The Simplest Thing That Could Work

After I returned home from the Sweden PSL, I had a cold, and then have been redesigning simulations for my upcoming (tomorrow!) customized project management workshop.

At PSL, we invoked one idea repeatedly: the zeroth solution. The zeroth solution is the simplest thing that could work. So, if you need a simulation for a workshop, you look at what you have already: could one of them work? That’s your simplest solution. I had several that could work, but I wasn’t thrilled with them. But I had one, a fallback position. (If you don’t already have one, what’s the simplest simulation you could create?)

As I iterated on the design, I kept asking myself, what’s the next simplest thing that could work? Is there something else that would allow me a new zeroth solution? That allowed me to build the simulation incrementally and iteratively. (No, I didn’t timebox myself :-)

You’ve heard “The perfect/best is the enemy of the good” (Voltaire). The same thing happens at work, in projects, in any sort of endeavor. If you try for perfection at the beginning, the pressure is too much. Instead, try for a zeroth solution, the simplest thing that could work, and better it over time.

Esther, Jerry and I are teaching another PSL March 22-27 in Albuquerque. Email me for more information.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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3 Responses to The Simplest Thing That Could Work

  1. I am reminded of the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. A group of volunteer doctors and nurses drove back and forth across the Gulf Coast for a week. They put one band-aid on one person’s finger in one week.

    The culprit? People kept sending them to the optimum place – that place where they would do the most good. By the time they arrived at that place, the crisis was over and the optimum place had moved.

    Instead, they should have gone to one place where they could do good. I use that concept daily. I may not be doing the optimum, but I am doing some good on some task.

  2. Andreas says:

    Had I realized that earlier, I would be drinking more beer as a student :-)

  3. Stefan says:

    I like the approach, but when I hear the words “better it over time”, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. In the field of software, this approach almost sounds like an excuse for “…you throw a product out there in order to get your foot in the window. The product doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to hold the market space. Over time, you can fix up any flaws that occurred from rushing the thing out. It’s the marketing version of agile methods.” (see http://www.artima.com/weblogs/viewpost.jsp?thread=193593)

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