J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Start With Something Simple

Start With Something Simple

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What's the best way to build momentum and get results?  Start with something simple.  Seriously.  I get to see folks who get results and those who don't.  The difference nine times out of ten isn't smarts.  It's simply action.  The smart folks who don't get results, either get stuck in analysis paralysis or add too many dependencies up front.  The folks who get results start taking action and adjust along the way.

Why This Works
Starting with something simple works.  It's not that thinking up front doesn't help.  It certainly does.  The problem is, three things can happen along the way:

  • At some point, your thoughts are based on way too many assumptions and you don't know what you don't know.  You then find out too little too late.
  • Somebody faster came along.  While you're thinking, they're doing.
  • In the absence of results, your idea slowly dies inside.

The best way to fuel your fire is to incrementally get results.  Start with something simple.  Results feed on themselves.  If you start with something small, you'll learn faster and you'll start to adapt.  You'll inform your thinking.

How To Start
Start with the smallest thing you can personally do.  If you don't know where to start, here's key questions to help:

  • What's the simplest thing you could do?
  • What could you do today?

Personally, I find asking what I can do today to be the most effective.  Time is a great forcing function.  It's very easy to cut scope using time.  If you don't respect time, then it's very easy to add way too many things that will never happen.

Fail Fast
While starting with something simple helps build momentum, you'll also want to quickly spike on your risks.  You can do this separately, after you have some success under your belt. 

To fail fast, cut your idea into thin end-to-end slices and test your results.  For example, take one story or usage scenario and try to instantiate it.  Even before you build the solution, simply doing a dry run will reveal a lot of questions you can use to shape your approach.

The purpose of failing fast isn't to fail.  It's to uncover your risks and pick better paths.

Self-Start Techniques for the Action-challenged
If you know your pattern is to think a thought to death before daring make a move, then here's a quick way out.  Here's two proven practices:

  • Find reference examples.  Using time as your friend, and a proven technique as your guide, challenge yourself to find three working examples of your idea, or at least things you can model from.  Reference examples will both speed your learning and keep you inspired.
  • Find a way to share your idea.  Can you share your idea on a slide?  Can you whiteboard your idea and take a picture?  Show it to a friend or two and get some quick, honest feedback.

Once you get in the habit of just getting started, you'll wonder how you ever got stuck in the first place.

Success Snowballs
At the end of the day, nothing succeeds like success.  Success is a snowball, so build on your successes.  Good luck, and get started, on whatever it is that you've been thinking about starting.

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