Cut by Omission

Last week we spoke about monkeys and the process of building an app in The Do’s and Don’ts of Building an App.  This week – more monkey business!

Ideas are great, but what happens when you have too many of them?We’ve all been there after a brainstorm session – after everyone has shared their thoughts, there is just far too much on the table (or on the whiteboard, rather) to ever fit into a single app or project. Your team is now left with the difficult decision of what to cut, which is complicated when a lot of different people add input into the idea pool. No one likes it when their idea gets axed. Or do they?

There may in fact be ways to leave things out while keeping everyone happy. Take, for instance, the incredibly relevant task of only being able to give a monkey one banana, (much like there may be room for only one major idea in an app feature.) If you give him 2 bananas he’ll be thrilled, but take one away, and he will throw a fit (and if you’re really unlucky, some other stuff). But, give the same monkey just one banana, and he’ll be equally as thrilled. And when you take none away, the bliss continues. You’ve found a way to save bananas while dishing out happiness.

A similar strategy can be applied with regards to ideas in a brainstorm. At the end of any brainstorm, there are 1,000 small but tasty bananas on the table that everyone wants to hoard. If someone starts taking them away right in front of us, shit will fly, but if we all take a break from the banana table, go munch on something else for a bit and come back to fewer bananas, there will be much less of a freak out.

When you put a lot of smart people in a room in front of a whiteboard, awesome ideas are going to be born. Several of these ideas will define the end product itself, so early brainstorm sessions with key stakeholders is invaluable to product development. That said, a defining factor of brainstorms is that they happen in a relatively short amount of time as compared to the full length of a project, and this leads to being too attached to your own ideas, good or bad.

This happens for two main reasons:

First: whether it be an hour, a day, or a couple of days, you know only a fraction of what you will about the project’s key goals, opportunities, and limitations during the brainstorm session as you will at the end. In fact, you probably know a whole lot less than you will the next time you are put in front of the same whiteboard. In the beginning, it’s basically impossible for anyone to understand enough about the project to grasp the importance or effectiveness of any particular idea in the context of the rest of the project. So much of product development is learning by doing. To know what should be kept or cut so early on is very difficult.

Second: you simply are likely to think that your idea is better than it was the first time around. A lot of this is due to the point above – about not knowing enough to know how your idea fits, or doesn’t – with the goals of the project. This is also due to the monkey business mentioned above. Sitting in a brainstorm session is hard work, and every idea is the product of hard work. Seeing your idea on a board, and maybe even having people agree with it, is validation that your work led to some results. That validation is satisfying. So when someone erases that idea, or decides not to move forward with it, there are very basic human emotions that will cause you to disagree with that decision.

In the same way we’ve all loved our idea right after we’ve had it, we all know what it is like to look back at it the next day and realize it’s crap. Or, less extremely, just realize it’s not as good the first time around.

So, much like the monkey is OK with just his one banana, many people may be OK when, upon having had some time to think and to learn, they no longer see their feature idea in the product but instead see those that most closely align with the team’s vision.

The Bottom Line:

The key to making this work is to take some time between brainstorming and cutting. This allows for everyone to forget a bit about their idea and realign themselves with the bigger aims of the project. That may be a night for people to ‘sleep on it’, or maybe just a walk around the block. When everyone reconvenes, there will be much less fanfare when things have been taken off the table than had they been taken away at the get-go.

Hope this helps you with some of the tough decisions that are inevitable for any project. Happy cutting!