Project Retrospective: Reserve A Game

Lydia Damon

Reserve A Game

Earlier this year, Boston startup Reserve a Game came to thoughtbot to design their product: a way for people to reserve time at local public tennis courts. Many in our office are familiar with the disappointment of showing up to the Boston Common courts after work, only to find a long line to play. For frequent tennis players, this becomes less of a slight annoyance and more of daily problem. At a time when most everything can be reserved (tables at a restaurant, seats for a movie), it seemed like a great idea, but first we needed to test our assumptions.

Here’s a look at our process, from design sprint to launch:

The Problem

The experience of playing tennis on public courts is frustrating. The challenge of finding an open court, uncertainty about court availability, and the potential of having to wait, get in the way of playing the game.

The Product

What does it need to be? What does it need to provide? Who is it for? '' We had to eliminate a lot of feature ideas, even good ones, to settle on searching and reserving as the main jobs to be done in the application. Our biggest challenge was to meet the needs of both tennis players who would reserve courts, and cities that would adopt this service. For an early-stage startup, it can be a challenge to balance user needs with sales. In this case, it was clear that the founders valued user experience above all, so we charged ahead, hoping that if tennis players would use the product, cities would want to adopt it.

The design sprint wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. We had a done a lot of work before we came to thoughtbot, but this process helped us to put a framework to our concepts and whittle our options down to the best user flow possible for players. We also discovered what we all felt was the best design to ensure a great experience on both mobile and desktop.

Brent Colson, Founder, Reserve a Game

The Critical Path

What tasks does a person need to be able to do with this product? '' After diverging for a day to sketch the user flow individually, we came together to draw the critical path as a group. This drawing served as the basis for our prototype.

Testing and Learning

We interviewed tennis players and watched them click through the prototype. '' These conversations validated our assumption that avid tennis players would, in fact, pay for the convenience of a reservation. However, using this app needed to be easier than just showing up and waiting in line.

Some of our assumptions turned out to be false. For example, we assumed people wouldn’t care about the specific court they reserved in a facility. We were wrong. While some people didn’t care, the most avid players (our target users) noted that they often had a preference, and would appreciate the option to choose. Our prototype had focused on selecting any available court in a facility, rather than choosing a specific court. We now knew we needed to add court selection back to the top of our feature list.

User testing did two main things for us. First, our assumptions went through the ringer and some proved to be false, allowing us to pivot in minor ways to save us big money down the road. Second, it proved to be another validation of just how much need there is for our product. Most testers were surprised by how easy the process was and told us they would definitely use the service. It was music to our ears…

Brent Colson, Founder, Reserve a Game

The Development Process

Over the course of 200+ git commits, we built the MVP in time for the spring season in Boston. '' The design sprint helped us to understand our assumptions and risks up front and gave us a clear direction. With many potential problems having already been addressed, we moved quickly through development. Daily standups, weekly retrospectives and constant communication kept our team focused on delivering the right product.

I thought I knew agile development before we started working with thoughtbot, but their expertise and process helped me grow tremendously in my own ability to manage these types of projects. They helped me to constantly challenge assumptions and find better, or simpler ways to build our product. In the end, we built the right product, which wasn’t necessarily how we envisioned it before we started with thoughtbot.

Brent Colson, Founder, Reserve a Game

If you want to learn more about our process, take a look at our design sprint methodology.

Reserve a Game has now launched their service in the Boston area. They are looking for creative people, including designers and developers, to join their team to help create the future of community sporting services. If you are interested, please get in touch with Brent Colson.