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In addition to being a fellow textile, ‘“Khaki,” as in “Project Khaki,” is an event in which a diverse group of community members were invited to Instructure headquarters to talk face-to-face with Product and Engineering Teams about allocating 20% of Instructure’s engineering budget to Project Khaki priorities.  Khaki premiered in 2015 as a way to put Canvas users in the driver's seat of prioritizing a piece of Canvas feature development, and its success led to a second event of equal gravity. So now that it’s become a thing, we’re going to take a little liberty with language and verbify the word Khaki.


Who attended Khaki?

Regularly active community members, whose contributions are often influential, were initially considered. From there, the selection process wasn’t easy; it’s like asking a parent which child they favor. The Community Team, along with the Customer Experience and Product Teams, put their heads together to select a group that would most broadly represent Canvas users by region, role and institution type. Eventually, this awesome group of admins, teachers and course designers across K12 and higher ed sectors were invited. (Community members outside the continental US were not able to be included this year because of logistics challenges, but will be included in the future!).


How does one “Khaki”?

One thing we’ve learned about these events: there’s no standard way to ‘khaki’. While the overarching theme has been the same, each event has been uniquely different.


Project Khaki attendees arrived on the scene with some homework already completed (yes, we give out homework). They were asked to review and consider the following list of 50 Canvas feature ideas, which were to be the starting point for the day's conversations.


CEO Josh Coates kicked off the event with a warm “panda” welcome, followed by Mitch Benson, VP Product Management, and Chris Hunter, Sr. Director Product Management, who provided a detailed overview of all-things-product-development - from ‘“what is agile?” to “how we do things at Instructure”. With immense knowledge swirling in their brains, the Khaki attendees were asked to apply what they learned and allocate their votes on their homework ideas.


Attendees were given 5 stickers and asked to cast their votes (only one sticker per idea please!). The top twelve (plus 3 tied for 13th place) were selected. The Product Team selected 8 of these ideas for further exploration. Each idea was assigned a team that included one Product Manager and Engineer. Attendees joined a team and together wrote out objectives and developed a scope with defined outcomes. As attendees quickly realized, creating a project plan that meets the needs of everyone in the group--as well as the majority of Canvas users--was quite a daunting task. Some teams experienced the struggles of compromise; others contentiously worked through disagreements.  No matter how the teams got to their end result, they all agreed that the process was exciting and surprisingly hard. (And this is what our Product Teams do regularly!)


Instructure does not just pay lip-service to this [Customer Focused] concept. They clearly demonstrated, over and over again, how much they pay attention to the Canvas Community (that in itself is the best evidence of a customer focus). Then they fly 40 of us down … [and]... make available what seemed like two-dozen or more highly paid staff members for a day. Then, they didn't just solicit suggestions and listen with polite boredom. Instead they let us actively participate in the allocation of  a significant portion of their product development budget. - Kelley L. Meeusen


...we felt like our brains ran a marathon, but we had a lot of content covered and a great start for the Dev team to jump up and start on. What were we left with? About 100 sprints worth of awesome that will take us all the way to InstructureCon 2018. - Roxanne Conroy was so cool to get to talk to even more Canvas engineers at Top Golf! For example, I had a great convo with Mark who has been working on quizzes, so when that launches, I will recognize in that product the work and commitment and vision of someone I connected with in person. - Laura Gibbs


Where do I find Khaki Progress?

Progress on Khaki priorities will be communicated throughout the community. For all Project Khaki updates, check out (or follow) the Khaki Priority List . But also follow Ideas  and Release Notes  for general product updates. If you’re interested in individual Khaki-related ideas, click “follow” to receive updates on those separately.


What can I expect next?

  • We will scope and sequence the Khaki priorities to fit the greater roadmap.
  • We will take the list of Khaki priorities and the 20% budget allocation and build the best possible solutions.  
  • We will follow the process, currently in the Ideas space, by requesting your feedback and testing and sharing updates throughout the development stages.  
  • We will NOT share every detail of each priority as they move through the development process.


How can I “Khaki”?

Remember how we said that we were going to verbify “khaki”? Well, now YOU can “khaki” too! In the Khaki Priority List you will find an official tag linked to related ideas and discussions for each priority. To keep these priorities organized, here’s what you can do:

  • Avoid “kitchen sink” (all-inclusive) discussions.
  • Vote on individual and singular ideas within a priority. This helps product teams define the elements that are important.
  • Comment on existing related ideas. Your feedback qualifies these ideas further.
  • Create a new idea. (Please use the official priority tag)!


So, even if you “don’t_even_wear_Khaki”, we hope that you’ll jump in and contribute to this effort in making Canvas more awesome, or at least follow our progress! Thank you again to the Khaki 2017: Attendees  and our Product and Engineering teams. But mostly; thank you, Canvas Community, for your enthusiasm! These initiatives would not be possible without such a dynamic and active place.

