Design Thinking: The Food Truck Challenge

Made with Harvard Business School Publishing in 2016.

Case Study
The Problem

Professor Michael Roberto, author of the award-winning Everest simulation, presented us with the concept for the Food Truck Challenge. He wanted a simple, effective simulation that would teach the concept of minimum viable product (“MVP”) to students in a short, engaging, and easily repeatable format.

This idea was a departure from many of our other popular Harvard Business School Publishing simulations, which are typically meant to run for an entire class period or over several days. Professor Roberto wanted an exercise that could be run in 30 minutes or less, while still providing the impact of a longer, more complex simulation.

The Process

We began with an outline, a rough backstory, and some ideas on how the model should work from Professor Roberto and Harvard Business School Publishing.

From there, we dove into the design phase, creating user flows, layout ideas, and mockups. In particular, this simulation required a responsive design — one that provides the same interactive experience for mobile phone and desktop users.

At the same time, our modeler began working through the intricacies of how the model could drive student behavior in the simulation. We needed to develop the pros and cons of various selling methods and locations in the game, and ensure that these were communicated clearly to students while still allowing plenty of opportunities for individualized exploration.

In the development stage, we first built a prototype to test with students at Harvard. Feedback from this prototype allowed us to fine tune both the design and the model while the development of the final simulation user interface was completed. We also added a full tutorial mode, which guides users through the interface in a game-like manner familiar to students who play mobile games regularly.

The Results

The Food Truck Challenge has quickly become a popular exercise because of its shorter format, high impact, and responsive design.

Students play the role of an entrepreneur and strive to maximize their revenue over five simulated weeks by selling ice cream, frozen yogurt, or smoothies at various locations in the city of Boomtown. Working individually or in teams, students review basic market data, and then are faced with a choice: They can conduct additional market research, open a food truck immediately, or open a small pushcart. During each simulated week, students can modify their choice.

Instructors choose from three scenarios available in the underlying model, each with different optimal outcomes — so students can play a second time after a debriefing session, and apply what they’ve learned, without knowing the solution as they attempt the exercise again.

Design Thinking: The Food Truck Challenge
Design Thinking: The Food Truck Challenge

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