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General Card #1302
"Why are we making this?" Customer Discovery in a Capstone Course
Updated: 10/14/2022 3:27 PM by Michael Johnson
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 3:28 PM by Michael Johnson
Introduce and Practice customer discovery for a capstone project course!
This module introduces students to customer discovery principles and gathering requirements of an engineering project. Here, the entrepreneurial mindset is developed by learning about the importance of having curiosity about the problem you're trying to solve as well as discovering the needs and making connections to the greater context of your customers situation.  In this module these skills are developed through introductory online lecture content, a follow-up quiz, and in-class value identification and customer active learning activities.

The customer discovery skills are then practiced through completion of a requirements document assignment focused on developing customer archetypes, customer needs, and initial tasks for a project.  

This module is typically used during the first quarter of a course, at the very beginning of a senior capstone project with an outside project sponsor. There is 1 week of pre-work online lecture, 1 in-class period, and one homework assignment.  All of these are spread over about 3 weeks.  This module could be adapted for larger scale project based courses at any level.  It is primarily designed for on-ground but could easily be adapted for online delivery.

Learning Objectives
Course learning objectives:
- Demonstrate curiosity by interviewing, surveying, observing and learning from customers (e.g., users, payers, stakeholders, etc.).
- Identify and describe an opportunity to create value for a customer.
- Research and describe connections to related solutions in wide-ranging fields

EM Indicators:
- Critically observes surroundings to recognize an opportunity. (Assessed)
- Focuses on understanding the value proposition of a discovery. (Assessed)
- Understands how elements of an ecosystem are connected. (Skill Developed)
Instructor Tips
This module is generally applicable to courses that would like to introduce and practice identifying value and customer discovery principles.  The course that originates this module uses a Scrum development process (see links to related cards in discussion), so the final assignment deliverable (Sprint Zero Report) has some CS specific sections that can be modified for other disciplines.

This module consists of 2 parts, week 1 and week 2:

Week 1:
Before class: Students should be instructed to watch videos on EM and Customer Discovery, complete quiz on videos. It is recommended to post a reminder announcement 1-2 weeks before the lecture, and set the deadline for the quiz the evening before the lecture session, so that students will be motivated to view the videos and complete the quiz before the session.

During class:  Customer Discovery Activity, students describe the value of existing products, and practice customer discovery with a sample project description.  This is often a fun conversation. The general idea is to discuss the point of each project - who was it made for, and why would they pay for it?  What are alternatives and competition? The given products explore social pressures (having a well-groomed lawn, with the alternative of Xeriscaping (common in the southwest)), A pool is a luxury item, a smartphone is a platform - it enables new solutions.    If the products presented don't resonate with you or your students, replace them with things you think would work better. 

Homework Assignment: Client Interview Assignment, students develop interview questions for their project sponsor, which are reviewed by the instructor before the actual interview.  Students will often focus on technical aspects like what programming language to use or already be asking about solutions.  While these are important to know eventually, direct them to suspend thinking of solutions and focus on the problem and the customer needs instead.  

Week 2:
Homework: Students meet with project sponsor, interview them, and develop requirements resulting in a "Sprint Zero" document.  Meeting with the sponsor is often the hardest part of this assignment - scheduling issues and sponsor responsiveness are common problems.  Urge the students to setup recurring meetings and adopt the use of a shared calendar.  This is an important assignment to complete well as the rest of the project depends on it. If student teams perform poorly, give detailed feedback and we recommend allowing a resubmission.

Rubrics for assessing the learning objectives are provided in each of the assignment documents.  
  • Demonstrate constant curiosity about our changing world
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
Creating Value
  • Identify unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value
  • Determine Design Requirements
  • Identify Opportunity
  • Evaluate Tech Feasibility, Customer Value, Societal Benefits & Economic Viability
  • Investigate Market
  • Test Concepts via Customer Engagement
  • Validate Market Interest
Categories & Tags
  • Classroom & Courses
  • Comprehensive
This content was created through the author’s work with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN).
Learn about client interview and customer discovery.
Before class:
- Watch videos, complete quiz on videos to prepare for lecture.
During class:
- Customer Discovery Activity
Homework Assignment:
- Client Interview Assignment
- Student Examples provided. Student Example 1 is medium, showing typical focus on technical issues. Student Example 2 is excellent showing holistic curiosity about the problem.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Customer Discovery Activity.pptx Presentation .pptx 2/6/2019 15.4 MB 688
Client Interview Assignment.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 3/6/2020 8.1 KB 639
Introduction to Entrepreneurial Mindset Video 4/5/2019 -  
EM_Quiz.docx Exam / Quiz .docx 3/6/2020 14 KB 680
Customer Discovery Playlist Video 3/6/2020 -  
Client Interview Example 1 - Medium Student Artifact / Example .pdf 3/6/2020 64.7 KB 736
Client Interview Example 2 - Excellent Student Artifact / Example .pdf 3/6/2020 51.1 KB 645
Students meet with project sponsor, interview, and develop requirements resulting in a "Sprint Zero" document.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Sprint Zero Report.docx Assessment / Rubric .docx 2/6/2019 20.3 KB 634
Example - Sprint Zero Report - Excellent Student Artifact / Example .pdf 3/6/2020 52.4 KB 600