Our CTO just went to a Hackers & Founders event, which is geared toward people interested in start-ups. He came back really energized from all the new ideas he heard, and the atmosphere vibrating of pre-bubble entrepreneurship vitality in the room.
When I asked him about any theme framing those various ideas, he said it was all over the map, but one common theme was the general quest for help in taking ideas to the next level, starting with prototyping.
More than drafting
The need to clearly define a project to ensure its successful implementation is a common issue that many of our prospects and clients have, even well established institutions. A recent example is the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, who asked Six Feet Up to help them spec out their sophisticated web project.
Planning isn't a light task. It involves communicating, brainstorming, pondering, envisioning, reassuring, erasing, re-drafting, resolving, convincing, to cite a few activities.
Having done that for 10 years, we now package that type of assistance in a Discovery & Analysis service that creates the foundation for a successful implementation.
What is a "Discovery"?
Planning first requires to "discover" what it is you want. This should be straight-forward, right? Yet, it usually isn't so.
Start with Why
"What is it you are trying to gain from this project?"
A common problem is that you may already be so close to the project that you have lost track of what the project was supposed to do for you in the first place. You may even be going down the dangerous path of making decisions for the sake of the project itself, without stepping back to look at the big picture. This is why we usually start with the seemingly innocent question "what is it you are trying to gain from this project?". This question usually leads to "what is your organization trying to accomplish", which generally starts a healthy and long-due debate on strategy.
In addition, your organization may have a collaborative decision making process, which means someone needs to get everybody on the same page. The planning phase involves listening to each department's desires and concerns, writing them down, and carefully addressing them.
Develop The Stories
Once you have written down the main goals and developed the top most important user's stories (and everybody agrees), the next step is to create a site map (for a website or intranet project) so as to lay out the information architecture and understand how content will be organized.
Once the site map is in place, you can then proceed on with the development of wireframes. Wireframes are functional mockups that the various stakeholders of a project can interact with to simulate how end-users will interact with the application. This is a powerful way to put everybody on the same page and align expectations. Making changes at this stage is fast and effortless, and will save huge amounts of time and money down the road. This is also a great way to develop specifications as you capture feedback from your team members.
Once the wireframes are getting in a final stage, and if the project's complexity warrants it, architecture diagrams may be developed to serve as technical reference points to the various engineers working on the project. This is extremely important to allow a smooth knowledge transfer to any development team and avoid vendor lock-in.
All of this discovery work serves as a foundation for a detailed project plan that includes a budget and time estimate, and is clearly linked to the initial goals and the previous deliverables. The foundations for the future traceability matrix have been laid.
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
- Abraham Lincoln
Save Time, Cut Costs
Abraham Lincoln didn't know anything about the web, but his advice still applies to software development: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Since we started adopting this Discovery & Analysis methodology, we have seen development timeframes and costs cut down by 40%.
And every single time a client pressures us to skip this phase, the project gets bogged down with confusing specifications at best, and costly re-writes at worst. Nobody would have a house built without blueprints, yet web projects get developed without a clear plan all the time and web project managers get blamed for projects going over budget or low quality in the final product due to the lack of clarity and details in the planning phase.
Are you interested in increasing the quality of your web projects while significantly reducing development costs? Then please contact us and we'll share with you our experience in successfully taking ideas to the implementation stage.