I suppose being in the software development industry for 25 years makes me a veteran. I am not sure what that means when technology changes so much, but some aspects do not change. The projects I have completed all fit into one of three phases of maturity. The way you approach these projects differs.
Projects start with an idea. Someone decides that they have a problem that can be solved with technology. In this phase, we help take an idea and turn it into a proof of concept. Some clients come to us, and they need to take the next step. They have built their proof of concept and need to make it ready for release. The last phase of maturity is a project that is already solid but needs support. In this article, I am going to focus on the beginning, Idea to Concept.
Delivering solutions is not just about technology. It is critical to understand the business behind it and the constraints that are in play. No matter the budget a client has, this phase is about proving the solution as quickly and economically as possible. Even the best ideas can fail when they hit the market. The goal is to find this out as quickly as possible. This concept is something technologists often disregard. A solution that can handle the load of 10 million users does not matter if 10 million users do not think it is a good idea.
Do Not Start with Technology
When approaching these projects, start with defining what success means. Is it generating revenue? Reducing workload? Enabling a process? Decide what it is you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes it is not. It is never about technology. Whatever it is, it should be clear if it is successful. When defining success, create clear goals that can be measured.
Build as Little as Possible
Once you’ve defined what success is, you can start to apply technology. Far too often, technologists think about another project they completed that is already mature. They know how hard it was to go from the concept to the final phase and, as a result, they start to build too much. All of that is a waste if it is not successful. The goal is to build as little as possible to meet your definition of success.
Do Not Forget What You Have Learned
This is where the balance and art of all of this come into play. I just finished making the point about not building too much because it is a waste. But… what if? A veteran in this industry knows when it is critical to solve a “what if” problem or punt it down the line. What if the system is used by 10 million people? There are times when you should build something that isn’t necessary to meet the definition of success, but if done now will save countless hours in the future. Great technologists know when you should and shouldn’t make this investment to the system.
Wrap it up
In the end, a successful concept project will have a clear outcome. The idea is either going to work, or it isn’t. If it doesn’t work, it’s time to regroup. Why didn’t it? Is there something you could do differently? If so, start over with the concepts laid out here. If it does work, it’s time to get back to work and take this concept to release. I’ll cover how to approach those projects in a future article.
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