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Human Centered Milestones

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These Milestones are intended to help guide your idea development. Based on our research, including conversations with our accelerator partners, we believe taking these steps will strengthen your idea by incorporating a focus on human-centered design, further preparing you for an impactful pitch session. 

The order is suggested and encouraged – but you can do them out of order and a cyclical approach to the steps is actually encourages as we see the most effective ideas incorporate user research and feedback into every step. If you have  completed a Milestone previous to the Higher Ed Challenge,  please upload documentation to your idea page. This will allow accelerators to see what you’ve done and you’ll be able to get feedback from the OpenIDEO community. Please follow the uploading and naming convention [MilestoneX] for each step so we can easily see how your idea is moving along

Learn more about the Path to Pitching.

How'd we do? Give your feedback on the Human Centered Milestones.

Get started: Post your Idea

Post your idea on OpenIDEO as early as possible. As you work on it throughout the challenge you will be able to modify it and add milestones. One of the key things we’re looking for in ideas chosen for pitching is an active incorporation of human-centered design to improve upon the idea throughout the challenge, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect now.

Milestone 1: Form your team

Decide on your core team members. Cover your bases skills-wise and expertise-wise to make your idea a reality. You should have at least one person who is an expert in the domain you’re working in (Higher Ed for this challenge). Most accelerators want two dedicated co-founders, and you will probably want someone to support you. Choose passionate people with proven grit.  Make sure everyone has created their profiles and uploaded their bios onto them, then you can form a virtual team for your idea. You can use the Capabilities Quicksheet and Staff Your Project as tools.  Remember that as your idea evolves you may need to add people to your team depending on the direction you go in.

Time Estimate: 3-4 hours, plus ongoing efforts to identify and invest others in your idea.

Upload: Write up bios with photos of each of your team members and upload it as an attachment titled “Milestone 1”. Next have each team member create OpenIDEO  profiles and add them to your idea team.

Milestone 2: Hypotheses & Assumptions

Create a few hypotheses and assumptions. This will help you know what questions to ask during your interviews and what to test during prototyping. Try writing a few questions you’ll aim to answer through the process or statements you believe to be true about your ideas. Such as:

Who are your customers?

What are their pain points and greatest needs?

Then write down assumptions you are making with your idea:

Students are interested in refinancing their loans.

Online courses will attract the same caliber students as Ivy League schools.

For each hypothesis or assumption, think, “How can I test this?” Write down some quick and easy experiments or interviews that could help support or deny your hypotheses. Some hypotheses and assumptions can be validated earlier in interviews, others may need to wait for a prototype.

Estimated time: 30 min. - 15 min. to complete initial list, and 15 min. to note where and how you can test them.  This list will be revisited and updated after interviews and prototyping.

Upload: Use our Hypotheses and Assumptions Worksheet and upload  as an attachment “Milestone 2” to your idea in The Higher Ed Challenge.

Milestone 3:  User Discovery

The key to an idea’s success is to really know your user, and the only way you can do that is getting out there and talking to them! You can use our Interview Toolkit to guide you, but add in questions that are more relevant to your idea. Do as many interviews as possible, and not just with your end users but other stakeholders and potential partners. The more you know about all of them the better off you are. After doing some interviews you can even get a group of your users  actively involved in the design process through a co-creation session. 

Additional tips on interviews from’s Design Kit include:

Group Interview

Expert Interview

Estimate Time: 6 hours minimum – allot at least 30 min. per interview for ~8 interviews, and 2 hrs. to compile (not synthesize) your interview information. Keep in mind interviews should be split between your team,

Upload: Keep records of your individual interviews and activities, and use our Interview Worksheet to aggregate them. Then, upload it as an attachment to your idea entitled “Milestone 3”.

Milestone 4: Making Sense

Now that you’ve done interviews and have a ton of insights it’s time to make sense of it. Your interviews will help validate or disprove the assumptions you laid out at the beginning and support changes you make to your idea that better align with end user needs. This is a lot to tackle so don’t be discouraged if this step ends up taking quite a bit of time!

First sit down with your team and Download your Learnings and Share Inspiring Stories. Then you will want to start looking for Themes within what you’ve learned.  Finally draw out Insight Statements which are succinct statements that point the way forward. They should be based on quotes  and stories you heard in your interviews and shed light on an un-obvious part of the problem. Insight statements and themes should help you identify the key problem areas for your users.

Estimated Time: 2 hours for synthesis and 1 hr to create the summation of your process to upload.

Upload: A summation of your process. It could be photos of your team’s Post-It’s, a video, or a document. Be sure to clearly include your Insight Statements. Upload the file as “Milestone 4.” Use what you’ve learned to refine your idea and update the idea on OpenIDEO.

Milestone 5: Who are your users?

Build on the synthesis of your research by creating personas for each user group. A persona is a person that is representative of that user group; they should be an aggregate of multiple people you’ve interviewed.  As you identify your personas (we recommend at least 3), include a photo or drawing, their name, career, family life, attitudes, hopes, dreams and fears. Remember in a social enterprise you may have beneficiaries who receive the product but don’t pay for it and customers. Make sure to have personas for both.

