Eric Jackson, founder of DeepWeave Technology Consulting, says the chief obstacle to successful execution of big projects is what you don’t know.

And the best way to find out what you don’t know is to get started quickly, but use plenty of checkpoints to find out how things are going. That way, when things go wrong, you’ll be able to catch it in time to avoid the big costs associated with last-minute fixes. Jackson suggests beginning with a pilot project—design the same project but on a smaller scale. When tackling the bigger version, do it iteratively. “Rather than creating components separately and integrating them later, build the entire system with much of the functionality left in vestigial form, then gradually flesh the system out over time. The advantage of this approach is that whole-system interaction issues are encountered from the beginning and it is here that many of the toughest issues arise.” He suggests leapfrogging the easy bits to get at the toughest components right away. Once the big problems have been solved, the rest can be dealt with quickly, using simplified or off-the-shelf solutions if possible. Visualize the completed project in action; imagine all aspects—building it, using it, maintaining it. Think about who you’re forgetting—regulators?  Influential customers? The press? Also, add a pessimist to the team: “Assume there is an object ahead and focus on finding it, rather than arguing about whether it is there.” And finally, cultivate time for reflection—this is the only way to discover if you’re on the wrong path in time to find the right one.

Local 15 Dec 2003