Victus Spiritus


EMP Project Evolution Cycle, from Concept to Corporation

01 Dec 2009

Tokyo from the Air
This post is an organization of some of thoughts on project development, and a couple of potential life cycles. This concept is influenced from many great thinkers/practictioners in this space (Steve Blank, Fred Wilson, Paul Graham, amongst others).

Explore, Measure, Prototype: Phase 1

This stage of project evolution can be anywhere from a week or two to a couple of months part time.

Problem exploration begins with a idea that sparks our curiousity. A novel way of looking at an existing challenge begs us to explore the problem space with greater focus. The unique vision of value imagined is the seed for further exploration. Exploration could be talking to those who would benefit from the project (users/customers) or researching the theory and experimental history of a problem.

An initial idea is shared and measured. External views and behavior lead to measures (both numerical and descriptive) to aid in rapid iterative development. Expect certain efforts to be educational, but unproductive early on. Measured results help evaluate time efficiency and direction.

An evolving prototype of your project is necessary to fuel further exploration and measurement. The act of prototype creation will further knowledge of architecture and force abstract ideas to become sharpened through realization. Advanced simulation tools and modelling or live services, are implemented early and reviewed often. Mockups can serve as precursor representations before prototype implementation.

Evaluate, Mature, Prove: Phase 2

Once past the first stage, your project evolution can go in many different directions. This phase of development can last anywhere from 1-3 months or more. For graduate projects proof of concept can take years, while startup businesses are best served by achieving proof of concept as fast as possible.

Heavy evaluation and potential rearchitecting are the fundamental tools for this project phase. They both aid in project maturation. The project team must discard earlier simplistic assumptions, in favor of collected environmental evidence. In the case of web software the tool must be capable of handling rapid usage expansion while reducing the probability of error states (bugs). Priority is heavily biased towards bug reduction first.

The combination of measured feedback and problem analysis is formalized into an early proof of concept. An expert's instincts may not serve as proof, but they are invaluable input to making rapid design decisions. Proof is the result of measured response that matches your project hypothesis. Your team's confidence is backed by defendable data and reason. This proof can aid in gathering outside funding, or garner support from experts in the field.

Expand, Measure, Personalize: Phase 3/4

This phase is optional for many projects, and it's duration can range from no time at all, to a market saturation point (markets collapse and shift over many years). Research projects may not grow beyond a single individual. Businesses on the other hand, have driving forces behind growth (revenue) that can lead to massive corporate entities.

Market growth is a fundamental feauture of successful business projects. Ideally small operations efficiently provide a needed product or service and efficiently expand to fill market need. Your team's culture/style will decide the pace for expansion. Joel Spolsky describes the choice behind business identity in comparing Ben and Jerry's versus Amazon.

Throughout any expansion, a project must be continually monitored for any architectual weaknesses. Is expansion affecting your projects performance negatively? Is scale improving your projects value to users through lower cost?

Personalization and style are essential tools of differentiation within any market. Your team leaders will cultivate certain decision priorities which lead to recognizable features of your project(s). Minimalism, smooth design, rapid performance, and advanced options are all design decisions that may be embedded in hardware defaults (product physical design), or open to user customization. Design Thinking by Tim Brown explores the history of design thinking, and the modern reality of user based product customization.

Execute, Measure, Profit: Phase 3/4

This is the one of the later stages of the project evolution cycle, and is characterized by an entirely different realm of thinking. This phase can last indefinitely. It may occur instead of, or prior to expansion. It is characterized by a maintenance philosophy, and is associated with small shifts in direction. Mass production of an experimental concept, or commoditization of a novel product/service are both features of this phase.

The priority structure shifts to one of execution within a well defined problem space. Early research and evidence have driven the creation of a finely honed system. The unknown space has been replaced with a well documented and understood system.

The profit phase has several potential meanings to your particular effort:
1) Your project may result in termination long before this phase, and the profit is measured in the experiential education your team earned
2) Profit can take the form of financial wealth your project produces, revenue minus costs
3) The research qualification you long sought after is a form of Profit
4) The business team success you lead within a larger corporation results in improved profit, or benefits the host entity

Your project still thrives on measured feedback. Customer service has replaced user influenced design. The measurement system has much larger breadth, due to wide spread utility. Ongoing minor refinements are made to base line project services to optimize profit or efficiency in a dynamic problem space.

Efficiency is the resultant priority over creativity, at least until another problem emerges to disrupt the assumptions and foundations of your project.

What's your view on project evolution cycles?