A strawberry sundae used as a metaphor for project planning.

A Good Sundae Starts With Great Ice Cream

By Jason Jones

Can you imagine ordering a delicious sundae at an ice cream shop, only to leave with a bowl full of whipped cream and sprinkles? While a die-hard sweet tooth might find that appealing, it’s missing its core – the ice cream. This is a good metaphor for project planning.

The Key to Not Getting Ahead of Yourself

At Vertical Motion, we begin all of our projects by completing a business analysis, gathering project requirements, and putting together launch “blueprints”. This allows us to plan the project accordingly and deliver results that actually address the clients’ needs. However, when we work with entrepreneurs, or even established businesses looking to kick off a new process, they often end up focusing on the details, and not the core issue. We have to remind them to start with the key value points they want to deliver through their solution.

Meeting with clients at the beginning of a project involves a lot of brainstorming, which is a very important step in finding creative solutions. ‘Wish-listing’ as a result of that brainstorming is important, too. But just as important is looking at the mindmap or master list of ideas/wishes is paring it down to the absolute core.

Start With a Few Good Scoops

Creating a fully realized and effective solution is just like building your own ice cream sundae, and the first step is to figure out what that foundation should be. It’s easy to get carried away with the bells and whistles and say “the product should also do this,” or “the app should also have that.” But before you think of the nice-to-haves, you must determine the most important must-have. Think of it this way: what if you went to an ice cream shop and saw 100 different sprinkles, 50 different fudge and caramel sauces, bins and bins of nuts and fruit toppings… but no ice cream? A sundae made of sprinkles isn’t satisfying.

So: go back to your blueprints and decide. What’s the ice cream, and what are the toppings?

In this case, the ice cream is your core product or solution. We should always start with the core product – what problem are you trying to solve, and what is the solution? If all the toppings (or features) were taken away, are you still left with something that you wanted or needed? Having decided on the foundation of your project, the next step should be to aim for a minimum viable product (MVP).

Outside the Box Isn’t Always the Way

Creating a minimum viable product is akin to determining that crowd-pleasing ice cream flavour that will be the base of your sundae. You need to create a version of your product that is enough for your users to test how the solution is working, and then to get their feedback on if it is actually solving the issue at hand. You need to know if the solution actually works, and works well, especially with the people who will be using it. Getting this foundation right should be the first priority before you even consider the add-ons.

Before you stray too far and overthink the foundation, it’s also important to recognize that the classics are classics for a reason. Thinking outside of the box is welcome when trying to build a process for solving an issue, but if part of the process works (and works well), consider building upon that foundation instead of overcomplicating things and creating something brand new just for the sake of it. Changing the foundation too much can lead you away from the original problem you set out to solve. At the same time, there’s also risks around doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Start with v1 where v stands for ‘vanilla’. Then from there, you can consider chocolate, or even coffee or bubblegum if that works better!

A rule of thumb we use at Vertical Motion is, “if you’re not a little embarrassed of your MVP, it’s not the minimum.”

When It’s Time to Add the Toppings

Once you have your foundation in place, you can consider the add-ons that would complement your solution. Consider adding features based on the feedback from your MVP testing. Deciding which other capabilities to add to your solution is a critical part of the project as well, because it can lead to cost and time overruns. An ice cream shop with too many toppings would go broke carrying that unused inventory, so you need your users to tell you which toppings they need, which toppings are just an occasional bonus, and which won’t ever get used at all.

All this talk of ice cream sundaes may seem like an overly simplistic way of thinking about the software development process, but it’s a helpful metaphor for confirming project priorities so all stakeholders can plan, build, test, and deploy accordingly.

Want to put the ice cream sundae metaphor to the test? Contact us (and maybe we can plan to meet for ice cream)!

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