Scrimmage Your Results


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.
Photo by sguryakov


  1. I’m trying to build a speaking career from my blog. It’s not an easy transition. I’ve found a lot of great people along the way. They’ve given me so much advice that I feel confident of my direction.

    Another indepth post! You are a very talented blogger.

  2. Great way to look at it J.D.

    Until you put something into practice, it’s all just theory – and often you overlook something important that you could have been prepared for if you’d taken a more hands-on approach and involved the right people.

  3. I definitely scrimmaged in my business and with my blog. Those first few months were a series of discoveries and lessons learned, much like the scrimmages you have described. In time, I was able to hone my ideas, narrow my focus, and improve my overall game plan.

  4. I really like the way you have put it here. I have have used few of these tips here and there, but this post gives an overall view.
    Scrimmaging against results helps you find strengths and weaknesses.
    The dry run shows you what you know, don’t know and need to know next.
    Trying to produce results early will allow you to find technical, people, and process issues.
    Involve people who work in that area.

  5. “Estimate” is very useful for me. It has a good approach for persuasion and the ice metaphor is just great. I am going to use it next. I hit too many situations where the decision is made based on one-sided assumptions w/o taking into account other potential risks. I find myself having hard times to persuade in such situations but this scrimmage technique seems like the way to go for me

  6. Hi J.D.
    This is a great post of insight for building a business. You got everything cover. Awesome tips, very useful and with easy to follow steps.
    Thank you,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  7. @ Karl

    Thank you!

    You’re on a great path. I think the fact you’re doing videos regularly is a great way to put your speaking skills into practice.

    Here’s a couple things that might help you on your journey. Check out Jerry Weissman. His methodology has served a lot of people very well. Also check out David Chappell. What’s interesting about David’s approach is he treats speaking like a performance and he scripts his play. He’s been a professional speaker and writer for many years.

    @ Louisa

    Thank you.

    My worst surprises have come when I didn’t test the waters. The first thing I do now on any project is start testing the waters in all the high-risk areas. I don’t need to solve everything, but I do need to know where I’m going to need extra effort down the line.

    @ Melissa

    It’s definitely paid off. Your blog shows a lot of focus, intent, and clarity.

    @ Akshay

    Thank you.

    That’s a good replay of the essence. I think the dry run is probably the most effective practice when you’re first figuring out the path. I think the show and tell then is a great reality check and forcing function afterwards to help make the emotional connection.

    @ Alik

    Estimation is tough. I often see estimates based on how long somebody wants it to take versus knowing how long the work should actually take. It’s tough too because of different quality bars. The worst surprise though is when you don’t know the work involved and you’re right, that’s where the scrimmage helps out.

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you.

    It’s from the school of hard knocks. I’ve lead so many projects that I’ve learned to scrimmage results early on now. No matter how many times I think I’ve been there or done that, it’s always a new situation or new people or new challenges. Scrimmaging serves me well.

  8. I like the idea of review it with others. Within the concept of teamwork, additional eyes and minds bring a wider range of analysis. It’s easier to spot problems or solutions within this framework.

  9. @ Gennaro

    Great way to put it. In fact, you reminded me of a book called Smart Questions which is really about leveraging a range of minds and perspectives.

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