Sunday, July 5, 2009

Getting it right versus getting it perfect

I’m a big fan of iterative design – getting something out there quickly and refining it along the way. I also recognize the limitations and dangers of this approach:

Too little planning. Rushing to get something out doesn’t release you from thinking about what you’re really doing. Lots of bad presentations happen this way – in a rush to get it done, no one seems to remember why or what they’re actually doing (audience, messages, etc).

No additional iterations. Just because you’ve hit the first milestone doesn’t mean the product is good or even halfway evolved. You can’t stop at the first draft, you have to actually keep developing to take advantage of the value if the approach. Usually fairly quickly (sometimes hours, not days or weeks).

Ego. To take advantage of a group’s collective insight (no matter how small the group), one must set one’s ego aside and really listen to comments and suggestions, adopting the ones that best serve the projects’ objectives. Not so easy.

But maybe the biggest challenge of iterative design is getting started – just doing it. There seems to be a basic human apprehension (at least among some of us) to put something out there if it’s not absolutely perfect. Of course, sometimes this is a good thing – I don’t want to use a bridge that was built off a napkin sketch – but often (especially within small teams) getting the first cut out quickly for some live feedback has real advantages. And if (or when) things change, then they change. No big deal. (As long as everyone knows that they may be looking at a work-in-progress.) Feedback from real users (the audience, customers, clients, etc.) has a great way of quickly focusing attention on what really matters.

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