Pickleball Drill Shot Pro
- 2023 -
A pickleball machine designed to simulate shots with precision and consistency. It launches pickleballs at varying speeds, trajectories, and spins, offering users the opportunity to practice and improve their skills through repetitive drills and training sessions.
- MY ROLE -
As a side project my role and responsibilities encompassed the entire lifecycle of the Drill Shot Pro. Beginning with the initial stages of vision and user interviews, I crafted the product strategy and design. As a multi-faceted professional, I fulfilled the roles of a product manager, designer,mechanical/electrical/software engineer, and more, demonstrating my diverse skill set. Throughout the development process, I encountered numerous challenges, requiring me to engage in continuous discovery and creative problem-solving. As the project transitioned from design to engineering tasks, I faced the critical task of striking a balance between development choices to ensure they aligned with user needs. Undertaking such exercises provided valuable experience that I can apply to future projects involving cross-functional teams. The range of skills I possess enables me to communicate effectively with individuals in various roles, as I can readily empathize and approach them with insightful questions.
- THE PRODUCT -
The Drill Shot Pro is a battery-powered, fully featured pickleball practice machine designed to enhance training sessions. It was designed with the goal of improving ball trajectory and power consistency compared to competitors while providing an unmatched feed rate. With the Drill Shot Pro, users can experience varying speeds, spin types, trajectories, and feed rates for a dynamic practice session. Intuitive controls allow for a customizable training experience. The Drill Shot Pro was developed as a minimum viable product (MVP), prioritizing essential features and functionality, with the aim of simulating nearly any shot experienced during match play, with particular focus on fast volley hand battles encountered in pickleball.
Pickleball, a rapidly growing sport in the United States, presents a unique opportunity for product innovation. With millions of adults engaging in pickleball and the sport continuing to outpace other popular sports, there is a clear demand for innovative products that enhance the playing experience. Despite its popularity, there is a noticeable gap in the market when it comes to well-designed ball machines that cater to the specific needs of pickleball players. The lack of competition in this space signifies a significant untapped potential for our product, the Drill Shot Pro.
The rise of pickleball can be attributed to its broad appeal across different age groups and skill levels. This inclusive nature of the sport has led to a surge in participation. This increasing interest is not just a passing trend; it has been consistent over the years, solidifying pickleball's position as one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
Our goal is to enhance the training experience for pickleball enthusiasts, enabling them to refine their techniques, improve their gameplay, and ultimately achieve their goals. With the sport's continued growth and the lack of comprehensive ball machine options in the market, the development of the Drill Shot Pro is a timely and promising endeavor.
Utilizing the Lean Startup framework, rapid building, testing, and iteration were key components of my product management approach. Taking on multiple roles as the product manager, designer, and engineer necessitated addressing various assumptions regarding mechanical designs and materials. Rather than developing a comprehensive nuts-to-bolts design before building, I broke down and categorized build and design assumptions associated with different parts of the machine. By implementing a phased approach, I managed the workload and problem-solving more effectively.
Initially, I prioritized core features, such as the ability to hand-feed a ball into the throwing wheels, while subsequent phases expanded outward to encompass connecting features. Each phase involved varying degrees of learning and iteration, ensuring confidence in the viability of each feature as I progressed along the product roadmap. This approach significantly minimized potential design and build issues by reducing the variables within each phase. Even if an issue emerged in phase 4 related to a design decision made in phase 1, the extensive testing and learning from the initial phase facilitated swift and seamless iterations. Having successfully completed each phase of the roadmap, I am confident that the chosen framework was ideal for this product and would not make any changes if I were to repeat the process.
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Assumptions and Hypothesis
Assumption: Users express dissatisfaction with existing ball machines due to the perceived inconsistency in ball trajectory and speed. This inconsistency is believed to hinder their ability to establish and reinforce strong muscle memory through repetitive practice sessions.
Hypothesis: By implementing enhancements to the mechanical and material designs of the throwing wheels in ball machines, we can address users' dissatisfaction with the perceived inconsistency in ball trajectory and speed. These improvements will result in more consistent launch trajectory, spin, and power, ultimately leading to an improved training experience for players. This enhanced consistency will enable users to establish and reinforce strong muscle memory more effectively during repetitive practice sessions.
Assumption: Users encounter challenges in accurately configuring the settings on existing ball machines to replicate specific pickleball shots. This difficulty in achieving desired shot simulations is believed to hinder users' training effectiveness and limit their ability to practice specific techniques or strategies effectively.
