The First Idea

I don’t like first ideas. Most people working with me may have painfully experienced that1.

I really think that idea generation is vital in our business. We can’t afford (anymore) to take the first idea and start working. Knowing the alternatives is much too important. All too often I see people thinking of a problem and the first idea that seems to make sense is it. These (non)efforts result in changing directions in the middle of the development, or in starting over. Both very expensive experiences.

Sometimes the fist glance (see Blink2) is very important and a very powerful tool. But in this case, with systems more complex than most other products in the world, that won’t work.

I really enjoyed Scott Berkuns “The Art of Project Management3”. Especially because he dedicated some pages on that problem. When we start to think about a problem we should explore the problem space as far as possible4. Know what’s allowed to do and think of as much possible solution within these boundaries as possible. At some point the solution space stops expanding and collapses. This is partly because some solutions are not feasible, and partly because the solutions overlap. At the end you should have a few very distinct solution-proposals. Now it’s time to analyze those. Do they really solve your problem? Is this what the users want? Is it feasible? How much does it cost?

At the end of this process you should have one solution which is very likely significantly different from the first idea. And you have a high chance that you’ve chosen one of the best solutions possible.

Bad ideas simply lead to bad products, but also good ideas lead to bad products if the rest fails. Nevertheless, many of the failing projects4 have problems with their foundation (requirements and ideas) than with the implementation (design and code). Unfortunately changing the foundation gets very expensive the further the project develops.

1 On the other hand, my blog-articles are rarely more than a blink of an early idea.

2 Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

3 The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun

4 You have to know when to stop.

5 Number vary, but standish offered these: 31% are cancelled before completion, and 22% slip their schedules. Most of them had problems with their foundations.

I don’t stop searching for a needle in the haystack, even if I’ve already found one.
— Thomas EdisonThe scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.
— Nikola Tesla