The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. – Scotty, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Why do you think we create new things – products, services, software, businesses?
Is it because we know something others don’t about what is needed in the world?
Or are we trying to find our way, like explorers hacking through dense undergrowth hoping to discover a new world?
The fact is that most of us are uncertain – should be uncertain.
Certainty is for show, an act put on to convince an audience.
Inside, we should listen and watch because that’s how we learn.
So what does any of this have to do with software and business?
The point is that we face many problems in business and our ways of dealing with them seem woefully inadequate.
Take training, for example.
If you’re a large organisation you might have a person in charge of training. Someone who organises everything and makes sure people attend.
In a small company, however, your training might consist of sitting next to someone who learned their job a few weeks ago.
That’s not a good strategy if you want a trained workforce that works well together.
Or let’s say you’re a small business that needs to increase sales. You’ve got a website, do lots of digital marketing, run events and do all the things you should be doing.
Is that enough? Should you be doing something else?
The thing with most business problems is they are wicked – they don’t have a simple solution. If they did, you would have sorted the problem already.
It’s like trying to box a beanbag – you can hammer away at one end and all that happens is it bulges out somewhere else.
And this is the problem we come across if we try and apply any kind of theory to a practical situation.
For example, Gary Vaynerchuck talks a lot about creating media and dominating your space on different platforms.
He’s a good role model because he dominates his platform. By definition, however, you can only have a few dominant entities – the rest have to scrabble in the shadows.
So what we really need to do is try to get an understanding of what could happen for us.
And that’s something that software developers call a story.
There is a person at the centre of a story – it could be you, a customer or someone you want to work with.
This person – the protagonist – is going to have experiences and you’ve got to try and put them down in words.
For example: This prospect I’m talking to doesn’t believe that it’s possible to do what I say can be done.
You might have lots of such story fragments.
As you collect related fragments you might end up with quite a large pile – which developers call an epic.
But an epic is too large to hold in your head and so you need to select a few stories and link them together.
Stories in a sequence make up a storyboard – just like in the films.
For example, it might include:
- I’ve got a case study that describes what we did.
- We’ve got customers who can vouch for us.
- We can put you in touch with the authorities who work with us on this.
As you link stories together you get a coherent narrative – a story that makes sense.
And that’s when you finally build a feature.
In business – that’s when you create a new process or initiative and allocate resources.
Now, this approach something developers call agile – and I’ve probably missed lots of nuances.
The thing that appeals to me is that the idea of writing stories replaces the idea of writing business plans and specifications.
Those kinds of document focus on what needs to be done rather than what the person at the centre of it all is experiencing.
We can get much closer to how a person thinks and feels by writing a story than we can writing a list of requirements.
It’s a more empathetic way of approaching a problem.
And the one thing we don’t do enough in the modern world of business is start with people.