Making Sense vs. Making a Plan

There's a common pitfall that I need to constantly remind myself of, which is that the process of making sense of a space is separate and distinct from planning where you want to actually go and how you will get there.

This is a particularly hard problem when you're foraging into the unknown.  Imagine that you're in a video game where you can only see the immediate area around you, but not the entire map of the game:

In Ultima V, when you're in the forest, you can only see what's directly ahead.

And so, you may have a process that is geared towards surveying the lay of the land in order to maximize your understanding of the space.  This can be an exhausting, all-consuming process unto itself, because it often leads to even more questions and even more unknowns.  At some point you need to get comfortable with the fact that you can't know everything, and that what matters is if you have enough information to act.

We tend to sort such information in the form of some sort of hierarchy simply as a process to make sense of it.  You want to "see everything on the screen".  In the world of software, this often results in overly dense and complex slides filled with boxes, or lists of categories.

The mistake is to confuse this with your action plan.  In reality, in order to figure out what to do, you need to set all of that work aside and start from scratch.

Figuring out the action plan is a completely separate journey.

It's counterintuitive because you put all this work into understanding the current state of affairs, such that it just seems to make sense that this overly complex map you've created is the starting point.  The answer must be in here somewhere.  Or even worse, we might assert that we need to begin building everything on the map.

What this first leg of the process should do is to help you understand the context.

However, the actual plan is going to be a function of other factors: your funding, runway, assets, etc...  Where do you have leverage?  What are the risks?  What do you need to prove first?   Where does power sit?  What are your goals?

The core thing you need to remember when you're working on the planning phase is that you're not building in a vacuum.  Success won't be a function of whether you can successfully build / manufacture / create the thing you said you were going to make.

It's more a matter of whether anyone will care.  It's part rational (assuming what you're working on is some sort of utility), and part irrational (why would anyone care or want your specific thing).  The former is easy to ascertain.  The latter is likely going to require multiple iterations in order to fully understand this.

And so, when you consider the aforementioned constraints—primarily funding and runway—the main goal of your action plan should be about optimizing for learning the "why" as quickly as you possibly can.