by Leon Rosenshein

Another 4 Questions

Not those 4 questions, but the 4 variations of one very specific question, Why are we building this?

Why are we building this?
Why are we building this?
Why are we building this?
Why are we building this?

Because until you answer the 4 variants, you haven’t answered the question. There are lots of things we can/should build. Assuming there are some form of constraints, we can’t build them all. So which one(s) should we build?

Start with the first variant, “Why are we building this?” What’s the value proposition? To the customer and the company. If it’s cool, but not something the customer wants (or a step on the path to get there), why?

“Why are we building this?” Are we the right team to build this? We might need it, but should we be building it? Does our team have the right knowledge/experience? Are there other teams or platforms that are a better fit?

“Why are we building this?” The classic build or buy question. Are we looking for a capability that is easy to buy on the open market, or is this part of the special sauce needed? There are costs both ways. Buying has a clear cost, and developing a solution has a cost that can be measured, but maybe not predicted. Even free open source software has a real operating cost.

“Why are we building this?” Should we be building something else first? And here, I mean first from a sequencing standpoint, not priority. If A depends on B, which depends on C, you should probably start with C, or at least as much of it as you know. If you build A first you’ll either need to change it significantly when you finish C or you’ll severely limit your options when it comes to C. Going the other direction lets you build on things, reacting to new information as it comes.

Which brings to Wardley Mapping. A way to use the answers to those questions, as applied to the various things you need to do, to help you figure out how to allocate your precious resources. The classic Wardley map is a simple 2D plot of linked components. The Y axis represents the customer/user value, which higher value being higher on the plot. The X axis represents the “maturity” of the component, with “No one’s ever tried this before” on the left, and commodities (cheap to buy exactly the right thing) on the right, and the ability to outsource it somewhere in the middle. The things at the top left are the most important to the customer and hardest to obtain. The things at the bottom right are mostly invisible to the user/customer and easy to buy.

Then, you link the components by direct dependency. What other things do you need to get the most important thing done? The further to the left the more likely it’s worth using internal resources for. The further to the right the more likely the right answer is to buy the solution.

Or, to put it simply, if you need a ½ inch hex bolt, buy one, don’t build a foundry. But if you need a fiberglass layup with compound curves around an assembly you’re still designing do it yourself.