How to Build An Idea for Success

In a startup there are two kinds of people: the ones who dream up the ideas and the ones who build them. The dreamers initiate the process and set out to solve a given problem and the builders go out and actually create the solution. While the two have different responsibilities, they both play extremely important roles in an organization and are equally as important.

There’s often a disconnect between the two when the dreamers feel ready to pass off their ideas to the builders, though. The dreamers, who have spent all their time conceiving the idea and mapping out the details might not realize that not everyone understands where the pieces of the puzzle they’ve just created fit together. It’s essential to create a clear road map of what the team needs to accomplish, and how.

Cort Johnson of Terrible Labs taught students how to do just that on Tuesday night at in his class “Getting Your Idea Shovel Ready.” He outlined the process of how to create a solid stepping stone for your engineer to jump off of in order to start building the product. It all begins with asking the right questions.

Ask Questions

It’s important to ask yourself questions in order to stay on track. Without doing so, you can  quickly fall victim to the dreaded scope creep. “Scope creep is like slowly loading up your plate with little portions of everything on the buffet until you realize man, this plate is getting heavy and omigod I can’t eat all of this, what was I thinking!” says Christopher Butler from Newfangled.

Every product or service out there exists to solve a problem and you need to ask yourself what it is you’re solving and only focus on that. Don’t think that once you’ve solved your problem you can move on to solve everyone else’s too–you’re getting ahead of yourself and can quickly become unfocused on your core mission.

Put Pen to Paper

Once you have an idea, you need to write it down, otherwise you’re prone to forget the finer details and you won’t have a concrete layout of how it will work. Putting an idea on paper forces you to stay organized and think about how the product should actually work. Make an initial plan and use it to make revisions. Reduce the amount of features in it until you’ve reached the bare minimum to solve the problem in order to start simple. Most people are lazy and need to do this in order to get others on board and help them understand it. Use the paper to help you organize your thoughts


After you’ve laid the idea out on paper, you can move onto the next step, which is wireframing. A wireframe, or a mockup, is a basic visual guide that represents how the product will look when finished. A mockup is not a design, so it doesn’t need to be pretty. We’re talking very bare-bones–just outlines and shapes to act as placeholders. For blocking out features, ask yourself what is my problem and what are the fewest steps I can take to solve it?

There are a number of tools to help you create a wireframe such as Balsamiq, Mockingbird, and Adobe Proto. They make it simple to design and share basic wireframes and can help out big time, especially when you’re new to the process.

User Stories

With wireframing out of the way, the can now put yourself into the shoes of the user and look at the prototype to see what works and what doesn’t. A user story, similar to a brand story, is an explanation in a few words or sentences about how a particular piece of the product will work. Use this simple framework: 

As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.

When you put yourself into the mind of the user, you can then either pare down extraneous features to streamline the user experience, or add in elements where the product lacks them.

After this step, the product will be ready for your developer to take over and build it!

Project Management

Just because you’ve handed your project over to the developer doesn’t mean that the process ends–it’s really only just begun. It’s essential to keep an open line of communication between teams, which is not always very easy. To help make this stage easier for everyone, utilize project management software to organize and distribute tasks. Any good developer will use one of these tools.

A tool like Pivotal Tracker provides simple, agile project management and does not cost a lot of money. Other ones like Trello, Assemblo, and Basecamp make great alternatives.

Check in with your development team often and make sure each side knows the other’s expectations and can meet them. Once they can, you’ll be able to complete your project successfully.

For more great lessons, check out the other guides on the blog, or visit our class page.

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