Winning the product design challenge: Productathon

Well, well, well !!!

It excites me to share my story of winning the product design challenge: Productathon. I will take you through my journey and share the experiences and steps that I chose to deliver the solution.

My passion for redesigning product experiences achieved a milestone when I won the 3-week sprint.  A significant learning curve for me towards excelling in product management. A big shoutout to the Product Management club for organizing this fantastic event and the industry expert Mr. Rob Olsen for being the judge and awarding me the Best Project award.

The problem statement that was given to me was to improve Duke student volunteering engagement with NGOs/NPOs. Initially, the problem statement seemed very vague, and I wanted to structure and understand the problem clearly. Hence, I started and spent most of the time defining the problem and doing the market research. Following the Design Thinking framework, I proceeded with spending most of my time taking a step back and understanding the problem.

The first step of the Design Thinking is What is, and where I spent most of my time empathizing with the customers (students and the Duke Volunteering club in this case)

Defining the Problem ( What is ):

I finally defined the problem keeping Duke students in mind as it was in my reach and most suited for students. The problem was defined as: Very less participation in volunteering by Duke Students in NGOs/NPOs in and around Durham, RTP, Raleigh. Duke has a student population of around 17,000, and yet there is minimal engagement in volunteering events.

The “What is” phase of the journey

I did a quick market analysis on the current competitors, find industries that were facing a similar issue and solutions that they had taken to overcome this obstacle.

Market Analysis

Customer Interviews:

After Interviewing  30 local undergraduate students, I started to find a pattern in the pain points. The primary purpose of me choosing  locals and undergraduate students were

1) I was trying to solve an American Problem, and I did not want an immigrant bias to be added

2) Students will generally have more time as compared to a family man; they will also have lesser responsibilities and can devote time for community service.

3) Undergraduate students will stay at Duke for a longer time( 4 years) and will also have more free time as opposed to Graduate students who will mostly be indulged in research.

Customer interviews

Taking all of these into consideration, I prepared a set of open-ended interview questions that were specifically tailored to the segment that I was targetting. Some of these questions were:

  1. What is volunteering, according to you?
  2. Tell me about your experience of volunteering.
  3. Why do you volunteer, and what is your motivation behind it?

Developing customer personas:

After I started seeing a pattern in the answers that I got, I started mapping them into different pools. I mainly chose two types of personas as they represented the significant portion of the students and was very relevant to the problem at hand.

The two main types of personas that I came up with was:

  1. The nice guy: He loves volunteering and feels it is an integral part of his life. He is not able to volunteer after coming to Duke due to XYZ reasons.
  2. The logical guy: He feels volunteering is an add-on to his busy schedule and has done volunteering work in high school for getting the minimum credits. He feels he would instead invest his free time on himself and develop a life skill.

Customer Prioritization and Journey Mapping (What is if) :

To narrow down the problem, I streamlined the personas and concentrated on one dominant persona as it represented a significant part of the student body.  The next logical step that I took was to map a typical day of their life into a journey map to figure out the pain points. This step was super helpful as I could see the high and low points in their typical day and figure out the three most significant hurdles that I wanted to target.

Customer Prioritization

The outcome of this was that I not only found out their pain points but also their motivation and driving forces that later helped me use them to figure out the solutions.

The main four pain points that I identified were:

  1. They have minimal/no knowledge about the NGO events happening in and around Durham
  2. Even though they have a tight schedule, they find time during late evenings and weekends, and NGO’s timings are not flexible
  3. They prefer to go in groups along with their friends and transportation is a big issue for them.
  4. Transportation issues: As most have student loans and cannot afford a car for transportation.

The customer journey map of a typical Duke student

Re-Iterated Jobs to be done: Refine

After Identifying the exact pain-points, I went back and refined the JGP, to streamline and keep myself on track. The reiterated Jobs to be done was defined as follows:

  1. To connect the students/ people to the volunteering events.
  2. There is a lot of communication gap and understanding issues between the two parties.
  3. The scope of this job of connecting students to NGOs can be extended to the general population and help people in and around Durham benefit from this.

The reiterated JPG

Brainstorming and Idea prioritization :

Now that I had figured out the specific job to be done, I went to the Brainstorming phase, where I spent the next significant chunk of time figuring out all possible ways under the sun to get the jobs to be done right. I was not judgemental, whether it is feasible or not. I went ahead and brainstormed all possible solutions bound by the laws of Physics 🙂

Keeping the prioritized persona in mind and to solve their problem.  I started off thinking divergently and later started converging as I began to get similar ideas/ overlapping ideas.

