Ideas, prototypes and Murphy's law...

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

To this day I remember this short engagement between a sales professional and a "hardened" General Manager (hGM)... it went something like this - 

Sales Professional: "I think we need to do this... I would do it this way... It would be great for the company and I know people who could help us get it done."

hGM: "Great idea... You have my support to do it. Let me know if you need anything."

Sales Professional: "Really? Great... I'm going to do it."

There was some more enthusiastic discussion about the idea and then the sales professional moved off to another discussion.

hGM: "He will never do it you know"

I looked at the hardened General Manager and sipped my wine. He was right, the sales professional never did what he was so enthusiastic about. His idea never happened... either because he had no intention to do more than talk about it (as the hGM surmised) or maybe, he simply didn't know how to bring it to life. 

An idea, in the end, is just "cocktail conversation with a hGM" until you are able to bring action or tangibility to it and make it physically real. So what does it take to bring an idea to life?

Well in my experience you need...

a Time and Event Schedule To Make IT Happen (TESTMITH): This is a detailed calendar of events broken into weekly blocks that outline all the activities needed to progressively build your idea and make something tangible with it. It usually starts with a completion date in mind and then you work backwards identifying all the activities needed to develop something real. The order of these activities need to be reviewed as some activities build upon others, and so forth; my experience is bringing ideas to life is an iterative process. There is an important mechanism that comes with the TESTMITH - A weekly review, as well as creating a simple dashboard using GREEN for complete, YELLOW for in progress and RED for not started. This makes it easy to map your progress, communicate and identify future roadblocks. Plus it's very colourful.

To build a Prototype: Prototypes are exciting for a number of reasons!

  • Your idea is now real... you can touch it, you can see it, and more importantly, so can others. 
  • You have insight into what is needed to build it, the challenges, and what will be needed to build more (aspects of scale up).
  • You now have the first iteration that all other improved versions will be build from.  
  • They help show progress, as some prototypes are needed for the next activity in your TESTMITH.

Resources: Approach all of this with the assumption that resources are slim; more often than not it will be you, and if lucky, a trusted few to make it happen. And you will have you roll up your own sleeves, as there is not much opportunity to delegate here; people and processes are not used to making small quantities or "one offs". More often than not you will have to be creative with material and the resources needed to "build it". It is even tougher when money is in short supply -  Creativity, inventiveness and resourcefulness come in handy.

And this brings it us to Murphy's law, which states, and I quote, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." 

No mater how well you have planned, reviewed and controlled, something inevitably comes along and throws a wrench in your plans. Just imagine working on 20 prototype kits, where each prototype has over 50 pieces and each needs a label... now imagine, spending a day hand labelling all those pieces just to come back the following day to find a majority of the labels were peeling away. Five days later, more labelling and testing, it turns out the room was much too dry to let the glue on the label cure properly. Who would have thought? I sure hadn't when I started.  

Business literature is filled with characteristics of the human condition that help us deal with Murphy's Law and make our ideas real - Persistence, resilience, courage, conviction, determination, belief, sacrifice, etc. It is here that all ideas become real, and everything else is just "process".

So when Murphy's law strikes and the labels fall off, dig deep into the human condition.