We are a few short weeks away from South by Southwest EDU in Austin, TX, where we will present our Decisions for Kids skill in the Alexa challenge. Here’s an update on our progress on the skill, and how we at VOGO Voice approach a business case and build a successful product.
As of this week, we are actively testing the skill internally. The VOGO Voice platform allows us to get a skill up and running fast, allowing us to spend more time on the most critical aspect of any voice skill development – the interactions. Since our skill is intended to be used by children, having a seamless and frustration-free experience is exceptionally important to us. Here’s a peek into the process that allowed us to move quickly to this point.
For the Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge, our problem statement is, “How can we use the capabilities afforded by Alexa to create an engaging experience for users while ensuring the experience is valuable from an educational standpoint?” With this as our starting point, we researched many different educational concepts that would work well within a “voice-first” framework. “Decisions for Kids” was the result of that initial effort, and from there we moved forward with the next step in our process – the POAD.
Purpose, Objectives, Activities, Deliverables – the POAD
It’s easy to get mired in the details of a great idea – and fail to deliver entirely. For this reason, we use a technique in which, in about an hour, we can scope out a concept and size it up appropriately. We call it the POAD, and you can learn more about it here. For the Skills Challenge, we had a limited amount of time to get our concept built and in a functional state. Here’s how we used the POAD technique to define our effort. We will talk about our purpose and objectives in this article, and visit the activities and deliverables in a later article.
The Purpose statement should be a sentence or two that addresses scope, time, qualities, and cost. In our case, our purpose statement for Decisions for Kids was built on the following facts:
- Scope – A skill that allows kids to explore decisions and their outcomes
- Time – 10 weeks from concept to an operable skill
- Qualities – based on existing research, fun for kids, provides educational value, has adult management and oversight
- Cost – Staffing costs
From here, we have our initial purpose statement. Within the next 10 weeks, create an Alexa skill that allows kids to explore decisions and their outcomes. The skill must be fun for kids to use, based on existing research, provides educational value, and is capable of adult management and oversight. We will do this with our existing staff, using our own platform.
With our purpose defined, we then worked on the steps – our objectives – we’d need to undertake to get there. In our case, these loosely align with an Agile Development concept of the “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP). Conceptually, an MVP only contains the bare minimum features you need for the final product. However, completion of an MVP allows you to prove the business case, and also allows you to still have a functional but minimal product. This way, we can continue to improve the product by adding to it, but we’ve already delivered on the baseline objective.
For our Decisions for Kids skill, our objectives were as follows:
- Objective 1 – select a decision making framework based on existing scientific study. There are several to choose from, but we settled on the Character, Strengths and Virtues framework.
- Objective 2 – Get the voice interactions built. These are the frameworks and decision trees needed for kids to “talk to” the skill. This is our development “MVP 1”, without which we’d have nothing, so it is the first to get built. This delivers on two purpose topics – the skill itself, based on existing research.
- Objective 3 – Load with educational content. We are providing an initial test load of stories to prove the concept, however, we fully intend for educators and parents to be able to fill this role as the product goes live.
- Objective 4 – build the supporting infrastructure. While the skill will run on our platform just fine, we wanted to provide a site for teachers and parents to interact with and even build decisional stories on their own. From a development standpoint, this is our “MVP 2” and enhances the ability for parents and teachers to load their own content.
- Objective 5 – Support Account Linking. This is a stretch goal for us and may not be in place by the time we present at SXSW EDU, however, we feel it would be beneficial for teachers and parents to set up decision exploration stories for their personal or classroom use if they choose. This is our development MVP 3.
From our purpose statement, we defined a ten-week time period to achieve our objectives. This roughly breaks down to a single objective per two-week development “sprint”. Our VOGO Voice Platform as a Service allowed us to handle Objective 1 and 2 very quickly, allowing us to focus on developing the educational content and supporting infrastructure. We’re almost at a point where the skill can be publicly tested, and if you’re interested in helping us test the skill we’d love to talk to you! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you information on how you can have early access to the skill.
Our next blog post will cover the Activities and Deliverables of the project, and we will talk about the risks we encountered and approaches we took to ensure this skill was built on time – some of which we’re working through right now.