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3 Questions Your Should Be Asking Before Starting A Project

Published 1/20/2017

In today's episode, we ask 3 questions you should always ask before any project.

Today's episode is sponsored by Headspace. Headspace offers you guided meditation that you can take with you, and does so in a beautifully made native app experience. Headspace is also hiring! Head over to https://Headspace.com/join-us to learn more about the openings.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm giving you three questions that you need to ask before every single project you ever do. I'm trying something a little bit new for today's episode. I've done it a little bit before in the past, but I'm going to try to do it again today. I'm going basically going way off script. I don't have notes in front of me and this is just a couple of questions that I really believe are so, so important to ask. And they're not necessarily intuitive, especially one of these questions that I'm going to ask. It's not really necessarily something that we aren't talking about, the common, what is my target audience. That's not the type of questions that we're asking today. The types of questions we are asking today are intended to expand the way we approach a project. When I say approach, I don't mean what methods we use. I mean, quite literally, the way we perceive the project as we're kind of ramping into the project. At the very beginning stages, there's a lot of things that we take for granted about our own perception. We assume that we're starting a project that we see very clearly. It's a bad assumption. We trust ourselves too much. So these questions are intended to clarify how your perception changes what you are building or how your perception changes the things you plan for a project. Before we jump into those questions, I want to talk about something else that's very important to do at the beginning of a project and when you're brainstorming. If you've never done this, then it may feel a little bit weird. It may feel a little bit strange to you at first or at least it may sound a little bit strange. That is to basically clear your mind, to really empty your mind out. I'm not an expert on this, but there are some people who are an expert. In fact, I've lined up this episode explicitly to talk about them. Today's episode is actually sponsored by Headspace. As a developer, investing in your mental health is one of the most important things you can do. Meditation is a fantastic way to improve mental clarity, focus, and creativity. Headspace is an iPhone app. I've used this for over a year now. Headspace is an app that helps you build a meditation practice with clear instruction and guided meditations on topics such as stress, sleep, and balance. The company is also growing super fast. They have over 10 million downloads worldwide. They're building a team right now. They have offices in San Francisco and LA. If you're interested in joining a company that's working to improve the health and happiness of the world, then go and apply to Headspace. Go and check it out. It's spec.fm slash headspace. Think of Headspace for sponsoring today's episode. I do feel it's important to note that Headspace doesn't subscribe to any particular ideology beyond meditation and mindfulness. This is something that is medically researched. There are tons of people who have found benefits across belief systems. So if you are subscribed to a particular religion or if you are not subscribed to religion at all, pretty much anyone can use Headspace without it conflicting with those belief systems. So it is very accessible and it also doesn't make you feel super bad if you miss a day just a really great application in my experience using it. But I have found that taking this time to dedicate to some kind of mindfulness practice. In fact, I do this for every episode of Developer Tea. I have kind of a ritual of clearing my mind and I do it after I exercise and when I am in the shower, I start thinking about ideas for Developer Tea. But before I do that, I relax my mind. I empty my mind. It is a concept that is so much more proven than you may expect. I challenge you to go and do some research on it. It will definitely certainly help your mental health, especially people who deal with things like anxiety and that kind of stuff. So once you have aligned your mind, once you have calmed down and once you have taken some time to prepare yourself to ask these questions, then you are going to jump in with the three questions I am about to give you right now. And all of these questions, let me go ahead and preface this. All of these questions you may end up needing to go back and revise them multiple times. Because the process of discovery and the process of perception clarification, when you answer question number two, it may change your answer for question number one. So don't feel like this is a brittle thing. It's not intended to be rules that you set for yourself, but rather it's intended to open up your mind and get you to think a little bit differently about the way you perceive a project. So question number one is what is this worth to me? What is this project worth to me? Now notice I didn't say how much money am I going to be paid for this project. Notice that I didn't say what is this project worth to the company that I work for? I said, what is this project worth to me? And because we are talking about a personal perception, right? We're talking about understanding how you are going to feel about this project, but also how this project tangibly will affect your life. And this question functions for multiple different reasons, multiple different areas that this question functions in. And one of those obvious areas is prioritization. If you look at a project and maybe it's something that one of your friends has asked you to do for them and they aren't really invested in it and you're not really invested in it, but it's just something that's on your plate, right? Well, it may be that you decide that you have other projects that come way before this project. It may be that your perception was unclear on how important or unimportant that particular project was. I also want to take a moment to say that when we talk about projects in today's episode, I'm talking about more than