Make your big, scary project seem less big and less scary

Do you need to tackle a huge job but don’t know where to start? Maybe it’s a book, or a bike park, or enterprise software. When it comes to anxiety, all projects are the same.

Last year I attended a conference where I learned a simple way to make huge, time consuming and expensive projects seem smaller, quicker and more affordable. This will reduce your anxiety and help you get you started.

Check it out:

In previous lives I worked as a writer, editor, infographics artist, editorial art director, information architect, user interface designer and, finally, an all-around user experience and software design guy. I was fortunate to win some pretty big awards including a Pulitzer, and I’ve helped build some badass software systems.

I still enjoy the mental gymnastics: How do you build things that are 1) buildable, 2) meet time/budget requirements, 3) work well for users, 4) are elegant and 5) can be scaled over time? I try to balance these elements in all of my publishing, teaching, track design and software projects.

One of my longtime MTB skills clients, Richard Lawrence, runs a company called Agile For All. Richard helps software teams deliver more value while having more fun at work. Pretty cool — and the core lessons apply to all endeavors.

Agile for All’s story splitting flowchart is popular among software teams and agile coaches.

Last year I attended Richard’s Humanizing Work conference. My favorite class was on “Feature Mining.” How can you break that big, scary project into smaller chunks that you can actually 1) start, 2) build and 3) learn from?

I’ve been dreaming about a web site where riders learn the riding skills I teach in person. The internet has plenty of free skills videos and articles, and more and more membership sites are popping up, but what I have in mind is much bigger, more thorough and more useful. The way Mastering Mountain Bike Skills set the standard for MTB skills books, that’s what I want to do with online MTB skills instruction. The more I dream and plan, the bigger and scarier this project gets. How much will it cost? How long will it take? Will people even want it?

When I entered the Feature Mining session, this huge, amorphous thing crushed my brain every time I thought about it. After the hour-long class I saw the project more clearly, and I knew where to start. Boom! Talk about value per minute.

Agile for All’s feature mining approach works for any big project. This is a major simplification, but using a bike park as an example, you might ask:

What makes this project important and worth doing? It’ll serve the community. It’ll attract tourists. It’ll be sweet. Etc.

What makes it big? Lots of money. Lots of time. Lots of material. Lots of stakeholders. Etc.

What makes it risky? What if we can’t get approval? What if we build it wrong? What if people don’t use it? What if people get hurt. What don’t we know yet? Etc.

The biggest fear is that you’ll spend lots of money and people won’t use the park. Start with a small experiment. What part of the park can deliver great value without all the cost?

In the case of a bike park, you can’t go wrong by building a pump track first. Make it small but excellent. See how the public uses it, then plan your next phases. This approach lets you build something quickly and cheaply — and get people shredding right away! — then deliver more features as they are needed.

What about your next big, scary project? Wouldn’t it be nice to make it seem less big and less scary?

Agile For All will soon release an online course that teaches this powerful technique in much more detail. You can learn more about it — and sign up for email notifications (and a discount) here:

This year’s Humanizing Work conference will be held July 14-16 in Beaver Creek, CO. It’s a fun, interesting few days — and there’s some great riding out there.

Plan thrice. Measure twice. Build once!


Know more. Have more fun!

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