Caregiver: An Exercise in Lean & Agile Design & Development

Bringing the Human Element
of Happiness to Home Care

A Hackathon

A month ago, PhillyCHI teamed up to promote Drexel University’s Philly Codefest, a three day hackathon in Drexel’s URBN Center. Of course, some of us also wanted to participate, so PhillyCHI board alum Matt Thomas, 50onRed dev ‘n design players Patrick Smith, Matthew Parke, Andrew Christiano, and myself created a team to make some cool stuff.

It was a fun weekend of camaraderie, coding and creating. Each of us got to know each other better, some of us stayed up all night and we did our best to create a lean, functional application with thought out, well designed accouterments (as our judging requirements suggested we do.) In the end, though quite a positive experience overall, we were unable to present any of it to anyone at the event. Thusly, I’ve taken the opportunity to showcase the raw materials of our efforts here.

With our diverse backgrounds, we decided to utilize the data provided us to create something useful for a growing constituency: caregivers in the United States. Welcome to our organized notes for our app, Caregivers.

(The slidedeck is broken up into parts below, but for a continuous look: Slidedeck)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As life expectancy increases, so too, will the need for caregivers. Searching for home care services is challenging for a caregiver already managing a multitude of care-tasks.

The senior demographic is an emerging market for social innovation. In 2013, the oldest baby boomers (depending on birth years used) reached a common retirement age in the United States—67 years. This demographic also sits in what is called the “sandwich gap,” meaning they act both as caregivers for their parents while simultaneously caring for both the X-gen and the ever popular millennial.

Cornered into this unique position, a baby boomer, the average caregiver, is faced with managing a full-time job (remember, baby boomers aren’t retiring anytime soon), caregiving on either end, which deals with a multitude of logistics ranging from setting appointments, scheduling medication intake, transportation, other activities for daily living (ADLS).

Our solution looks to streamline this finding process with a unique score/comparison algorithm vetted by a unique Happiness Index. To enhance care-recipient safety and quality of life, when an appropriate home care service is located, the solution will act as a mediator to create a symbiotic relationship between caregiver and home care providers.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

John Michaels is a 56 year old caregiver for his mother, Sarah, who is 84 years old. She has dementia which causes her to have difficulties with her Activities for Daily living (ADLs).

John works full time as a high school teacher in Philadelphia. His wife passed away several years ago leaving John as the sole caregiver for Sarah. He also has a 31 year old daughter, but his daughter lives in San Francisco.

Individual is a inspector-provider personality type.

Inspector (ISTJs) are responsible organizers, driven to create and enforce order within systems and institutions. They are neat and orderly, inside and out, and tend to have a procedure for everything they do. Reliable and dutiful, ISTJs want to uphold tradition and follow regulations.

Provider (ESFJs) are conscientious helpers, sensitive to the needs of others and energetically dedicated to their responsibilities. They are highly attuned to their emotional environment and attentive to both the feelings of others and the perception others have of them. ESFJs like a sense of harmony and cooperation around them, and are eager to please and provide.

John has a inspector-provider personality type, which means John prefers organization, having a procedure for his day-to-day while also having a high level of compassion and sensitivity.

Working long hours, John is looking for a home health care provider to send an aid with occupational therapy and nursing care capabilities to help out with his mother’s ADLs. Attempting to search online, John finds he must navigate to too many sources for quality assessment of home health care services. Furthermore, he is shocked at the information overload and that these sources do not talk to one another.

Despite being an organizer and planner, John is easily overwhelmed with too much input of information, but does his best to organize information to provide the best care solutions for his mother.

Overwrought with work, his personal life and other care-tasks, John’s pain points are as such:


  • No quality assessment of existing home health care services (HHCS)
  • Information overload (when researching resources)
  • Fragmentation: all resources do not communicate together
  • No voice compared to HHCS
  • No community with other individuals in need of HHCS
  • Overwhelmed with other care-tasks (full-time job, scheduling, care-recipient’s activities for daily living

John owns an iPhone 5 and is proficient with email and word processing. He navigates the web for resources dealing with dementia, but his searching acuity is low.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

John uses CAREGIVER’s geotargeting to find all of the home care services in his area. John then selects search filtering options appropriate to the needs of his mother and then CAREGIVER feeds medicare feedback data into a proprietary algorithm to provide John with a list of the best home care services.