Hypothesis: By implementing less sensitive controls through measures such as reducing electrical noise and interference, along with carefully calibrated software, we can address users' challenges in accurately configuring the settings on ball machines. These improvements will enhance the user's ability to replicate specific pickleball shots and achieve desired shot simulations. Additionally, the previously mentioned enhancements to launch trajectory and power will reduce user's perceptions that the controls are overly sensitive. This will enable users to practice specific techniques and strategies more effectively, thereby enhancing their training experience.
Assumption: The maximum feed rate provided by current ball machines sometimes falls short in replicating the fast-paced nature of pickleball matches. Users may find the existing feed rates insufficient in simulating the rapid volleys and quick exchanges commonly encountered during gameplay. This limitation in matching the actual pace of play is believed to impact the realism and effectiveness of some training sessions using traditional ball machines.
Hypothesis: By improving the maximum feed rate of current ball machines, we can address users' dissatisfaction with the existing feed rates' inability to replicate the fast-paced nature of pickleball matches. Increasing the feed rate will allow users to build up to their desired comfort level with fast-paced volleys, promoting compact paddle mechanics and challenging their ability to maintain a calm and focused mental state required to consistently return high-paced volleys. This improvement in replicating the actual pace of play will enhance the realism and effectiveness of training sessions using ball machines, providing users with a more immersive and impactful training experience.
Assumption: The opaque or solid design of machine ball containers creates uncertainty for users, making it difficult for them to determine whether the machine has run out of balls or if a ball has become stuck within the container. This lack of visibility into the ball status is believed to cause frustration and disrupt practice sessions, as users are unable to quickly identify and resolve issues related to ball supply or potential blockages.
Hypothesis: By developing a transparent ball container for our ball machine, we can address users' uncertainty regarding ball status and improve their training experience. The clear view into the ball feeder will allow users to easily determine if the container is empty or if a ball has become stuck, facilitating quick identification and resolution of issues related to ball supply or blockages. This transparency will reduce user frustration and disruptions during practice sessions, enabling them to maintain focus on their skill training. By providing users with a clear and visible indication of the machine's status, they will perceive their training sessions as more productive and feel a greater sense of control over their training environment.
Assumption: Users perceive other machines in the market as requiring customers to pay for optional upgrades that are essential for replicating real-life gameplay experiences. Users believe that many of these features should be standard and included in the base product offering. This assumption suggests that users value having access to comprehensive features without additional costs, as they consider these features integral to achieving a realistic and immersive practice environment.
Hypothesis: By developing a ball machine that is fully equipped with comprehensive features, we can address users' concerns regarding the need to purchase additional options to replicate real-life gameplay experiences. Offering a base product that includes essential features and eliminates the need for customers to assess the value proposition of each additional option will simplify their purchasing decision. This approach will enhance the value perception of our ball machine, as users will recognize the convenience and cost-effectiveness of having all the necessary features readily available. By providing a fully equipped ball machine, we aim to meet users' expectations for a realistic and immersive practice environment while streamlining their decision-making process, ultimately improving their satisfaction and perceived value of our product.
In my role as a product manager, I dedicated considerable effort to market research and gaining insights into competitor products. I meticulously researched both existing and potential competitors, which led me to develop a comprehensive competitor feature table. This table allowed me to systematically compare and analyze commonly found features across the market.
Furthermore, to enhance my understanding, I conducted hands-on demos of select competitor products. The knowledge and experience gained from this research directly influenced my approach to user interviews. During the exploratory interviews, I focused on uncovering user goals, pain points, and priorities. By leveraging the insights gathered, I compiled a comprehensive list of potential features. To streamline the decision-making process, I employed the MoSCoW prioritization method. This prioritization framework helped me better align the features with user needs and allocate resources effectively as I progressed towards design and discovery phases.
DESIGN -DISCOVERY - BUILD
My decision-making process followed a structured framework as I navigated through the design, discovery, and building phases. Armed with a list of features and goals, I embarked on the task of designing, testing, and building the product. Anticipating numerous challenges ahead, I carefully progressed through the roadmap, generating detailed task lists at the beginning of each phase. These lists were continuously revised based on the insights gathered during the discovery process. To strike a balance between exploration and delivery, I adopted a dual track agile method, allowing me to break down complex problems into more manageable components. The iterative approach of learn, test, build, validate, and repeat formed the foundation of my work.
