It’s one thing to predict your downstream results. It’s another to test it. I’m a fan of scrimmaging against results to find my strengths and weaknesses as early in the project as possible. I encourage others to do the same. In sports, a scrimmage is when you play another team informally. Playing teams in scrimmages before the season starts, helps reveal strengths and weaknesses before it counts. Think of it like this. If you were on a brand new soccer team would you include real play, scrimmages, in your practice? Or would you want to focus only on drills and book learning up to your first real game?
Do a Dry Run
At work, when you’re on a new project, you can scrimmage against producing real results. Do a dry run of the end-to-end product as quickly as possible, to find the risks. The dry run shows you what you know, don’t know and need to know next. Even if you’ve been there and done that, scrimmaging your results is going to quickly tell you what’s different about this particular problem or situation.
It’s a Forcing Function
It becomes a forcing function. The act of trying to produce real results early, means you have to figure out the work to be done. It also means you start asking better questions. Whiteboards and slides are one thing. Producing a real outcome is another. The anti-pattern is doing a bunch of up front analysis and design, without testing your assumptions. Trying to produce real results early, means you’ll find not just technical issues, but people and process too. Finding these earlier vs. later is a good thing. If you know what these issue are, you can prioritize them and budget your time and effort accordingly.
Work Breakdown Structures
One of the best outcomes of your scrimmage is an improved work breakdown structure (WBS). Think of the work breakdown structure as a skeleton of the work. If you don’t know the work to be done, you’re flying blind. While you don’t need to know the nooks and crannies up front, you do need a basic map of the terrain. The work breakdown structure gives you a great vantage point:
- who do you need for the work and do you have the right people?
- how will things take?
- what will bite you downstream?
- where do you need to spend more effort?
Tips for Work Breakdown Structures
Here’s some key tips for work breakdown structures:
- Focus efforts on the plumbing versus the interior decorating. The goal is to avoid significant do overs.
- Focus on an outcome-driven work breakdown structure. Don’t focus on the activities. Focus on the what over the how. If you know the outcomes, you’ll find the right strategies. If you go activity first, you’ll get mired and lose what’s important.
- Review it with others. When you have a work breakdown structure, you can review it with others.
- If you really don’t get what needs to be done, ask somebody who’s been there. If somebody’s gone to Antarctica before you, ask them for their map and make sure they review your map. You’ll have plenty of chances to get creative along the way, but start with a proven baseline and work backwards from success where you can.
Ballpark figures are one thing. Depending on how much your estimates matter, you’ll need to test your assumptions. Nothing is as revealing as actually doing it. If shoveling the drive-way takes you a 1/2 hour, you have a good idea for the rest. You might test a few icy spots, but at least you’re informed. Most importantly, involve the people that do the work in the estimates.
The Scrimmage Mindset
While doing a dry run of your end-to-end project isn’t a novel concept, I hope the scrimmage metaphor gives you a very crisp way to think about testing your results earlier versus later. I’ve seen too many projects or people fail when I know if they just would have scrimmaged against results, they would have made better, informed decisions.