Always Be Demoing
3 min read
How many times have you found yourself in a meeting where a lot of ideas were being thrown around, but not enough progress was being made? Odds are, no body was demoing.
Demoing isn’t about a flashy presentation for a finished project. Demoing can—and should— start much earlier in the process. Demoing is the art of making ideas more tangible by centering a dialogue around artifacts.
Use Demos to Break Deadlocks
I had just joined a team building out a new product at WeWork. One teammate felt especially strong about an idea he came up with, but it was hard for the team to grasp it. After several confusing minutes of chatter and no progress, I handed my teammate a marker to break the deadlock.
“Draw it out for us.”
“Sorry, it’s a little sloppy,” he said as he quickly sketched out his idea.
“But now it’s real!”
The idea was now pinned up on a wall in the room instead of bouncing around the walls of our skulls. Teammates who were previously lost and disengaged suddenly got excited again. The brain juices began flowing as an abstract idea became more tangible. It clicked.
But, as I understood the idea better, I grew more concerned. The sketch made gaps in the proposed solution apparent. Instead of trying to poke holes in an idea stuck in one person’s head, I could direct my critique to an artifact (the sketch) which everyone could see for themselves. I find that critiquing tangible artifacts instead of abstract ideas helps people give and recieve feedback that feels less like a personal attack.
We made progress for a while until we hit another roadblock. I proposed an alternative approach to a feature, but a teammate with more seniority than me was simply not convinced. Even though I had sketched out my proposal, my idea must not have felt real enough for him to believe in it.
I was only a few weeks into my job, so not everyone was familiar with my strengths and insights. Like with any new team dynamic, I would have to prove myself before I could influence product decisions at the level I am capable. If a low-fidelity demo wasn’t cutting it, I’d have to try a higher fidelity demo to truly pitch my idea.
So, I let the team know I would design some UI mockups inspired by the sketches we had come up with in that session. I took the best parts of everyone’s contributions and incorporated my own proposal into the product vision. When I demoed the higher fidelity mockups a few days later, the team agreed that my proposal was better than the alternative.
More importantly, the demo made everyone feel inspired by the product vision. The team was bought-in because they got to see how their abstract ideas iteratively contributed to the final product in tangible ways.
Early in the process, it is important to only demo using low-fidelity artifacts. It is substantially easier to brainstorm more ideas, iterate quicker, and be less judgemental when working with low-fideltiy artifacts. This creates a more inclusive process and lets the greatest number of people participate!
- wireframe mockups
- user stories
- psuedocode snippets
Demoing high-fidelity work is a powerful way to sell a vision because you get closer to building the real thing. Leverage higher fidelity artifacts only after you’ve established a baseline of what the team agrees to so far and if you have a high level of conviction in your idea. High-fidelity artifacts take longer to make and require more specialized knowledge to produce. This can make it harder for some people to contribute, so you must ensure you have been using enough low-fidelity demos to make everyone feel included.
- presentation decks
- research reports
- UI mockups
- UX interactive prototypes
- product requirement documents
- MVP with code
Every meeting should start with a demo or produce an artifact that gets demoed. If you make demoing a habit, more teammates will come prepared to meetings with something tangible to discuss. It will elevate the level of discourse, spark cross-functional collaboration, and most importantly: you will get stuff done.
Always be demoing. Or as my mom used to say, “Never show up empty-handed.”