The foundation is the most important part of the process; with an airtight plan, success is just a matter of straightforward implementation, right? Unfortunately, real life is never quite that easy. When it comes to presenting amazing deliverables, establishing a concrete and unmovable plan up-front misses one key fact: time isn’t static.
Documentation is important, and teams absolutely should be following a strong gameplan through to the deadline, but first and foremost the team needs to act like a team. Importantly here, the concept of team extends even further. That is, the client should form part of the team as well. This broader team mentality lends itself to greater collaboration, greater agility, and a propulsion to better results.
Shortcomings of an Up-front Design
This article does not mean to argue that foundations are unimportant—quite the opposite, in fact. Instead, consider that we may be focusing on the wrong thing when we talk about the foundation for a high-quality deliverable. Our mindset when it comes to preparing and executing a project tends to be so linear. That is to say that we always look to move on from old points, and that revisiting points are a sign of failure or weakness. Some things, like budgeting, probably should be thought of in this linear sense. Other things, though, would benefit from a more fluid approach. Planning is one example.
Setting up a reasonable idea of how things should go during the project is, of course, a good idea. Great results don’t tend to come firing from the hip. That said, every hour and dollar put into the planning stage is time and money that isn’t being put into the deliverable. This means that forming rock-solid and airtight documentation quickly starts to present diminishing returns.
There’s also another very strong drawback to doubling down on airtight documentation. The planning period is the time when you know least about the project. Let’s repeat this in the next section.
The Power of Collaboration
When talking about valuing working software over comprehensive documentation, we’re mainly talking about two things: learning and collaboration. For the first part, we return to our description of the linear timeline. The truth of the matter is that you learn more about any project once you start getting your hands dirty. As great as your research may be, rare is the case in which implementation was a straightforward consequence of the planning. Usually, there are obstacles and caveats to navigate.
Those caveats are the product of learning. Once the work starts, you either run into some things that were left unconsidered, or the environment simply changes. Again, time is not static, so the condition under which the project must be completed will likely be different during and after the project compared to before. As you learn more about the project, it doesn’t make sense to ignore this extra information or to just see it as an inconvenience for the sake of sticking to an “airtight” plan.
Deviating from this linear mindset depends heavily on having a collaborative process. It’s not that planning doesn’t happen, rather that planning is happening constantly throughout the project. As time changes, both conditions and expectations change as well, both on the side of the company and on the side of the client. Ultimately, a perfect outcome will depend on the input and evaluations of both of these parts, which is why the client should be viewed as a part of the team whose collaboration during the project is both inevitable and necessary. We are all acutely aware of how quickly trends in the market can come and go in the blink of an eye, and so it is unreasonable that any professional project be planned out during initial conversations alone.
Agility as a Takeaway
The common thread through all of this is being able to act with agility. Conditions will change throughout the completion of the project, and so we should act to address them. Meeting these changes, however, can be difficult if the team is tied to a pre-constructed plan of action. Opening the door to meaningful and constant collaboration between the team and the client allows for new information to constantly be incorporated into the collective knowledge and, ultimately, for a final product that is better suited to the most relevant and updated context of the client. Foundation is important but, more than comprehensive documentation, foundation means a team.
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