Sunday, May 22, 2016

Avoid these 3 Engineering/Entrepreneurial Project Mistakes

Poorly planned engineering and entrepreneurial projects can leach the life out of anyone.  These mistakes steal your time, money, enthusiasm, and sometimes pride.  
I've reviewed peer projects many times. I too have had plenty of failures of my own. What is funny is that there are some mistakes I see often.  They should be easy to dodge. Yet, knowing how to run away from them requires that you can see them when they are chasing after you. This blog post is intended for students new to engineering, and would-be entrepreneurs with an idea in mind.
Here are some mistakes beginning project designers make:

Deadly Sin #1: Not knowing the availability of needed resources early on

Assumptions are the path to the first circle of hell in failed project design. Never assume you will have money or facilities until there is a guarantee. Contact facility managers before you begin. Have a financial estimate of what you will need. Can you affordably by it? 
Consider your time too. This is an unrenewable resource. Do you know (really know) how long steps will take? 

Here is your accountability checklist

  • I have emailed facility contacts. They have followed up. I have confirmation that I can use these resources without further paperwork or training.
  • I have a spreadsheet that tracks the costs of my project in detail. I have the links to the materials I will buy online. The total is a reasonable cost. I have a HIGH chance of affording it through personal investments and crowdsourcing (see Deadly Sin #2). Someone more experienced than I has approved of this spreadsheet.
  • I have divided my project into short term goals with the end in mind (working backwards). I've added time to each deadline to account for unforeseen delays. I know what my daily tasks will be. Someone more experienced than I has approved this plan (notice the pattern here?).

Deadly Sin #2: Crowdsourcing before Crowd Polling

No one wants to find out that their idea lacks the needed financial support after months of hard work. If you know you will need funds from grants or crowdsourcing, you need to put your idea up for peer review. There are lots of ways you can do this. 
Here is your accountability checklist:
  • My project is so worthwhile I would fund it fully myself if I could.
  • I am in contact with the people that would benefit from my idea. My benefactors know how they can  financially support me (e.g.  they know where the link is to your crowdfunding page).
  • I have shared my idea with 15 other people in person. I fixed my message and methods based on critiques that came my way.
  • I tried a meetup group and I have presented my idea in front of a crowd.
  • I have participated in online communities.  People seem excited.They know which crowdsource links support me. 
  • A person with more expertise than I has approved of the feasibility of my idea.
  • I have made online polls that show me how many people would be willing to chip in $X for my plan.  I have a clear number of supporters.
  • I have at least half of my costs covered already.
  • If crowd-sourcing fails, I have a way of earning the cash I need by  bootstrapping.

Deadly Sin 3: Falling in Love with an Idea (rather than the problem)

Even the most seasoned scientists (Nobel laureates included) fall victim to this mistake. To come up with good solutions, you need to have an intimate understanding of the problem you are trying to fix.  Placing too much stock in one's own solutions can hamper progress. This is because it creates a confirmation bias in the learning process. Instead of seeking ways to understand the problem, a person constantly seeks support for their idea. 
There is a great quote from Richard Feynman concerning this that I first heard from a Tim Ferriss Podcast:
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."
Too much faith in an unsupportable idea can be a disaster of time and effort if your idea turns out to be wrong. Don't spend decades fooling yourself with your own biases. Keep a light hold on your theories. That way, if they are disproven the shock of separation does not hurt you.
This is not just relevant in science. It can be seen in just about any area of life
Trying to start your own business? An overattachment to a certain product idea without proof it will work (crowd polling) can mean thousands of dollars lost. A person could have avoided this downfall by spending more time understanding their customer's problems. Knowing the problem is what creates the solution. You don't create something, and then try to bend it to fix a problem you do not truly understand.
Well, there you have it. Have any other ideas about the pitfall of inexperienced entrepreneurs? Let me know in the comments.