The first step, Specify, is in many ways the most important step. This is the step that sets the direction for everything that will come after it.
Too often, the engineer in all of us wants to get right to the meat of the project. Even before we have analyzed the full scope, we want to get to the fun part. I submit that the rest can be fun too. The whole solution is part of the challenge. Some problems are solved with a circuit, some with code, but others can only be solved by other factors.
Making a project successful is more than just an engineering challenge. There are a number of things necessary for a project to succeed:
You have probably heard the adage that a problem has three factors: Cost, Time, and Quality. That is usually followed by a tongue-in-cheek "choose any two." There is a lot of truth to that. Success comes from balancing these factors.
Most engineers come pre-programmed to not want to compromise on Quality. That is why I prefer the term Technical Solution. There are often many ways to solve the problem technically, given constraints of Budget and Time. It doesn't necessarily lower the Quality; it just calls for a different Technical Solution. Sometimes, for example, it may mean using something off-the-shelf. We engineers always like to do it ourselves (after all, who could do it better, right?). But if there is a commercial solution available, it is often cheaper, and comes with less risk, since it is already working. Most projects have plenty of engineering challenges that will provide you hours of fun. There is no reason to redesign something you can buy.
Spend real time in the Specify phase. Make an effort to see the problem from all angles, not just the technical one. Sometimes there can be solutions that don't immediately come to mind. Embrace Budget and Time constraints as challenging parts of the puzzle you are solving. Let the problem speak to you for a while before concluding it is a nail and giving it a whack with your hammer. There may be a better tool.
Take time to aim. You hit what you aim for. The best way to hit the right target is to understand it well.
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