Building something big happens slowly

Jul 27 2015

You can’t build Rome in a day.

That’s what my teammate Janell Smith told our teammate, Jonathan Morris, and I when we were stuck in the beginning of the summer. Not only did it inspire me to work harder to solve the problem of improving court transparency the day she said it, but it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. Now, when I’m frustrated, I remember that my team and I are building the foundation of a product that could change a lot of things about the North Carolina Court System and its record-keeping process.

But not everything falls perfectly into place.

Throughout the summer, my confidence that our product, now called Digidocket, is desirable, possible and sustainable never wavered, but there were times that I wasn’t sure if we could get over the roadblocks that were in front of us. Nevertheless, I kept Janell’s words of wisdom in mind. We couldn’t get discouraged because Rome didn’t build itself, and court files won’t scan themselves.

Gregoire and her team practice for Pitch Day. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

Gregoire and her team practice for Pitch Day. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

For example, about halfway through the summer, we ran into the issue of how we could possibly get our hands on all the 2.5 million court files that are added to the court system every year. The problem stems from the sheer volume of files, so after rejecting all our ideas that involved collecting everything available in the state as virtually impossible or absurdly expensive, we began to think smaller.

How could we think of those millions of pieces of paper that needed to be scanned in more manageable terms?

The answer: we chunked the information into smaller units. We focused on the county courthouses as individual units instead of grouping them together into one broad, state-wide unit. If we could make our product happen in one county, we could replicate it into all the other counties in North Carolina. For the moment, we only had to think about one county with roughly 1/100th of the files.

Once we refocused on the individual courthouses, we gained some traction. First, we considered having the clerk’s office personnel scan all the files on record, but we discovered that the process be confusing for the clerks and ourselves to keep the digital files updated. Finally, after talking to courthouse personnel and discussing a lot of different options, we decided to send people to the courthouses with scanners to scan all the files as they come in.

It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s the best one we’ve got right now. My team and I have come across many other problems, frustrations and semi-permanent solutions throughout the summer, ranging from personal privacy to naming conventions to the legality of our ideas.We’ve used the same process to get over those humps: Think small. Focus on the problem. Make decisions quickly.

With Pitch Day in a few short days, I now know that we’ll never have the perfect solutions to all our problems. But we had to make decisions. Although, Rome wasn’t built in a day, each day contributed to the final product. So we’ll keep working.


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