Having selected a home care service, the aid visits Sarah every day, providing 5.5 hours of service including weekends. John rates his and his mother’s experience through CAREGIVER’s Happiness Index data, compiling this information into an overall score for the home care provider.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happiness Index

Our solution innovates by streamlining the process of finding home care services with a unique score/comparison algorithm vetted by a unique Happiness Index. When an appropriate home care service is located, the solution will act as a mediator to create a symbiotic relationship between caregiver and home care providers. This in turn will enhance care-recipient safety and their quality of life, while also providing much need respite for the caregiver.

We are taking data provided by relating to home health care resources and aggregating this into an easily digestible format for the caregiver. A caregiver, using our solution will be able to locate and bridge into the best home care aid to assist the care-recipient.

In addition to indexing nearby facilities, we’re also feeding medicare feedback data into our proprietary algorithm, where it’s aggregated with our Happiness Index data, and compiled into an overall score for each in-home healthcare facility.

This in turn adds to the home care provider’s overall score for other users. John is able to go back and look at the trends of his and his mother’s experience to ensure an additional way to aid in the caregiving responsibilities and expectations for Sarah.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As stated earlier, for a variety of reasons, not everyone who created something at the hackathon was given a platform to present. While unfortunate, we are glad to have put this much thought and effort into our presentation. The broken up slides throughout this writeup made for a five minute presentation with a demonstration of our app. For an uninterrupted, undivided look at our presentation, check it out over here.

By Weekend’s End

By the end of it, we were all pretty tired, but built some great camaraderie and friendships. Honestly, these guys are great. If you have the honor of knowing them or working with them, pat them on the back. We all chose a topic that we hoped would benefit a needing population and we all did it with agility, ingenuity and a helluva lot of fun.


I’ve Been Busy…

I’ve been busy. I know, I know, it’s something we hear from most folks. And busy rarely equates with “productive” or—what I’ve learned to matter more—”purposeful.” But I’ve been busy. A lot of it productive, a good chunk of it purposeful.

Hence not writing in a while. Sure, I’ve THOUGHT a lot about writing, The trouble is, I had a hard time committing to putting something down. Typing or writing out the words made it “real” and if it were real, it was vulnerable to criticsim. And to quote George McFly, “I don’t know if I can take that kind of rejection.”

Which, as I am sure you are well aware dear reader, is absolutely silly. I read a quote from Matt Fraction recently (of the esteemed Hawkeye series—I don’t care if you think comics are for luddites or not, read it) in response to someone asking him about his process of sitting down to write. He said something along the lines of writing as a physical act. We assume it’s some ethereal thing, but in reality, it requires physical effort. He then asks us to pick up a pencil (or open Byword on your Macbook) and then write “Something.” “Something” what?

” i don’t understand the feeling of, the way people speak of writing as though it were, like, some kind of djinn to be summoned or like it’s the loch ness monster or seeing a shooting star. it’s a physical act. it is a thing you do with your muscles and your body and your willpower. watch, i’ll show you: get a piece of paper. get a pencil. put the pencil on the paper and write the word “something” there. you did it. you wrote. you wrote ‘something.’ now put a word after something. Something what? Something… happened? creaked? died? flew? exploded? snapped? Tell me. With your hand, with the hand holding the pencil or pen or marker or crayon, it doesn’t matter, push your fingers and hand up and back and across and back until there is another word after “something”.

There. Now you’re writing a story.”

— Matt Fraction

This is my something. Something I’ve been working hard at, getting a lot of ducks lined up for 2014 and beyond.


2013 was a great year of change. Turning 30. Balancing out work and life. Changing careers to focus more on social services. Applying my interests in creative direction, storytelling and culture into servicing the social sector. Confidence. Exploring my values and behavior. It’s all in-progress. And for once, in-progress feels good. Not procrastination, but knowing these projects, even upon completion, are an in-progress iteration toward learning more, doing better, exploring, staying curious, being open.

It’s all been for the better. And as a part of that, I decided that it was also time for me to fear less, do better, share more. The doing part I’ve done, but I was never comfortable with sharing it. A part of that is the fear I was talking about. The fear of having your work ridiculed or dismissed. Of being called a hack or irrelevant. Of being an amateur.