Stephen Simpson

Canvas as TV Drama

Posted by Stephen Simpson Apr 19, 2017

For whatever reason, I view the underlying tension in this thread (Idea System Broken?) as similar to that of a great TV series.


Here's a great one, by the way, that you may have missed (and that I miss):

Please bear with me . . .


Every great series has a show-runner who is typically the creative force behind the show's core narrative. Sometimes this is a pair of brilliant and visionary types who then put their trust in (and participate along with) a crack team of writers and production-types that craft each episode so that it accurately conveys the show-runner's vision, style, and moves the narrative forward.


Lots of shows that have original source material (or that grow very popular) receive a tremendous amount of feedback (and pressure) from fans who, once invested in the plot and characters of the series, increasingly feel they should have a voice or influence in the narrative.


Some show-runners embrace what's called 'fan-service' and increasingly devote screen-time to things that are likely to 'please' the show's core audience like Easter eggs and guest appearances. Other show-runners view fan-service with disgust and, seeing themselves as independent auteurs, sometimes insert plot twists, deaths of beloved characters, etc. for no other reason than to spite the die-hard fans. Which approach produces the most compelling drama, on-screen? Is there a middle-ground in which fan-service is present but never compromises the show-runner's overall vision?


Obviously, Canvas is not a TV series.


Instructure is a corporation with a vision & mission predicated on making teaching and learning awesome. In its wisdom, it recognizes that, while it has significant expertise in these areas, it is of tremendous value to listen and respond to its customers who can frequently provide insights that enhance its core product (and in so doing, increase its bottom line). And boy do those customers have a lot of opinions! 


Personally, I hope that Instructure will continue with the balancing act it maintains in regard to blazing its own product-development trail in pursuit of its vision while still allowing for (and often responding to) user input via forums like the Canvas Studio. My recent experience at Project Khaki certainly confirmed my optimism that the company not only values user input but is willing to invest resources in pursuing those projects specifically-requested by its users and that are very much informed by the many relevant and specific feature requests & ideas that currently exist in the Community.

KHAKI: it all happened so fast, and now here I am back at work with a heap of stuff piled up, but I wanted to write out a quick "10 things" like Kona Jones did in her post reminiscing about the Khaki1.0. 

Memories from Khaki 2015 


And if this is tl;dr, let me just say up top: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Instructure for envisioning a project like this and making it happen. The best part, of course, is that it is not over... we are just getting started on all the projects we adopted!


And so here are my 10 off-the-top-of-my-head not-sure-where-to-start thoughts from Khaki2.0:


1. Meeting Community friends... wow, just wow! That was such a gift. Thank you to Canvas for believing in the Community and helping us to work together in this new way, and thanks of course to Scott Dennis and Renee Carney who were there and to Biray Seitz and Stefanie Sanders who are "here" every day making the Community such a great place to be.


2. Getting to work together, side by side, with Canvas engineers. I was in the Search group, and we had serious engineering participation at our table. They were amazing! I am really excited about continuing the collaboration via Khaki space here at the Community.


3. And more engineers...! it was so cool to get to talk to even more Canvas engineers at Top Golf! For example, I had a great convo with Mark who has been working on quizzes, so when that launches, I will recognize in that product the work and commitment and vision of someone I connected with in person.


4. Seeing the Instructure space: and what a great space! I loved the way the meeting rooms are named ha ha.


5. HOC STULTUM EST.   Gerol Petruzella made sure to alert me to the Latin poster on our tour!!! I should have taken a picture! Anyway, those of you who work there know the poster I mean. Maybe somebody who works there (Scott Dennis...???) could take a picture and put it here! :-)


6. And Canvas really created some networking magic for Gerol and me: we have been meeting each other in online spaces for Latin and Greek geeks before Canvas even existed... but it took Canvas for us to actually get to meet in person. And Lane Worrall too: we were the Classics triumvirate of Khaki 2.0.


7. Who's got swing? I found out that not only is Sean Nufer the master of external tools, he is also the master of golf clubs. The man has a swing!


8. Ladies too! And Deborah Bogard was not only the guiding force of our pre-Khaki introductions, she also won the women's golf tournament.


9. The logistics were flawless!!! The travel arrangements, lodging, agenda: everything came together as planned. I don't know how Callie Keach was able to get all of that done and at such short notice... but she did! 


10. SEARCH!!!!!!!!! I'll carry on with this later because I am SO HAPPY that search was one of the features that got voted up. What initially sold me on Canvas years ago was the open and public dimensions of the vision: open courses, public syllabuses, Commons. In addition to all its other benefits, I believe that a strong search feature will go a long way to help fulfill the promise of those open, public dimensions of Canvas, and I am very eager to contribute to that process as Khaki continues through our collaborative work here at the Community.


