Beach Time Discovery & Framing

When Pivotal Labs employees (aka: pivots) don’t have a client engagement to work on, we say they’re on the beach. They have freedom and autonomy to work on anything they like. Beach time can last for a couple days to a few months and is an opportunity for professional development but can also bring a sense of no direction and anxiety.

My team and I stepped into that space to see how we could make beach time better for pivots.

Discovery & Research

Led by a Sr. Designer, we spent our first day determining who we were designing for. We landed on 3 different personas and listed out what we assumed about their beach experience, which involved different goals, worries, and hurdles for each of them. Tommy, an experienced pivot, Jamie, a newer pivot, and Betsy, a manager, all approach beach time differently. We were hopeful and curious about what kind of tool we could build to help at least one of these personas have better beach time.

Having created an assumptions tracker in Google Sheets to help us document our findings and progress, we set to writing and organizing a focused interview script to help us uncover the real problems our users were facing.

After recording our observations from our user interviews, we mapped and grouped similar observations and quotes so we could better visualize true pain points. Once we started discussing our interpretations of our insights, it wasn’t always easy to stay focused on the real issue. Having our assumptions to refer to helped us get back on track with the task at hand.

After our affinity map had main groups, we drilled down further and stacked up the data against our assumptions. Once we had lists of stickies either supporting or invalidating assumptions (and other issues), we revisited and updated our assumptions tracker and moved it to Trello for easier visualization.

Framing and Ideation

Getting started with solutioning, we articulated and evaluated problem statements then prioritized them for pain and frequency. We believed that collaboration and accountability would greatly help pivots, but instead of running with those assumptions, we first started with the top 2 problems we knew existed:

  • Lack of metrics: Because of the lack of metrics for utilization of beach time, it’s difficult to determine the value of beach time to the organization

  • Lack of sharing: Because successful beach time projects aren’t shared, pivots aren’t motivated to promote their own efforts.

Next we framed these problems as opportunity statements and brainstormed with a How Might We idea generation. How might we reward beach project sharing? How might we record beach time projects over time? With our many stickers laid out together, we hit upon 4 intangibles that could make a big difference to the problems we had: inspiration, archiving, connecting pivots on beach, and accountability.

After prioritizing and choosing to focus on inspiration, we took to our imaginations through a design studio then shared our ideas with each other about how we might inspire pivots on the beach. After identifying the best parts of each idea, we did a Design Studio 2.0, pulling from those best parts of our first ideas. When we shared the 2.0 ideas, it was obvious we were converging on a similar solution and a new energy filled the room. What if we used a Slackbot that sent a beach project archive email to inspire beached pivots?

We’d hit upon a solution we really believed in, but as we were drawing out our potential user flow, our PM pointed out that our solution wasn’t lean and we should really test whether anyone would open an archive email at all before we moved further.

User flow

We quickly adjusted to consider how we could find an even smaller first solution to test and remembered an internal whiteboard app used to track our daily standup items. An email is sent out from each office to every other office in our department. What if there were a whiteboard email specific to beach projects? Would Tommy contribute to it? Would Jamie be interested?

Since we already have whiteboard capabilities, we were excited to test something that could be such a simple solution. We zoned in on this idea, fleshed out how we wanted to test it, and generated a list of hypotheses about the test along with metrics to gauge success and failure. We also identified what our riskiest assumption about the test was and made sure it was fully covered in our definition of success. We sent out our first test recently and are waiting for results to see how we can iterate to our solution!


We recorded Plus/Delta notes after our interviews and had retros throughout the week to help us see where we could improve or pivot in our process. During one of our retro discussions, my teammate pointed out how well I did conducting a user interview, which was encouraging considering I was still new to the activity. Having an open channel of feedback helped us work together, motivate each other, and celebrate our progress.

Having a practiced Product Manager helped us timebox our discussions and keep moving forward. We had some sticky discussions where his sense of urgency kept us focused, and I learned that if we happen to forget or leave out something, it it’s important, it will come up again later.

Working with a team gave me opportunity to advocate for my ideas against other perspectives. Everyone of my team members has been encouraging and curious, leading each of us to feel comfortable pushing back and probing as needed. Making sure every voice had a spot at the table helped us find the best paths forward, and I plan to make this understanding of mutual safety a part of every one of my teams in the future.

Learnings & Insghts

  • The makeup of our team was inconsistent and changed often. Over time we had 2 Sr. Designers and a Sr. PM come through the room. Having people rotate in and out gave us opportunity to practice presenting on our progress, but I wonder how we would have moved through our exercises had we had all our minds together at once.

  • Very quickly, we learned we had many personas to consider. Breaking up “beached pivots” to newer and experienced employees and further separating managers from individual contributors helped us travel wider in our discovery and uncover more opportunities.

  • We uncovered a great deal of uncertainty from beached pivots around performance metrics and expectations. While we prioritized the problem of lack of inspiration, we did bubble up the other problems we found to stakeholders. Our project created a new awareness of the challenges faced by beached pivots, and even though we haven’t presented a solution yet, I do think we’ve already helped to make the situation better.

We have uncovered a lot of valuable information and are currently conducting our first tests. In the meantime, I have a new understanding and empathy for our office pivots on the beach. Soon we’ll look at our test results and allow them to move us in the direction needed to offer our colleagues a better beach experience!