Six Ways to Sunday

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Summary: The fastest solution to a problem happens when many people independently take different approaches to solving it.

Details:

Large problems can usually be broken up into smaller specific problems.

There are six distinct approaches to developing a good solution to a specific problem. You can’t know beforehand which approach is fastest because it depends on too many variables and you don’t have enough information.

If you and your collaborators have enough resources to support it, the fastest route to a good solution is to tackle the problem from all 6 angles at once (i.e. “Six Ways to Sunday”) and share your progress as you go:

  1. Use an existing product you already have on hand, already know how to use, and already know will do the job. You test it for this application and it works.
  2. Buy an existing product you’ve used in the past but don’t have on hand. When it arrives, you test it for this application and it works.
  3. Buy an existing product you’ve never used before, but you think (because of experience or because of the spec sheet) will do the job. You test it and it works.
  4. Buy an existing product that isn’t specified for what you need, but you suspect will work, so you buy it and test it to confirm your suspicion. You test it and it works.
  5. Back an external (i.e. crowd-funded or other contracted) campaign to design, build and test what you need.
  6. Design, build, and test a product that does what you think you need. This has several additional dimensions of its own:
    1. Design from scratch vs. tweaking the designs of existing products. People searching for #’s 3, 4 and 5 can feed into this by notifying team-mates of potential jumping-off points.
    2. There’s a continuum between designing the heck out of concepts (i.e. lots of calculations and white papers) with too little testing (Yin), and testing the heck out of concepts with too little analysis (Yang). Effective engineering is a balance of the two, but a broad range of Yin/Yang balances can work, and you can’t know in advance which balance delivers a good solution fastest.

If you do create a new solution, be sure to profit from your efforts by selling your solution to other teams, whether it’s through crowd-funding or conventional marketing & sales. If you needed it and couldn’t find it, it’s likely that someone else needed it and couldn’t find it too.