Obstacles in Innovation

What We've Learned from Criterion

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Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Meghan Goria (Situation’s needs-no-introduction Account Group Director for Arts & Culture) and Peter Yagecic (our incredible VP of Innovation), and we got to nerd out on Criterion — a project that not only met the moment but reshaped it. 

Roundabout Theatre Company’s ambitious decision to create a tailor-made ticketing system for their rentals at Studio 54 and the Stephen Sondheim Theatre was more than a mere operational upgrade, it was a pivotal move towards enhancing accessibility and enriching the patron experience. This project, spearheaded by Roundabout’s incredible Director of Sales and Analytics Gabe Johnson, was distinct for its scale, the mission, and for overcoming inherent project obstacles (that all organizations have likely experienced) through Criterion-driven innovation.

The Best of What We Learned

The project’s inception was marked by a clear, albeit challenging, vision: to revolutionize the individual ticket-buying experience and, by extension, drive sales. Over the course of a year, the collaboration between the seasoned talents and fresh perspectives both at Roundabout and at Situation, led by a singular focus, resulted in a user experience-led custom application — a testament to what can be achieved when innovation is paired with a deep understanding of the task at hand.

It became clear from my conversation with Peter and Meghan that the success of this project was no accident; it was the result of several key factors. 

  1. A Ground-Up Approach: At the beginning of the project, we took the time to explore the best way to execute the build based on the goals we wanted to achieve. We considered a solution based on a modified TNEW implementation but ultimately determined that a custom solution using the Tessitura API would give us the greatest amount of control of the user experience.
  2. The Right Mix of Talent: At the beginning of a new web project, ideally before we’re even hired, we love to ask our clients what the project team looks like on their end. The clarity with which they answer that question tells us a lot about how the project is going to go. In the best scenarios, the project team responsible for designing a new site is a small group of individuals who are amazing listeners and problem solvers, and who understand how to balance the complex needs of many stakeholders.
  3. Timely Execution: A firm deadline ensured focused efforts, pushing the team to deliver without compromising on quality. The imposed time constraints fostered a sense of urgency that propelled the team forward, ensuring that the project’s most critical aspects were developed to the highest standards.
  4. Customer Focus: Audiences are changing, and if organizations want to ensure the next generation of consumers is beating down the door to experience their programming, that needs to be reflected in the mechanics of buying a ticket, renewing a subscription, or making a donation. We need to feel as polished and forward-thinking as every other transaction that happens online. 
  5. Investment: Beyond financial inputs, the investment in trust and freedom for the team to explore innovative solutions was paramount. This foundational trust empowered the team to think outside the box and pursue bold strategies, setting the stage for breakthrough innovations that could redefine the ticketing experience.

The Obstacles We All Face

Reflecting on the project’s journey, we noticed how evident it was that success is not solely the result of operational excellence but also the invaluable lessons learned along the way. This project was like a mirror for our team to better understand the industry, reflecting the common obstacles that often get in the way of project development — assumptions about mission alignment, underestimation of cross-functional collaboration, and the oversight of user-centric design principles.

  1. Singular Vision: A focused mission is critical. During discovery for large web projects, we often make the point that “your website is not a democracy.” At the end of the day, a site needs to serve its users first and foremost, which can sometimes be at odds with the needs of individual departments within an organization. As partners, it is our role to empower the organization to look at the website from an audience-first perspective.
  2. Cross-functional Collaboration: We have to think about (and create user stories for), the people managing and maintaining a website too. If we create something gorgeous that is impossible to maintain, we haven’t done the best work we could have.
  3. User-centric Design Principle: A trusted colleague of mine once said, “Nobody wants to think about the process of buying a ticket to a show they want to see.” If site users notice the ticketing buying experience at all, it’s probably a sign the process needs to be improved. 
  4. Openness to Innovation: Encouraging a culture that welcomes new ideas and approaches was crucial in navigating past potential obstacles. We have to have the whole team on board. We view our role as digital partners to continue to push clients to embrace the best technological solutions, and use every tool at our disposal to make them work for any CRM integration.

The process of designing and building Criterion Ticketing was more than just a case study of success; Meghan, Peter, and I agreed that this project got us to question our assumptions about innovation, collaboration, and how we can serve the people and the industry we care so deeply about. The potential of innovation outweighs the risk of any obstacle, but digging into these challenges gives us the unique chance to redefine what is possible for everyone.

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