Concept development

I put all my ideas on the Impact vs. feasibility graph.  The solutions which were highly feasible but not impactful were given the right bottom area; on the other hand, highly impactful but least feasible were on the left top corner.  The solutions which were super impactful and highly feasible were called no-brainer solutions. I drew a line separating the no-brainers and mid-tier solutions and tried to push ideas from the mid-tier to no-brainers through minor modifications.

Developing an MVP:

The no-brainer solutions were considered for establishing the Minimum viable product (MVP). All of my no-brainer ideas were interlinked, and this helped me define my MVP concretely.  I prioritized what features are must-have and what is nice to have.  The MVP that I came up with was addressing three primary target areas, and the features that I developed were addressing the 1) The communication issue 2) The transportation issue 3) The awareness issue.

The place I chose to host the idea of volunteering events was the Duke List tab. Duke List is a place where most of the students visit for finding part-time jobs, lost and found, etc.   I planned to have a tab called volunteering under the listings, and this will show all the part-time jobs available at that moment.


Development of MVPs

 Wireframing, Mock-ups, and Prototyping ( What works):

I used Invision App to develop the wireframes and for the mock-ups of the features that were of the highest priority.

The MVP consisted of a separate tab where both the parties( Organizations and students ) can log in, and post/view the volunteering events happening in and around RTP over that weekend. The outcome of this eliminated two major problems, ie… the volunteering organizations no longer needed to go behind the student groups and send out weekly updates on different list sevrs and on the other hand, students need not be subscribed to all the weekly emails from the student organizations. The wireframes and Mock-ups for this feature looked like this.

Common Login for students and organizations

Wireframe of the Duke List page

Mock-up of the Duke List page

After logging in and posting a listing, the next main feature was to have a small description of the event, timings, days, and most importantly, transportation help. I spoke to the Duke church community, and they were willing to offer transportation. I embedded this feature too in the mock-up where the people who have free time can provide a free ride, and they also can log in and offer transportation.

Mock-up for a volunteering event in Raleigh

Wireframe of the Volunteering event at RTP    

The transportation tab is embedded into the volunteering posting, and people who are willing to offer transportation can register with a single click.

Transportation help can be offered with only a few clicks

Students who want help with transportation can contact the ride provider. They have access to the person’s Email and contact details.

Students access to seek transportation help

The last major feature that I embedded was the share with your friends’ feature, this listing could be shared with your friends, and their calendar could be imported to check their availability and book a slot for volunteering.

Share with your friends and check availability feature

User feedback, Testing, and, customer co-creation :

I tested all of the above features with ten students and got valuable feedback, which I later used to fine-tune my project.

User feedback and customer co-creation

Some of the main critical feedback which I got was on the lines of verifying the free transportation provider’s credentials, to given equivalent credits by Duke, etc.

Storyboarding and defining key Metrics to evaluate success (What WOWs) :

Storyboarding is always my favorite part of any project 🙂

I made a simple storyboarding situation where the NICE guy is undergoing a problem. Finally, the solution/features which  I designed help him achieve his goal and can now sleep happily.

Storyboarding of the NICE guy

After evaluating the customer feedback and careful re-investigation of Jobs to be done, I defined key metrics to evaluate the success of all these features in the long run. These metrics were defined keeping in mind both the parties ( students and the organizations)

Key metrics to evaluate the success

Thank you 🙂

With all of these features and additions, I hope to help the volunteering engagement of the Duke community improve. This Project was one of the most fantastic Product Management projects that I have ever worked on. It was an honor to be judged by the industry expert Mr. Robb Olsen, and it was a moment that I will cherish for my life.

Receiving award from accomplished industry expert Robb Olsen

My Final presentation

Awarded Anirudha top prize in the Duke Product Management Club Productathon competition. Anirudha did an exceptional job of innovation across the human, technical and organizational domains to create a viable way to unlock greater student volunteer activity in support of local NGOs. He dug deeply into each domain to unearth insights into the real barriers then crafted intelligent ways to address them. He then prototyped his solution and gathered qualitative evidence showing his solution would be adopted by students and indeed lead to greater volunteer activity, all in a matter of a few weeks while maintaining his full load of graduate studies. Anirudha is building the T-shaped skill set of technical depth combined with human-centered design and innovation breadth that will serve him well as he tackles product management and innovation challenges in the future – Robb Olsen

The link to my entire presentation is here: Final Presentation

Link to  all the  Interactive wireframes

Link to all the Interactive mock-ups that I developed

Tools used: Invision App,, Design Thinking, Product Management Lifecycle, MVPs,  Wireframes, Mock-ups, Balsamiq.


Please comment on your thoughts on my project and please feel free to email me ( with any questions you have. Thanks for the patient reading.