In the hair salon the other day, a stylist talked to the a man in the next chair. When he asked her how short she could cut it, she answered "To the skin," and then laughed, as if at a joke.
When he replied, "Okay," she stopped laughing. Did he really want all his hair removed?
"I could use the buzzers,” she explained. "Okay."
"So you want I should use the razor?" "Okay."
"I don't have to go all the way down, you know." "Either way."
Maybe there’s some professional code of stylist conduct I don’t know about, but if she didn’t trust his answers, she should have just said, "Tell me the truth. Do you really want me to shave off all of your hair?" Even I had no clue if this guy knew what he was getting into.
Trying to capture the “single source of truth” is a lot like this conversation. We don’t know what we don’t know, and sometimes it’s really hard to ask the right questions. It can also be hard to give the right answers; maybe "Either way" really is our best answer. We need a way to reassure ourselves that we’re doing the right things long before we do all the hard work, only to get to achieve a rude awakening during validation.
The stylist knew a way. She asked, “How about I do a little bit over the ear, and then we'll take a look?”
That’s right. Prototyping.
The transition from imagination to reality is the biggest risk for any strategic project. In fact, most strategic projects fail, whether because the design was flawed (and no one said anything), or because fear stopped people from actually doing anything of substance. And the shift to implementation is already hard enough, with growths in team size, expenditures, and systems interaction. Despite the poetry of jumping into the swimming pool head first, we all recognize the advantages of entering one inch at a time. Especially if the pool turns out to empty.
Tools such as prototyping and piloting are key steps in ensuring only the best designs become reality. The bigger the project, and the more ambitious the information management goals, the more attention you need to give to this tricky transition. Every project has a good way in, if you can find it. The question is, Can you?
Because no project is so big that you can't cut a little off the top.