When off-the-shelf isn’t quite right Jul. 25th, 2012 Suzy Bates

When off-the-shelf isn’t quite right

July 25th, 2012

A few weeks ago Todd Nienkerk and I went to an onsite client kickoff meeting. The purpose was to both kick off the project in a thoughtful and effective way and to put faces with names on both sides of the table.

For this kickoff we tried some new non-tech methods for engaging the audience. Todd brought giant Post-it notes and an easel along with small Post-its and markers to enhance the conversation. Because of their size and awkwardness, rather than carrying them on the plane, we shipped them directly to the client.

The kickoff went great and the Post-its and easel were valuable tools. The low-tech items help to break the ice or remove the technical distractions to get to the heart of the issue. We successfully got a list of goals and priorities for the project to start on the right foot.

The challenge was getting the stuff home again.

Todd and I discussed the challenges of finding the right “holder” for these items. He had looked online and found some less-than-optimum solutions to the problem, but was resigned to using them since there was nothing on the market that was perfect.

What was needed was a custom solution.

I quizzed Todd for his requirements: hold the giant Post-it paper (26×36), the easel, small supplies such as Post-it paper, markers etc. This “thing” should be checkable on the airplane and since it’ll be custom, it should be branded.

My degree is in Mechanical Engineering. While this project doesn’t require any understanding of the Carnot cycle, it does require knowledge about how things are put together. A working knowledge of sewing technique helps too. Having once made purses for sales on Etsy, I had the skills to put it all together.

For two days I built this device in my brain. How can I stiffen the sides so things aren’t crushed? How can I make the connections of the pockets on the front work? Zippers or snaps? There should be handles or shoulder straps. How big should the logo be?

Now I was ready to make it. With the fabric and a rough pattern layout from OmniGraffle, I went to the sewing shed. Despite the cable being out (damn you, sprinkler installers!) I was able to finish it in a weekend.

I brought it in yesterday just in time to have it go on a maiden voyage to a new client kickoff meeting.

The reaction was immediate and great. Todd looked it over, inspected each element, and commented on every facet. His glee at getting “just what he needed” was visible.

I like to think that making a custom solution is often more expensive, time consuming and sometimes a hassle, but it can end in the perfect answer. I am looking forward to Todd getting back from the kickoff and hearing how it performed in “the wild”.