Black Boxes

Part 1

Ashley Ann
3 min readMar 13

To a user, what goes on inside a company is a black box. And when they ask questions about the experience they’ve had with your company they don’t care that so-and-so made a decision, or there was a hiring freeze, or whatever dysfunction you’re experiencing. They just know they want it to be better, or else they’ll go somewhere else.

What’s worse, within the company, different departments and functions can feel like black boxes, and the work is can be too fast paced or too chaotic that you can’t pause to look in. Different groups have different frameworks and methodologies — and as teams mature, they don’t always mature together, so instead of improvements and smoothness, you get more chaos and confusion. Several frameworks are all trying to address similar issues and go about it in different ways.

This fable is an exercise in integrating agile, user-centered, and cross-functional collaboration frameworks. Just as the group found their way through it, eventually becoming more of a team, my hope is that by reading this you will see your way through it and perhaps even lead your organization in whatever level you’re at into becoming more flexible, collaborative, and user-centered.

Jana got to her office on Tuesday morning after working the previous day from home. She set down her backpack, plugged her computer in, and then pulled up her task manager to get herself set up for the day. “Wait a minute — there was something I wrote down yesterday but I forgot to put it into Exto…shoot what was that…”. She called her husband at home and asked him to take a picture of her home office desk. Once she got the picture she remembered, ah — send Ana the PowerPoint. Keeping things synced between her desk at work and at home was really becoming a problem.

Later over lunch she was scrolling Instagram Stories and there it was — an ad for JiveNotes — the notepad for the hybrid worker. There was a gorgeous video where she watched a buttoned-up young professional work from home, write some notes, then slide into the office, tap the office display and see exactly what had been written at home.

No more needed to be said — she hit buy and started checking the tracking link daily until the package arrived.

Immediately on opening it seemed a little off, and she wondered if she had gotten duped by Instagram. The ad was light and smooth — felt very Apple — “it just works”. The packaging was more whimsical with little hand drawn sticky notes and swirls, the disconnect between everything made her concerned the product was shoddily made.

She figured as long as it synced the notes that’s what she was really after. She connected it to her wifi, set up an account and repeated the whole process again on the second display: connect wifi and login, which was kind of annoying.

Then it asked her what her favorite shape of sticky note was. She had to pick 5 main colors out of 12 offered, what kind of paper style she preferred, lines, dots, grid, parchment, why was there parchment?? and while she could see that it was immensely personalized, she just wanted some basic sticky notes and paper.

The important thing was — would it sync? She wrote something on the first display and waited. Nothing appeared on the other screen. She tapped the other screen, maybe it had fallen asleep. It didn’t do anything though, and she looked for a button to wake it up. Finding a button, it brightened, but still her note wasn’t there.

Looking back at the other screen, she saw — ah, a green save button. Well, that was annoying she thought, I thought things just saved these days.

It wasn’t terrible, but didn’t feel like the experience she had been promised either…and then she started getting 2 emails a day from JiveNotes about all the ways she could use it, as long as I remember to hit save, she thought to herself.

What does the team at JiveNotes do? Hit the claps below to find out.

Ashley Crutcher is the Director of Experience Strategy at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.



Ashley Ann

Digital Design Ministry Leader