There is a Right Way

I grew up working with power tools. I think I was 9 the first time I used a router. As a family we were making mancala boards for christmas presents for family and friends. The noise was intense, the chips flying were scary, but that quickly fades when you watch the finished product emerge through the clear acrylic jig.

That simple experience contained some lessons that have shaped my life, and, less often than they should, my development, and design.

The first lesson, is that taking the time to begin correctly saves you time in the end. This one should be pretty obvious to everyone who has ever worked on a project of any sort. Making sure that you have the correct tools, and that the plans are clearly laid out makes a huge difference in your ability to execute the project. Too many times we rush into projects without designing them, slapping down pretty comps, and theoretical architectures.

My dad had carefully researched mancala, selected the base materials, (oak in this case), the correct bit for the router, finishing products, researched jig making, and created a jig for us to use with the router. The end result of that setup work was that I could as a 9 year old with little experience create a mancala board ready to be finished in about 15 minutes. If you don’t do the setup work and research, at the beginning you will do it many times over during the project.

The second lesson, is that there is a right way to do things. Dad taught us carefully how to put on the safety equipment, how to start the router, and how to work it through the jig to produce a jig as safely, and quickly as possible. We could have made the same mancala boards with a chisel, or wood carving knives, but the time constraints, age of operators, and quantity we were shooting for all pointed to the router being the correct tool for the job. Other decisions came with that one, like using a jig to make it as simple as possible to recreate the cuts in board. Using a plunge router to ensure that all of them were the same depth. Picking a half round bit so that the holes were rampes on their sides to allow easy game play. What safety equipment was needed. Each of those decisions was driven by the requirements and constraints of the project.

The same applies to every type of project we tackle. Constraints should drive the choice of technology, team structure, and process. There is a saying that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, that has to be avoided for designs and projects to be executed well. If you are holding a hammer why? Why is that framework, or that technology the correct answer for this project?If you don’t have a reason beyond it is new, or it is what we have always done maybe there should be some research to see if there is a better solution out there. If not, go with what you know, if there is, better get cracking on learning it.

This is how craftsmen in a variety of disciplines have been working for years, often building their own tools, and jigs, to ensure that the end product lives up to the standards that they and their customers expect. We as developers and designers need to do the same thing, creating a diverse toolbox that can be used to correctly solve a wide variety of design challenges. Because let’s face it, you can remove bolts with a cold chisel and a hammer, but a socket wrench just makes more sense.

Published: 29 Oct 2012 | Tags: projects , development , project management , design