard. In its most basic form, the system would feature a bulletin board where the instructors would post daily assignments for each class. Additional functionality would include the ability to post documents, and even in-app problem sets or assignments. Finally, the capability to post grades through the app, visible only to the student and their parents, would round out this piece of software.

Business Benefits
The benefits of this begin with increased communication, which leads to greater assignment completion. In addition, readily available feedback regarding grades enables parental intervention and correction to occur earlier in the school year rather than waiting for conferences or report cards, all of which can lead to a better education for our youth.

Hurry Up and Wait

Problem Description
One of the most well-known phrases to any military member is "Hurry up and wait." This phrase references the incredible inefficiency often experienced by military members, particularly when in- and out-processing a unit. Part of this inefficiency is due to policies of certain offices regarding business hours as well as insufficient priority placed on customer service. But this also is due in-part to antiquated business practices based on paper copies and in-person appointments. As early as 1994, the phrase "Paperless Air Force" began gaining momentum as the rest of the world was recognizing the importance of going green. Unfortunately, this phrase has been more slogan, less action. 

System Capabilities
I propose development of a system that automates many of the processes involved in entering and exiting one's assigned duty location. Instead of printing out an individual's orders, then having that individual walk around from office to office, providing this date here and that bit of information there, the tasks could be automated. The office issuing these orders could "press a magic button," which would send the required information to the appropriate offices for processing. And instead of those offices having to download this information, the same system could "automagically" populate the correct fields into their respective systems. 

Business Benefits
The benefits of this functionality come in two types. First, the amount of paper wasted as each military member prints multiple copies of his/her orders every time he/she travels would combine to save money (paper, ink) as well as reduce waste. Secondly, the more efficient system would not only save wasted hours as individuals no longer spend time walking to various appointments, but would also save hours for the individuals processing the paperwork, thus greatly reducing the customer service personnel requirement.