Workday Mobile: Iteration… with a Marshmallow on Top

At Workday, this "Marshmallow Challenge" approach of iterative development is fundamental to our ability to continuously deliver new innovations within our applications.

The “Marshmallow Challenge,” popularized by Tom Wujec’s TED talk, is an 18-minute exercise where teams compete to build the tallest freestanding structure they can from spaghetti, duct tape, and string, topped by a single marshmallow. This challenge has been given to thousands of people across a wide range of professions with a surprising set of results. One of the notable outcomes, in Wujec’s own words, is that “on virtually every measure of innovation, kindergartners create taller and more interesting structures” than recent business school graduates.

Kindergartners do a better job on the challenge because they spend more time playing and prototyping, Wujec writes. “Designers recognize this type of collaboration as the essence of the iterative process—which is central to design thinking. With each version, the kids get instant feedback of what works and what doesn’t. Through play and prototyping, they instantly adapt to what’s in front of them.” In other words, the kindergartners were practicing a basic form of iterative development.

At Workday, this “Marshmallow Challenge” approach of iterative development is fundamental to our ability to continuously deliver new innovations within our applications. We play and prototype until we achieve a core product that immediately addresses important business needs for our customers. From there, we continue to iterate and deliver the results on a three-times-a-year heartbeat, continually adding more functionality with every Workday update.

Our HTML5 for mobile offering (“Delivering the HTML5 Experience to Workday Customers”) is a great example of our approach to iterative development. For this new mobile experience delivered in Workday 16 in April, we started with core employee directory functionality that we developed in just three months. From there, we added approvals, notifications, and real-time analytics for managers, as well as time-off entry, profiles, and anytime feedback for employees, all delivered just three months later in Workday 17. These small, rapid iterations allow us to stay on top of the frantic pace of mobile innovation in our industry, and our cloud-based update model lets us get the latest innovations quickly into the hands of our customers. You’ll be hearing about more innovations for mobile next month in Workday 18.

While this is a classic case study for Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” the important underlying passion for us at Workday is to continuously try new things, and rapidly build upon our successes.

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