Tiny Projects Keep It New

Another reason why small goals that are achievable quickly are good. It’s really just basic psychology–and it works! This principal applies not only to the startup team, but also to the customer experience. Break it down for people. Keep it simple. Give them a series of small victories instead of one “big” victory at the end. People like the former and bail on the latter. Again, just basic psychology.

March 12, 2008
Tiny Projects Keep It New
By Jason at 37signals.com

When do we do our best work? When we’re excited about something. Excitement morphs into motivation. We do our best work when we’re motivated. A great way to stay motivated is to work on something new. No one likes being stuck on a project that never seems to end.

The typical project looks like the chart above. It starts out great but then our motivation and interest wanes as time goes on. It’s natural. Staying interested in a project over a long period of time is a challenge for anyone. The longer the project the thinner the tail. You’re not going to do your best work in the tail.

The ideal project looks like the chart below

When you break a big project into smaller chunks — into tiny projects — you stand a better chance at maintaining motivation and rekindling interest. When you have a pie of tiny projects you get the chance to work on something new more often. We do our best work when we’re excited about starting something new.
Break problems down to their atomic level

The best way to optimize for new is to break features and projects down to their atomic level. Keep breaking them down until you all you have left are a lot of small project elements instead of a few big project molecules.

For example, we just introduced bulk delete in Highrise. The UI and underpinnings we built for this will eventually (probably) be used for bulk tagging and other bulk actions. But instead of trying to shove all the other potential bulk actions into this release — ultimately turning a one week project into a 4 week project — we decided to just tackle bulk delete first. It took a few days from inception to public launch. Now we can get excited about the next phase since it’s a new tiny project again.

Bottom line: Shatter big projects into little pieces. Finish and launch one piece at a time. Introduce value now. Over time you can recombine these pieces into the one big feature you had planned. Working on, finishing, and launching one little piece at a time will help you stay motivated because you’re always working on something new. Your best work is in the bursts, not in the tails.

[Credit for the waveform concept goes to Jim Coudal]

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