This Month’s Pattern *

84 Sanctity of the Half-Baked Idea

The team is willing to nurture even seemingly half-baked ideas.

Progress can be slowed, and sometimes stopped, when team members are reluctant to offer ideas that appear at first sight to be half-baked. Strong teams make it safe to voice unfinished ideas; many teams encourage this practice. If the idea in its original form is not perfect, it can be improved—but only if it is allowed to have its day in court.

Half-baked ideas play a part in project life and should be thought of as something to be protected and nourished. For example, brainstorming sessions and other creative workshops can only work if team members feel safe to blurt out whatever they come up with, no matter how incomplete, seemingly impossible, or downright harebrained the idea may seem. Further, they can say what’s on their mind without fear of personal criticism or ridicule. Experience shows us that even the most half-baked of ideas, when respected and allowed to live, sometimes turn into valuable commercial products.

Allowing half-baked ideas to develop might require a change of behavior. Some people, teams, and for that matter, organizations, have a habit of trashing any idea that is not immediately and obviously viable. Anyone wishing to propose an idea has to think it through, ensure it is watertight, and then propose it in a way that makes its value immediately evident to everybody. With anything less than that, the proposal is a dead duck. By forcing all ideas to be fully formed before they are aired, the organization is denying the benefits of group improvement and choking off what should be a steady stream of project innovations. Most ideas can benefit from having several minds working to improve them.

Humans are better at improving things than they are at inventing things, and almost any idea can be improved—if you keep at it. Understandably, not all team members are great inventors, and not all are as articulate as they would like to be. Tentative ideas are debated— sometimes vigorously—and it is through team discussion that the idea matures and improves. Naturally, not all ideas make it through the debating chamber, but all of them are given a chance.

Ideas are free. Unless time is incredibly short, why rush to discard ideas if they are not immediately viable? All that is needed is also free: a culture in which team members feel able to propose half-baked ideas.

James Dyson’s half-baked idea, the centrifugal vacuum cleaner, took 15 years and more than 5,000 prototypes to come to commercial fruition. One Dyson model is now the best-selling vacuum cleaner in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and Australia, and another is the best-seller in Japan.

* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.


Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
26-Sep-2017 to 28-Sep-2017

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
10-Oct-2017 to 12-Oct-2017

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details.  

Brussels, MRP part 2
11-Oct-2017 to 12-Oct-2017

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
16-Oct-2017 to 18-Oct-2017

Rome, Mastering Business Analysis
19-Oct-2017 to 20-Oct-2017

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
6-Nov-2017 to 8-Nov-2017

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
7-Nov-2017 to 9-Nov-2017

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
9-Nov-2017 to 10-Nov-2017

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Den Norske Dataforeningen.

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Nov-2017 to 16-Nov-2017

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

in depth

Business analysis is often seen as a technical skill. But the business analyst has another set of responsibilities -- to dig into what the stakeholder's mind and uncover what is really needed, and not just what they say they want. 

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco's Andronescu's Paradox saga is now available in English in paperback and ebook, from Double Dragon Publishing.

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."

Suzanne and James Robertson's "Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing". 15+ Hours of Video Instruction. 

Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.