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Implied Complexity

RussspacepenI've always loved the story about the NASA pursuit to find the perfect pen for astronauts.  Independent businessman Paul Fisher spent one million dollars of his own money to develop a writing utensil that could be effectively used in space.  Wow!  What an impressive project!  Fisher must have felt so proud to have accomplished such a feat that would move the space program forward exponentially.  That is, of course, until it was publicized that the Russians had beaten them to it.  The Russians used pencils.

How about your project scope?  Are you making your project scope way too complex?  James P. MacLennan wrote a post advising project managers to keep things simple to avoid scope creep.  His comments made me smile:

Keep It Simple, Sir! Feature creep is the greatest enemy of the short-term project. Some features (like quality / testing) are not what you'd want to negotiate out of the project. Thinking about cutting short on documentation? You naughty, normal person ...

But how do you keep it simple?  How do you avoid complexity in your project scope?  How do you avoid adding too much too soon?  I like Rosa Say's approach.  Ask "why"... A LOT.  Asking the right question can lead to a much simpler project scope than asking a lot more of the wrong questions.  If NASA had just asked for a writing utensil that can work in space, they may have come up with the pencil solution.  Instead, they added a constraint (pen) which added complexity to the scope.

What questions do you need to ask about your projects to keep the complexity in check and prevent scope from getting out of hand?

Carpe Factum!


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Great advice, Timothy. I remember back in the days of returnable glass bottles when a friend proudly explained that he had devised a handy system for returning a half-dozen or so 8-packs of Pepsi bottles at one time. The system involved a piece of clothesline running through the handles of the cartons and elaborately wrapped around his arm. When I explained that I simply piled my cartons into an empty shopping cart and wheeled them into the store, he went silent for a moment before quietly replying, "Oh. That's probably better." It's amazing how we often make things more complicated than necessary. Thanks for the reminder.

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