Okay, now I have to get back to the work of the day... but again, I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to everybody at Canvas who made this happen!


And of course I have a Growth Mindset Cat for this mind-stretching experience:


A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


growth mindset cat

Origin Story 


A few weeks back I got an email stating that I was invited to a mysterious event called “Khaki 2.0” from Instructure. My immediate gut instinct was “Either this is spam or it was supposed to go to the previous LMS admin before me and I just got it forwarded to my email since their inbox got joined with mine.” I quickly checked the recipient and realized it was addressed directly to me. I ignored the offer until another email came soon after asking for an RSVP. I was still thinking I wasn’t important enough to be invited to a meeting where all the head honcho’s of Canvas Product Management and Engineers gathered in a room, so I said “Unable to make it” and moved on with work and life.


About a week later, I got an email from Scott Dennis asking why I wouldn’t be making it and confessed I didn’t think it was actually intended for me and that I was unclear about what this event really even was. He quickly dispelled my insecurities reassuring me that everyone was here from various institutions and breadth of experience. I let him know I’d have to see if my manager would take it as a Professional Development day and get back. My manager quickly agree’d that he’d love to see me take this opportunity so with that, the Khaki 2.0 journey began.


Why are people wearing Khaki?

Khaki 2.0 (1.0 was held in 2015. See Kona Jones post about all the fun here!) was the name for the second meeting of especially active community members to gather at the Instructure Headquarters in Salt Lake City for a day long Product Development Meet on Initiatives that Instructure has on the table, new ones that we’ve been shouting about for a while in the Feature requests, and how we should prioritize the Engineer / Product Manager workload. The daunting process of how they create these Software initiatives and the processes they take to launch them were explained to us at the onset. 


How does a Feature become part of the Canvas family?


The Canvas Product Development Life-cycle has several stages, but determining what goes through that stage looks like this: (Khaki 2.0 only focused on the top two points. Discover the opportunities and Design an idea to help outwork the solution. )

Discover – What problem or opportunity are we trying to solve? What is success?

Design – How will we solve this to achieve success?

Develop & Test – Create and test the solution. Iterate to find balance to achieve success

Release – Prepare for public release of the solution

Evaluate – Determine if success was achieved.


Now bear in mind, as much as we’d want to wave a magic wand and make a product happen in 24 hours, unless you’ve got Harry Houdini in your back pocket, it’s not going to happen. At least, not on the Canvas-wide scale that we’ve come to know and love. They estimate their workload in a term called a “Sprint”.  In the Canvas world, 1 “Sprint” is equal to about 3 weeks and 2 Engineers worth of work. The Development team can usually see 2-3 Sprints ahead on any given project. (can you imagine working 3 weeks straight on the same project for 8 hours a day? That's massive and that's why I give major Kudos to all our Software Dev friends out there!)  


What was the Outcome?


They gave us a pretty daunting mission. Out of these some 30 odd Feature Ideas and Initiatives, pick your top 5 to vote on that you’d like to see move forward. Did I mention we had 20 minutes to place our votes?  


With some persuading and research from others, I carefully placed my initiatives and waited to hear back about the outcomes shortly after we started eating lunch. (Café Rio FTW!)


They called out the top 15 voted on ideas and after some deliberation between the Engineers, narrowed it down to 8 focus groups. They gave 1 Topic to each Product Manager in the room. Everyone divided up into which initiative they wanted to contribute to, and so we began the arduous task of fleshing out these ideas and how they could help Canvas users.


Let me tell you, this was not as easy as it sounds. My team consisted of some top notch people who knew a thing or two about Data! We were attacking the initiative regarding Advanced Reporting. (Holla! Oxana Jurosevic for corralling all of our crazy thoughts into logic and Ira Strauss, Jeff Faust, Dave Stephens, Anthony Bunag, Adam Williams, Paul Goodenough, Kelley L. Meeusen, Jacob Standish and I think you were in there too, Mike Scheid? for being part of the madness! I know I'm missing people, please let me know who!) Narrowing it down to those affected and the bare framework of the topic took up most of our time. We had to get all this info down on one sheet and present it in under 6 minutes in front of the rest of the group by the end of the day. Thus, advocating the Learn and Teach method.


After all presentations, we felt like our brains ran a marathon, but we had a lot of content covered and a great start for the Dev team to jump up and start on. What were we left with? About 100 sprints worth of awesome that will take us all the way to InstructureCon 2018.


This opportunity was incredible. Meeting the faces of the Community and all Instructure Staff was great. Being let in on the process of how these opportunities come to pass was incredible, and sharing the floor with some real sharp shooting Admin, Teacher and Developers was an honor.