Startup Weekend – Interface First

My last several posts have been following a personal project of mine, named Charity Tree, and how I am attempting to follow many of the guidelines laid out in Getting Real by 37Signals. This month I had the privilege to attend West Michigan Startup Weekend and was able to put a few of those gems of wisdom to practice, out in the field, as it were.

After the initial teams were formed on Friday night, we had time to get familiar with the project, the team members and the goals for the weekend. For my particular team, we had initially thought that we would be designing a website/web app over the weekend. So early Saturday morning, when we really got down to¬† business, I started thinking about the coding that was going to be needed: database backend, form controls, web service functions, etc. I started asking the team some basic questions about how things would work, started to feel a bit overwhelmed, and then said to myself, “Wait! Haven’t I learned anything? I’m diving into details way too quickly”.

I guess in the excitement, and the knowledge of the impending Sunday deadline, I wanted to start cutting code immediately. But where would that have gotten us? As I look back on the results of the weekend, we wouldn’t have gotten far. At the most, we would have had some functioning code that would now have to be abandoned due to changing ideas and requirements realized.

Luckily, I remembered what I had been blogging about for the past couple of weeks, and decided to put it into practice. So one of the first things I did was follow Getting Real’s Interface First concept (I blogged about it recently). Basically, I needed to start sketching out interfaces, rough-like, to start feeling out how the web app was going to work.

The team started to brainstorm again about how they envisioned different scenarios taking place. I wrote user stories to encapsulate these scenarios. We came up with several wireframes. One is pictured here:


Now, this wireframe may not look like much, but it was interface sketches like these that really made us start to think about how the application pieces as a whole fit together, and more importantly, how processes (both business and application) were going to be carried out.

These rough sketches brought many things to light and really helped us flesh out the project. What did we have by the end of the weekend? Wireframes and mockups. It would have been nice to have some functioning code, but we would have been way off base and throwing away a lot of work. Thinking “Interface First” saved us from going down the wrong road and helped the team narrow in on what was important. The weekend was over, but now we could hit the ground running.

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