just large scale projects. This same questioning, the same line of questioning can be used for most projects of any size. You may not ask this kind of question for a one hour or these kinds of questions for a one hour project, but certainly for a project that will take the whole day, for example. So asking the question, what is this worth for me? You're certainly going to look at things like monetary benefit, but you may also look at things like, how does this affect my energy levels? How does this affect my relationships? How does this affect my relationship with my with my family or how does this affect my relationship with my employer with my co-workers? What is this worth to me is not just what are the benefits that I'm going to get out of this, but what is the net effect that this project will have on me? So that's question number one. As we go through the other two questions, you will certainly end up going back and looking at question number one and maybe adjusting it. As I said before, don't view this as a set of rules. Don't view this as a set in stone, but instead view this as a way of clarifying your perception. It's totally updatable. Write this in pencil. It's totally fine to mark it out or erase it and start back over. Question number two, if this could only do one thing, what would that one thing be? Let me say that again. If this project, whatever it is that I'm trying to accomplish, if I could only do one tiny, insignificantly small thing, what would that one thing be? Now, this question works on multiple different levels. You can go way down to a very granular approach, for example, if you're building a site, a web app where people log in, then perhaps the most important thing that you can do is get people's emails. So that could be the one thing. If this could only do one thing, what would it be? It would collect email addresses. You could also do this on a larger scale. Let's take Instagram, for example. If Instagram could only do one thing, what would it do? It would allow me to post a photo. It would allow me to post a photo to a public location. Now, what does this do? What does this do for us as developers? Well, what we do is we take this question and we recognize the most important pieces of whatever this project is. We start identifying the most and really with this question, the most important thing. It could be that you recognize that there's a series of one things that need to be put together to create a minimum viable product. So ask yourself this question. Then if it's not a minimum viable product yet, ask yourself the question again. So once you have thing number one built, I'm collecting emails, then you ask yourself the next round. If this could do one more thing, what would it be? Now, the important thing about this to understand is that we always work one task at a time. No matter how much we want to multitask, we will always complete one task at a time. And if you ask yourself this question, it starts to clarify where the value is in any project. If you could only do one thing, then hopefully your perception and hopefully your judgment is going to narrow it down to the most valuable thing that you can do. So this exercise kind of forces you to weigh the value of the different functions that you've considered for a given application. So once again, question number one, what is this project worth to me? Question number two, if this thing could only do one thing, if this project could only accomplish one small goal, what would that goal be? What would that thing be? And question number three, what am I assuming? What am I assuming? You know, we have different types of assumption. And sometimes assumption is actually characterized as a bad thing. But the reality is that our brains use assumption in order to focus. Right? Let me say that again, our brains, the word assumption is effectively a shortcut. Our brains are using shortcuts so that they can focus on the things that they can't shortcut on. Now the problem is sometimes our brains take shortcuts that we didn't want them to take. Right? And sometimes our brains lead us down the wrong path because we took the wrong shortcut. So if we explicitly identify the things that we are assuming, we assume in multiple ways, sometimes we assume on purpose. Right? Sometimes we knowingly and systematically create assumptions for our projects. For example, we may assume that a large amount of our audience, if you're developing a web application, you may assume that a large number of your audience is going to be using mobile phones. Right? So this may be an explicit assumption. But then there may be implicit assumptions or these subconscious assumptions that we're making. Like for example, the best solution to this problem is a web application. These are the bigger questions that we have to address early on in this process because the more we can think about the larger picture, right? The more we can think about what assumptions are we making, the better we can answer questions number one and two. What is this worth to me? And what is the most important fundamental thing that this project does? I can nearly guarantee you that if you ask these three questions at the beginning of any project and you actually spend some time to answer them and refine them, that your initial plan, whatever you had planned to do, when you started out or when you were getting ready to jump into a project head first, whatever you had planned to do will almost certainly change because we take our perception for granted. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I want to encourage you to go and download Headspace. Of course, you can find it in major app stores. You can also go and find out more about joining Headspace by going to spec.fm slash Headspace. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope you go forward and you start asking your own questions. You know, there are many more questions that you can ask to identify and clarify your perception. These are three of mine. I'd love for you to share what questions you are asking to help clarify your perception. You can join me in the spec Slack community and we can talk about it. Spec.fm slash Slack. Of course, I'm on Twitter and at Developer Tea and at J. Cutrell. That's my personal Twitter. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea.