Welcome back to episode 3 of Season 22 of our Building Better Developers podcast. In this episode, we continue exploring problem-solving strategies. Previously, we discussed general problem-solving approaches. This episode delves into a nuanced topic: Solving Problems Without Solving the Problem. This concept frequently arises in various professional contexts, particularly in project management and consultancy.

Listen to Rob and Michael Discuss Solving Problems Without Solving the Problem

The Paradox of Over-Delivering

Often, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re asked to demonstrate your ability to solve a problem. This could be through creating a proof of concept, drafting a proposal, or designing a demo. However, the challenge lies in balancing showing your capability for solving the problem and over-delivering to the point where you’ve essentially completed the project without a formal commitment. It’s a common scenario in industries involving side hustles and freelance work.

Why Solving Problems Without Solving the Problem Matters

Imagine agreeing to demonstrate a solution, only to have the client continually ask for a bit more until you realize you’ve spent countless hours on something that isn’t yet contracted. This predicament is akin to a lawyer giving away free advice until they’ve essentially provided their entire service without compensation. The key is knowing where to draw the line.

Proof of Concept (PoC) as a Strategy

So, how do we navigate this delicate balance? We advise starting with a small, manageable PoC. The PoC should be a scaled-down version of the potential solution designed to validate key assumptions and feasibility without excessive time and resource investment. Here’s how to approach it:

  1. Identify the Core Problem: Clearly define what you’re trying to solve.
  2. Start Small: Begin with a minimal dataset or a simplified version of the problem.
  3. Incremental Testing: Gradually expand the scope, testing the solution with increasingly larger datasets or more complex scenarios.

For instance, if your project involves processing data from CSV files, start with just a few records. Verify that the basic process works before scaling up to larger datasets. This method helps in understanding the solution’s scalability and potential issues early on.

Avoiding Overcommitment

A crucial aspect of managing a PoC is ensuring you don’t inadvertently find yourself with a live project before it’s ready. This can happen when a PoC evolves into a fully functioning solution without proper planning and resource allocation. Here’s how to prevent this:

  • Set Clear Boundaries: Define what the PoC will and won’t cover. Communicate this clearly to stakeholders.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Have frequent reviews to assess progress and realign expectations.
  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of what the PoC entails and the steps required to transition to a full project.

Leveraging Existing Solutions

Another vital point is recognizing that you don’t always need to build solutions from scratch. Often, there are existing APIs, tools, or open-source projects that can be adapted to meet your needs. This is particularly relevant in industries like healthcare, where compliance and security are paramount.

When choosing between building and buying (or adapting), consider:

  • Compliance: Does the existing solution meet necessary regulatory standards?
  • Cost: Is purchasing and customizing an existing solution more cost-effective than building one from scratch?
  • Integration: How well does the existing solution integrate with your current systems?

Real-World Application of Solving Problems Without Solving the Problem

An example shared in the podcast involved automating a manual process in a billing center. Initially, the team replicated the existing manual worksheets into a web application as a PoC. This small-scale implementation was well-received, but the project faced challenges when it inadvertently moved towards a live deployment too quickly.

The lesson here is to be cautious of scope creep and ensure that all stakeholders understand the PoC’s limitations.

Agile Methodology as a Solution

The Agile development framework, particularly Scrum, is designed to address the issue of premature live deployment by delivering incremental, usable software at the end of each sprint. This approach allows for continuous feedback and adjustment, ensuring that the solution evolves in a controlled manner.

Continue Your Journey By Solving Problems Without Solving the Problem

Embracing the concept of solving problems without fully solving them allows for efficient use of resources and better project management. Start small, validate assumptions, leverage existing tools, and communicate clearly with stakeholders. By doing so, you can navigate the complexities of PoCs and avoid the pitfalls of overcommitting.

Stay Connected: Join the Developreneur Community

We invite you to join our community and share your coding journey with us. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or just starting, there’s always room to learn and grow together. Contact us at [email protected] with your questions, feedback, or suggestions for future episodes. Together, let’s continue exploring the exciting world of software development.

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