My first post ever in this blog was To VCDX with a fictitious design – Part 1 where I gave a high level overview of my VCDX journey. In this post I want to get more into the details and lessons learned from going for the VCDX with a fully fictitious design.
I’ll start by saying, there is no such thing as a fully fictitious design, even ours was made up of bits and pieces from different projects we’ve done in the past. It’s referred to as fictitious because it is not based on one coherent project that I can point to as the design, but, our design which was fictitious was built on 3 different projects, which brings me to my first lesson learned:
Lesson #1 – Use real life experience – If you want to run with a fictitious design build it on top of actual projects and customer engagements you did, don’t just pull everything out of your … imagination :). If you write a design build in a void it will look as such then you either wint even get accepted to defend it or it will be impossible to defend it. Remember the panel is reviewing your design and will find the inconsistencies in the logic of your design. The more it is tied to real life the more it will feel real and be defendable.
The most difficult thing we had to face was to build a fictitious design while making it believable and logical, the panel will hammer you on it as if it was an actual project. No one will give you any discounts because you went through the effort of creating a fictitious design, on the contrary it for sure will be harder. That’s because in an actual design for a customer the customer already served as the panel for you were on the fictitious design no one will.
Lesson #2 – Work on the story – The story is the concept of your design, it is an actual story that you need to build about how the project came to be and why. From this point you build the conceptual design, Requirements, constraints, assumptions and risks. Take as much time as needed to go through this phase to make it real and believable otherwise you will find yourself going back to correct it time and time again and causing a chain reaction that will lead to you recreating your design . For me and Goose this phase took a month of going back and forth until we got our “story straight”.
Continuing on this challenge, it is very hard to get to a good fictitious concept since there is no real customer to push back on places your design doesnt make sense or isn’t in line with the business requirements, in your imagination there are no boundaries, you can put whatever you want and that is a two edged sword. Getting passed this can be achieved in two ways: Get as many peers involved enough to bounce your ideas against or work in a team, which brings me to:
Lesson # 3 – work in a team – I won’t spend too much time on how beneficial it was to work in a team, I worked with Agustin Malanco VCDX 141 aka @agamalanco and we are working on a joint blog post that discusses how to work in a team to be successful in the VCDX. On the point of building the conceptual design with a team member it is a great way to go about it since both of you are fully involved in it (which beats using external people that neutrally are less involved). Also, you get both of your experience working for you to have a solid conceptual design. If you continue doing it all the way together there are additional merits that i will detail later.
Building a fictitious design has advantages, right? You know you can bend the rules to your advantage and add business requirements and constraints to fit your technical knowledge and design skills, practically steer it your way. This is unlike a real design where the business requirements are given to you by the customer and are almost unchangeable. Well, think again, that is actually not so much an advantage:
Lesson # 4 – Keep it grounded – If you add a constraint to your design you will HAVE to defend it by being able to articulate to the panel what you would have done if you didn’t have that constraint, so a constraint added in a fictitious design does not eliminate your need to know what the hell you are talking about. Actually, sometime it’s even more work since you need to design around it but also be able to show how your design would be if you didn’t have it. Think very carefully about any constraint you add to your design and keep it real.
To conclude this part, you have to treat this design as if it is an actual customer, in order to achieve that you need to have a solid story and conceptual design. Spend as much time as needed on that part and don’t deviate from it during the design phase if you dint have too, remember customer are not rational all the time (if any). Work in a team, I can’t stress that enough and make sure your design is linked to your real life experiences with actual customers.
That’s it for the second part of this series, there are more lessons learned that I will add in the next parts and one of them is how to prepare to the defense with a fictitious design as the emphasis is a bit different.