Monday, February 10, 2014

Challenge: Zero to Prototype in 72 Hours

The @CraftsMANhammer tweeting hammer prototype

I have a new personal challenge: 

I'm going to do four 72-hour prototype building sprints on four different projects in the next four weeks and write about the results here.

Where this idea came from:

While at a party on a recent Saturday night, I received an email from a potential client, an ad agency. They are about to pitch for the business of a major tool manufacturer, am I available to make a hammer that is motion sensitive and sends out tweets? Oh, and can I deliver it by Wednesday?

My response was 1) yes, I'm available, 2) wait, do you mean THIS Wednesday, three days from now?

By the time my estimates were approved and I was given the green light to start work (Sunday afternoon), I had almost exactly 72 hours to deliver a prototype.


What happened next was a huge flurry of activity - I worked 45 hours in three days and delivered a functioning prototype that looked good enough to be a showpiece for their presentation to a major client.

I discovered a few amazing things:


  • If I had had the luxury of time, I probably would have delivered a more complex, costly device that wouldn't be any better at the task of being a functioning proof of concept for a client or investor.
  • The extreme constraints presented by this short time frame forced me both to be very creative and have laser-like focus on the "must-have" feature set.
  • When you have only three days, there is no time for feature creep.  
  • When you have only three days, every tiny setback demands a creative workaround.
  • When you focus on a short deadline, and remove all other distractions, you can accomplish a LOT in a 72 hour sprint. 
  • Working on only one project for several days is super efficient - there wasn't any of the usual startup or shutdown costs on my workbench - at the beginning of each day, I simply picked up exactly where I'd left off 8 hours previously.  I never had trouble remembering what I was doing last time because "last time" was just yesterday evening.
  • Here is a list of all the tools and supplies I used in this project.
  • Working like this is a huge amount of fun.

Not-so-amazing things I discovered:


  • Working that feverishly takes a heavy toll - I felt mentally exhausted and sluggish for the next few days.
  • I completely ignored my normal workout, eating, sleeping, and house cleaning routine which not only added to my mental fog but made my partner unhappy due to my lack of household helping-out. 
  • My personal projects all have the luxury of time, so I use a lot of time to complete them. This is bad because they then tend to languish.

My experiment: 


  • I have four projects that have been languishing due to my luxury of time.  
  • I'm going to pick one each week for the next four weeks and I'll sprint on those projects, and only those projects, from Monday through Wednesday (schedule permitting - next week's sprint will be Tuesday - Wednesday - Thursday).
  • I'll minimize distractions as much as possible during working hours to focus only on the sprint.
  • To make these sprints more sustainable, I'll work a max of 10 hours per day and I'll make sure to maintain healthy eating, exercise, and sleep habits.
  • Choose clearly defined goals for the sprint, so I can know when I'm done.

Closing thoughts:

I know sprinting isn't the perfect approach for every project - large projects require sustained work over months or years to come to fruition.

...but, large projects can be broken down into small sub-projects (like two of the projects I've chosen for this experiment), and small projects with attainable goals are great candidates for this approach.

Interested in joining my sprint challenge? I'll post the results (good and bad) at the end of each week.