Pressure Testing

It’s the age of information. And once we put something out there, it’s out there. That’s a lot of damn pressure. But you know what? If it’s not out there, no one gets to know about it either. And if no one knows about it, I won’t get feedback, I won’t get pressure tested. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned about myself it’s that life requires some pressure testing. Here’s to improving.

And so, I’m looking forward to posting up some of the work I’ve wrought into being from the past year, using this blog-space to explore some of my loftier speculations on life and wonder. It’s a place for process. To showcase how I think through my designs, to display some of the polished work I’ve executed. It’s a place for me to be accountable. To share ideas and share how they’re developing. A place to communicate to those interested in knowing how my mind works or what I’ve been up to. A place for my written word to do, you know, what humans do: relate.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this past year, it’s that you can do anything you want. But you can’t do everything. And with that lesson, I’m going to tell you of some of the things I have done and some of the things I will do. Because life is short, and if we’re unable to do everything, let’s pick and choose what’s worth doing.

So join me. Choose. Commit. And let’s do something.


On teamwork and individualism

Shield to Shield

While working today’s social hour, I flipped through a few pages of a book entitled “A Study of History” by Arnold J. Toynbee. It was here that I came upon a part in particular speaking of the evolution of the Spartan phalanx. 1

A phalanx is a general term for military infantry formation. The popular construction of the word describes a military arrangement of tightly packed soldiers armed with spears and interlocking shields. The shield of your colleague’s protected your exposed right side and your shield in turn protected your fellow teammate’s right side. The dense nature of the arrangement provided a compact defensive structure within an offensive mobile force. The Spartans in particular were able to maintain flexibility in this arrangement due to their single-handed dory spears (as opposed to the Macedonian double handed spears) and their short iron xiphos swords, thusly able to function as a single unit while maintaining some autotomy of the individual.

“One-against-one, they are as good as anyone in the world. But when they fight in a body, they are the best of all.” 2

While Tonybee chronicles the evolution of the basic phalanx into more sophisticated military formations, the modern analogy here is less to the lasting integrity of these specific strategies in an ever evolving battlefield and more on the fundamental component of their value: that each individual member is an integral component to the overall integrity of the unit.

Collaboration today is similar. A part of the usefulness in collaboration is the trust in your team and the ability to defer to their various disciplines of expertise . Relinquishing control doesn’t mean catering to your team’s whims, but rather placing trust in why you have a team in the first place. Each member has his and her strong attributes, each is capable of catching any holes you or any other member may make, and each reinforces the movement forward through tightly formed strategy. Like the phalanx.

Transcend Yourself.

There is strength in vigorous individuality. The composite of the whole is completely dependent upon the constitution of each individual member. And this is where disruption, the positive kind, can come into play, where diverse individuals challenge one another to provoke invigorating new solutions. This is the crucial spice in the recipe of innovative culture.

It can take a single idea to spark action, but it takes action to keep that spark burning. IDEO’s one tenant for Human Centered Design is to compose a team of varying abilities and disciplines.3 This diversity creates a breadth and depth of experience, but provides lateral thinking that enables the connection of a variety of dots—dots which likely may not exist without a particular member in the fold. Consider a melting pot of the strongest points of culture, perspective and skillset—this is innovative teamwork, when one’s individual value reinforces something greater than himself. When one can, for the moment, put his own individualism aside for the common strength of a greater goal.

“The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”4

Our relentless individualism shades the fact that everything we do affects our society, the people around us, the people in our lives. Strengthen oneself to strengthen those around us. That’s why many of us got into the fields we got into in the first place; to make the world a better, more interesting place. And I believe that if we, from time to time, realize that our individualism is stronger when applied to the benefit of the formation, of the goal, of the pursuit, of the good for our constituents, that we can very rarely go wrong.

1. A Study of History, Volume V, The Disentigrations of Civilization; Arnold J. Toynbee
2. Herodotus vii (trans. G. Rawlinson)
3. HCD Tool Kit;
4. “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy“; J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir (as quoted from Why Teams Make Us Happy; Scott Belsky)