Next Gen Math Learning Platform and Curriculum


Client Relations, Research, Organization Coaching, Creative Direction

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) came to us requesting help with their upcoming bid for math curriculum in Florida. The company had a new CEO and a newly created Head of Digital and Learning, both of whom were unhappy with the direction of the project. Their explicit goal for the team was to change the focus of HMH from traditional publishing to learning and educational outcomes. In order to accomplish this goal, they wanted digital tools and platforms more seamlessly integrated into their product landscape.

The HMH team, which included people who had come onboard after acquiring Scholastic, had been producing physical textbooks for 30+ years. Very few, if any, knew how to develop innovative digital products. We were tasked with mentoring the organization toward this goal while keeping them on track for the looming Florida deadline… 8 months away.

NOTE: This work is in progress. All concepts shown below are first drafts and in development.


We began by spending a week conducting a series of 1-on-1 interviews with everyone on the Next Gen Math team which included VP's and Directors from Strategy, Curriculum, Content, Professional Services, Design, Sales, and Marketing. Additionally, we ran a small workshop to begin defining what success in Florida would require and immediate next steps to get the project on track. From this work, we identified a few key issues:

  1. Not Aligned to Florida Standards
    In the middle of the last curriculum cycle, Florida changed their standards for math. HMH did not adjust their materials to match. This misalignment created a publicity issue for HMH and meant that their new offering for the state would be under greater scrutiny than their competitors.
  2. HMH Perception Issue
    HMH competes against a range of smaller, more nimble competitors who are perceived as having a fresher, more relevant approach to the needs of math teachers and students.
  3. Lack of Cross-Team Collaboration
    The various teams involved in the Next Gen Math project were not communicating directly nor frequently sharing their work openly. Decisions were being made in silos with little input, or regard, for dependencies across the organization.
  4. Team Not Responding to Research
    The Next Gen Math team was not listening to the outcomes of focus group research. Many in the organization saw a disconnect between what the team was hearing from customers and what those customers were actually saying.
  5. Communication Issues with Leadership
    There was a clear communication problem up and down the organization. The team was having difficulty unpacking the goals being communicated by top leadership and helping them understand their work.
  6. Lack of Innovation
    The team was having a difficult time generating new ideas for digital tools that were more integrated into their math product and concepts beyond what they were comfortable with.
  7. Unclear Leadership Structure
    Team members were unsure who was responsible for making final decisions. Phrases like "I don't know whose call it is to make" were common.
  8. Engineering not Involved
    The engineering and development teams were not involved in the planning of the Florida math product. The team expected there to be a later moment in time when a complete design and plan would be handed off to engineering to be built.

Alignment Workshop

Based on what we discovered in the first week, we hypothesized that there were three opportunities for us to make the biggest positive impact on the HMH Math team:

  1. Methods for Improving Communication and Collaboration
    Coach the team on how to implement known methods for improving communication and collaboration such as the implementation of a Kanban board.
  2. Aligning around a Single Goal and Defining the User Journey
    Help the team clearly articulate the goal of the Florida math product and write the story of the product they had built so far.
  3. Product Design and Innovation
    Help the team define specific points in the story where the product could be improved with better data insights and digital tools.

Setting the Goal and Perspective Exploration

We began by helping the team clearly the articulate the goal of the math product as defined by the CEO, Head of Digital, and their own expertise. We then had them explore what success meant through four perspectives: Teachers, Students, Making the Product, and the Florida Standards.

User Journeys

The next step of the workshop was to stop talking about the bucket of components in the product and explain how it would fill the needs of a teacher trying to guide his/her students through math. We divided the team up into three groups, provided each with a user journey map template printed out as a poster, and asked them to describe what a teacher is thinking or feeling at every step of the teaching journey. Once the complete story of user need was written, we asked them to explore a variety of solutions that would address each of these thoughts/needs/concerns.