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Tales of Tech and Innovation: Ambition versus Reality

Tales of Tech and Innovation: Ambition versus Reality

Tales of Tech and Innovation: Ambition versus Reality

We’ve all had clients with big dreams and great ambitions, but what if you have so many moving parts and constraints that you need to rethink your entire methodology and approach? Don’t get me wrong we are not Process Purists by any means – believing strongly in Situational Excellence i.e. finding the optimal solution given the constraints. 

But when constraints include a fixed budget and timeline, high-quality first launch, and limited flexibility on scope – can you really run an Agile project? 

Informulate was first hired to do solution design and architecture for MasterMind, a startup in the health space, and our first task was to assess the codebase of a mobile app delivered by an offshore vendor. 

Arnold (CEO @ MasterMind) suspected that code quality may be an issue and invited Informulate in to get a second opinion. The code and architecture were indeed poor and recommended a full rewrite. Arnold agreed with a launch date in 5 months, and we seemed to be headed in the right direction. 

Ambitions and reality can be difficult to reconcile though. 

As we began designing the new architecture – Arnold, being the ambitious and passionate founder he is, wanted to not only scale the current offering but also acquire another company and integrate the solutions together. Of course, this required us to change our approach a bit but the budget and timeline were unmoved. 

As we were wrapping up architecture, Arnold felt we needed to do better market analysis and hired a third-party vendor to advise. While this, in itself, seemed like a good idea – it caused us to pause as the scope continued to shift. Arnold further shared that he wanted to enter Pilot with a major client and so quality had to be very high. 

So we had MasterMind, us, the new acquisition, and a market analysis firm all trying to coordinate toward a high-quality Pilot launch with a fixed timeline and budget. This many moving parts can be a disaster, and we knew we could not let things drift.

The pressure was on. 

Our team is designed with agile methodology in mind. We move and respond to concerns quickly and adapt where necessary but with a fixed budget and timeframe, we realized we need to tweak our approach. 
 

We don’t always do fixed bid projects, but when we do – it has more Big Design Up Front.

So we took a step back and asked Arnold what he was optimizing for. The budget was fixed, the timeline was fixed, and quality needed to be high – the only thing that had some play was scope. And even that was being dictated by the market analysis firm. This was going to be about technical leadership, finding the right path, and providing guidance. 

We had to go into risk mitigation mode. Every “i” had to be dotted and every “t” had to be crossed. Detailed conversations and negotiations ensued, and we finalized a scope that was going to be tight but feasible. We spent almost 60% of our timeline on requirements and design before we wrote a single line of code. 

At the end of this, we delivered a comprehensive, functional, and technical specification that united all of these streams. Arnold signed off on it, and all teams began to execute the plan – knowing that every day was precious. 

The project management gods smiled and it all came together like a finely tuned orchestra – on time, and under budget. 

So what’s the takeaway? One size does not fit all. The way you do things or have always done things does not mean that’s the only way to get it done. Be open-minded, and listen to everyone in the room before deciding which path to take. 

We certainly met our project deliverables but – where are they now?

Unfortunately, MindMaster is no more. Could the outcome have been better if he had taken a more Agile approach? Possibly. Perhaps Arnold bit off more than he could chew. Perhaps market forces shifted. Maybe he only had one throw of the dice left. 

As a leader, it is important to know what constraints you are setting for your team/s and while it might seem like unmoveable targets are the way to get the most efficiency – it may also hold you back. Remember that local maxima can be achieved with optimization and constraints but global maxima needs more creativity and flexibility to get to. 

Story by Rajiv Menon, CEO and Founder @ Informulate

(Client and character names changed for privacy)

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