Catalog of common bad ways to decide what to do

There are always more bad ways to do something than good ways, and project planning is no exception. As an additional tool toward sorting out the good from the bad, Table 3-1 shows some of the lousy approaches I've seen used. I offer these in the hopes that it will help you recognize when this is going on, and why these approaches are problematic.

Table 3-1. Common bad ways to decide what to do

Bad way

Example

Why it happens

The problem

We will do what we did last time.

"Version 3.0 will be like 2.0, only better!"

Often there isn't the desire or resources to go back and do new research into the business, technology, and customer issues.

The world may have changed since v2.0. Without examining how well 2.0 did against its goals, the plan may be a disaster.

We'll do what we forgot to finish last time.

"The feature cuts for Version 2.0 will be the heart of 3.0!"

Items that were cut are arguably well understood and partially complete, making for easy places to start.

Remaindered features are nonessential. Focusing a release on them may not be the best use of resources.

We'll do what our competitor is doing.

"Our goal is to match Product X feature for feature."

It's the simplest marketing strategy. It satisfies the paranoid, insecure, and lazy. No analysis is required.

There may be stupid reasons a competitor is doing something.

We will build whatever is hot and trendy.

"Version 5.0 will be Java based, mobile-device ready, and RSS 4.0 compliant."

Trends are trends because they are easy and fun to follow. People get excited about the trend, and it can lend easy excitement for boring or ill-defined projects.

Revolutions are rare. Technological progress is overestimated in the short term, underestimated in the long term. Customer problems should trump trendy fads.

By distracting

Does the world need a

If we build it they will come.

"Project X will be the best search engine/web editor/widget/mousetrap ever.'

everyone to the building, rather than the reason for building, people can sometimes avoid real planning.

better mousetrap? People come if what is built is useful to them, not because a team decided to build something.

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