My dual track methodology proved valuable as it allowed me to remain open-minded throughout, consistently questioning assumptions and hypotheses. For instance, in phase 4, I realized that the neoprene wheel, initially considered a suitable choice, exhibited decreased reliability in cooler temperatures not present during summer testing. Fortunately, my earlier testing facilitated a seamless pivot to an EVA foam wheel, which performed similarly in a wider temperature range.
Successfully completing the development of a fully-featured ball machine amidst the multitude of discovery, design, and engineering tasks could have been overwhelming, but my product management approach played a vital role. By implementing effective organization, goal setting, and framework thinking, I was able to tackle challenges using proven strategies and methodologies. Regardless of the ongoing tasks, the framework thinking provided a guiding compass that directed efforts towards meeting feature goals, ensuring user satisfaction, and establishing clear minimum success criteria for each functionality. This simplified the assessment of progress across design, software, and mechanics.
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- USER RECEPTION -
Ultimately, the result was a fully-featured product that aligned with strategic objectives. User testing of the prototype yielded highly positive feedback, with users expressing that it effectively simulated challenging pickleball shots and improved their ability to analyze their swing mechanics. The feed consistency exceeded what could be achieved in a two-person drilling session, reducing variables during training. Notably, within the test group, multiple individuals expressed interest in purchasing the product.
However, as a side project, I have decided not to allocate additional resources required for the development of a polished, mass-manufactured product. While the feedback and interest received validate the product's value, I will focus on the achievements made and the insights gained from this project to inform future endeavors in product management.
- Objectives and Key Results -
Objective: Enhance ball feed rate to replicate the speed of hand battles in pickleball matches.
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro achieves a maximum feed rate of launching one ball every 0.6 seconds, surpassing competitors by 40% who launch balls every 1 second.
Objective: Increase ball capacity to ensure extended practice sessions.
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro has a ball capacity of 130+ pickleballs, accommodating the need for at least 100 balls during practice.
Objective: Achieve a high ball velocity of 50 MPH or more.
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro delivers ball velocities of 60 MPH and higher, dependent on factors such as wind direction, speed, temperature, humidity, ball condition, and wheel condition.
Objective: Functional wireless remote start/stop functionality with an extensive range of 60 feet or more.
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro's wireless remote control offers a range exceeding 300 feet line of sight, providing convenient start and stop control at distances greater than 60 feet.
Objective: 3 hours or greater battery life for prolonged practice sessions
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro offers a battery life exceeding 6 hours, ensuring uninterrupted practice time, surpassing the minimum objective of 3 hours.
Objective: Enhance ball consistency compared to the Pickleball Tutor Plus.
Key Result: The Drill Shot Pro demonstrates 20% smaller target landing spread, ensuring greater consistency and accuracy than the Pickleball Tutor Plus.
- Key Takeaways -
Through my involvement in every aspect of this product, I have gained valuable insights into the importance of balancing learning, testing, and building. The project has taught me the significance of setting clear goals and maintaining a perspective that allows for prioritization between discovery, testing, and building phases. It has highlighted the potential pitfalls of getting stuck in continuous exploration without transitioning to the execution phase. This experience has provided me with a deeper understanding of when to shift focus and prioritize building to bring the product to fruition.
Throughout this project, I have come to appreciate the immense value of maintaining an open mind and embracing new ideas, especially during the later stages of development, in order to avoid accumulating tech debt. I have learned that even when the path diverges from our initial intentions, there is still potential for success. By remaining receptive to unexpected discoveries and willing to adapt our plans, we can navigate uncharted territories and uncover innovative solutions that propel the project forward. This experience has taught me the importance of embracing flexibility and embracing the unknown, as it often leads to unforeseen opportunities and ultimately contributes to the overall success of the product.
A valuable lesson I learned throughout this project was the significance of continuously reassessing priorities, which played a pivotal role in driving the product towards its fully-featured state. With numerous tasks spanning various roles, it was crucial for me to remain mindful of the trap of perfectionism. While there were countless opportunities to refine and enhance different elements indefinitely, I recognized the importance of striking a balance. At a certain point, it became necessary to check off features from the list in order to propel the product forward. This experience underscored the need to maintain a pragmatic approach, ensuring that progress was made without losing sight of the ultimate goal.