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Is your software project run by underpants gnomes?

Every time I see the underpants gnomes on South Park I shudder. These are the guys who came up with the brilliant 3 phase business strategy:

File:Gnomes plan.png

Actually I think the underpants gnomes are pretty funny. But they hit a little close to home, you know? Because I’ve seen a lot of software projects that follow a similar logic.

Take for example a recent Craigslist post:

“I'd like to find a web designer that would help me build a web community like MYSPACE or FACEBOOK. I’m looking for local web designers/students that can be affordable.”

Uh, okay. You want to build a site like MySpace or Facebook without any money or experienced developers. Riiiggghhhttt.

Now perhaps I’m being cruel here. Maybe they’ve really thought this through.But somehow it feels like underpants gnomes.

I’ve experienced this personally. I once worked on a project where the customer had a big software idea that involved tracking birthdays, anniversaries, and other gift-given dates and integrating that information into commerce sites like Amazon.com. It wasn’t a bad idea, but she was pretty clueless about her market . She wanted us to build a proof of concept application that could some day talk to Amazon.com and other sites, but she didn’t have any idea how this would happen.

If you want your project to be successful, you need to have a more precise objective than "Profit”. How are you going to make money? How much money can you expect to make in order for it to be successful? And back it up with real data. Why do you think you can make that amount – is that based on your research of the potential market? If your project’s objective is designed to save time, then you should quantify how much, and again be able to explain your reasoning.

You might think it is presumptuous of me to even bring this up. But I can tell you that if you haven’t thoroughly thought through your objective and figured out how we are going to get there, the project won’t be successful. I don’t want to work on a failed project, even if I get paid for it. It reflects badly on me and it is no fun. So please leave the gnomes in your underwear drawer and come up with a real plan.

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Comments  2

  1. Mark W. Schumann 14 Nov

    Avonelle, I wrote a little bit about this phenomenon on my blog at http://blog.criticalresults.com/2009/10/30/dumb-idea-i/

    You've got the projects that will never work out because they're too complex for the technical approaches that are available to you. But you also have the projects that will never work <em>because there is no way for them to work</em>. Suppose the client with the Amazon project actually got it done--did she think through how it would turn into revenue even if it did work? No?

    These can often be the toughest clients to work with. They're not reality-based.
  2. By Avonelle Lovhaug on 17 Nov

    Mark - I think you are dead on. "Not reality-based" is a much more polite way of referring to them. I usually use "crazy".
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