The persona will be the first step in your User Experience Map. For each persona, draw out their User Experience Map. How does the persona interact with your idea? How does it solve their problem? Where are there gaps?

Estimated Time: 2 hrs

Upload:  Use our Personas Worksheet to develop your persons, then take a photo or scan your User Experience Maps and upload them as a single attachment named “Milestone 5”.

Milestone 6: Prototype & Get Feedback

The earlier and the more often you get your idea into the hands of your users and get some feedback, the better. Through prototyping you will be able to further validate or disprove your assumptions, prove the viability of your idea, and continually iterate to ensure it continues to reflect the needs of your end users. This is at the heart of human-centered design. You can use our Prototyping worksheet to help guide your process Remember to test your hypotheses and key assumptions. Then go out into the field and use the Feedback Gathering worksheet to organize your users feedback.

Once you’ve done one user test, Integrate Feedback and Iterate and get back out there and test again with your users. Each time you iterate your solution will be closer to your users’ needs and you will learn more. Having proven your solution with potential customers is very important to our accelerator partners. 

Estimated Time: You should plan on devoting at least 3-4 hours for each cycle of building a prototype, gathering feedback, and creating a plan for a new iteration.

Upload: Upload photos of your prototype being tested with users and the Feedback Gathering worksheet as an attachment titled “Milestone 6”. Then refine your idea and update the description on OpenIDEO based on your learnings.

Milestone 7:  Business Model Canvas

Sit down with your team and map out your business model (even if you plan on being a non-profit). We recommend using either the Business Model Canvas or the Social Business Model Canvas. Check out Business Model Generation to help you fill out the canvas. The canvas will give you high level view of what all the moving parts of your model will look like. The Social Business Model Canvas is more targeted towards mission driven businesses and has spaces for Impact Measurements and Beneficiaries versus Customers. You will want to do various iterations of the canvas as you gather more information from prototyping and interviews.

Dive deeper with +Acumen:

Business Models Intro

Social Enterprise Classification

Create Value

Deliver Value

Capture Value

Estimated Time: 2 hrs

Upload: Photo or scan of the Canvas as an attachment titled “Milestone 7”. Each time you do a new iteration upload a photo of it.

Milestone 8: Live Prototype (Optional)

This is a nice to have, if you’re not ready you can skip this step.

If you are ready  ready to live prototype,it can be a great resource to demonstrate there’s traction for your idea. Though you’ve been getting feedback from the people you’re designing for all along, a live prototype (also known as a Minimum Viable Product) is one of the most powerful ways to test your solution in the marketplace. Until now, your prototypes have been rough, and they’ve done only enough to convey the idea you wanted to test. A live prototype, however, gives you a chance to stress test your solution in real-world conditions. It can run from a few days to a few weeks, and is a chance to learn how your solution works in practice. live prototypes are all about understanding the feasibility and viability of your idea.

Upload: Photos of your Live Prototype in action and another Feedback Gathering  worksheet detailing what you learned in an attachment called “Milestone 8”. Update your Idea description based on your learnings.

Milestone 9: Size your market

You’ll want to prove to yourself and the world that your idea has potential for revenue and impact, and to do so you’ll need to size your market. How many of your users are out there? How many can you realistically serve? This is more of a technical activity so put your research hat on. 

The resources below will help you:

 Create Value

Addressable Market: Making the Estimate

Market Size Hypothesis

Time Estimate: 2 hrs

Upload: Evidence of your market sizing. It could be an infographic, a slide, a document, image or video. Upload it as an attachment called “Milestone 9”.

Milestone 10: Create Your Pitch

 The pitch deck will be your main tool when pitching. It should draw upon all the milestones you’ve created and should. The milestones you’ve done throughout the challenge will help you greatly in creating your pitch. This is your chance to tell the story of your solution. Our accelerator partners all agree, this is your chance to hook them, so make it compelling!

Check out Create Your Pitch for tips.  The pitch should be no more than 5 minutes long. While you will probably want some slides you will really want to focus on telling a compelling story of your idea. This is your big moment so spend a lot of time on it!

Things to think about are:

What is the problem? How big is it?

Who is affected by it?

What is your solution? 

How will you make money?

What is your special sauce? How are you different than your competitors?

What are your financial projections?

Who is your team? What challenges have you personally overcome that give you the grit to take on the role of an entrepreneur? What has made you the resilient and persistent person you are today?*

*This is key. Accelerators are very interested in who’s on your team, what their backgrounds are and how dedicated they are.


Check out this Tech Vibes article with tips on key elements of a pitch. 

A great framework for building your slide deck

An example of a great slide deck.

Estimated Time: 8 hrs

Upload: Upload your pitch deck as an attachment titled “Milestone 10”.

How'd we do? Give your feedback on the Human Centered Milestones.