When it has to be there Tomorrow

You’re filling a sudden order to bang out a Powerpoint presentation for 500 people by morning, and need to walk in looking rested and in control. You need to launch a web site yesterday, because your new client already mailed out their secondary marketing, and their own servers just died. The mobile headquarters of your social action group has twelve hours to get an underground newsletter together and get it into key places before the start of business in the morning.

bugger all, late night work
Image by cervus via Flickr

You’re doing rapid prototyping. Frankly, I love this stuff. Combine virtuosity, brainstorming, and fingers flying so fast on the keyboard that they’re invisible, with a near impossible deadline, bragging rights at the end, and showing off the next day (which consists in just being done and effective), and I’m so there. The sense of accomplishment is immense.

Some key helpers for rapid prototyping:

  • Go lean – if twelve slides can be one, make it one. The genius is in the layout and arrangement.
  • Gang up – work fast and furious with a symbiotic team – some of the best stuff is clabbered together in smoke filled rooms with papers spread out on the floor, someone at the keyboard, someone at the whiteboard, and someone making the coffee runs, making notes, and giving things another eye.
  • Focus on the big picture - get a working model up and running – if the broadstrokes are wrong, you’ll just end up starting over – the details can be nitpicked afterward, and it’s amazing how many opinions that get absolutized when you’ve got lots of time (which word, which phrase, which color arrow to use) don’t seem so contentious when you’ve got a reasonable time frame left to flesh out the details. Again… at the risk of being redundant… if the concept is wrong, you’ll be starting over – know what you want to deliver and why – don’t get sidetracked by tweaks.
  • Everyone matters – don’t underestimate any of your team members. Often, the one who’s got his feet up and only refills the coffee pot now and then ends up having the key idea that’s responsible for the most successful chunk of your work. Everyone should be operational, but not necessarily doing what we think – besides, remember the Pareto Principle. 20% of the people will seem to be doing 80% of the work. It doesn’t matter.
  • Have organized messes - sometimes it’s cut and paste and two or three mockups before you get it right, and the trash bags in the corner are your best friend. Make a mess, but have piles, and keep your ideas up on the whiteboard. If you don’t have a whiteboard, write on the wall. It’s faster to re-paint later than be at Walmart for 30-minutes with that one cashier they have left at night.
  • Take micro-breaks – don’t try to justify 15 minute breaks for two cigarettes, video games, and bags of Cheetos. If you’re doing that, you’re not serious. A break is a 3-minute walk away to relieve yourself. You keep your momentum, but there is where you have some of your best summary ideas. If you take 15-minutes, you lose 35, so don’t.

What if you’re doing it alone?: Then you have to stop periodically, and become your audience, and look at that way. Then again, and become your stakeholders, and look at it that way. If you’re doing it alone, you have to be ingenious. And, you may need to set an absolute drop-dead time for sleep, based on the minimum that will sustain you, because very likely that’s what you’ll get. If you’ve got a friend or colleague that can grasp the immediate needs, deal with what (for some people) feels like pressure, and contribute to rather than drain your productivity, make the call. If your friends are just as likely to slow you down or distract you or need tons of looking after on mundane tasks, do it alone. Create the team in your head.

This isn’t meant to be a master-guide to rapid prototyping, just a few comments. If there were more to say, there’d be less to do. The key points: it’s fun, there are some good tips, and you can do it alone if you have to.

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