The first step is defining what is to be done. Any number can play, especially the people who will be building or using the project. I go through several written drafts, starting from handwritten lists, and then depending on the size and value of the process, using an appropriate organizing tool that will make the details available in a usable fashion.
How much architecture?
Not a minute more than you need to understand what the project will do. The more I use this model, the more I realize that extra time spent at the beginning has a multiplier effect reducing the amount of time required for successful completion.
I also understand that some people will suffer "paralysis by analysis" and have a difficult time moving past the "What are we doing?" phase. When you are doing the architecture, the amount of time you spend is a judgment call. A reliable indicator is whether you think you spent too much or too little time defining the architecture of previous projects.
Someone else may have a different opinion, but that's all it is ... an opinion. That doesn't mean it would be any more accurate. However, if they are paying, then they get to have the opinion! That's the golden rule ... the guy with gold makes the rules.
Design is figuring out "How" to do something. The process I follow is fairly simple.
First question - What is the best way I can do the job with tools and knowledge I have already mastered? That usually gives me most of the assembly plan.
The next question - Who do I know who has already successfully done the parts I don't know how to do? This lets me know where I will need outside effort and diplomacy.
Many of the projects that founder have a part of the Architecture that isn't included in the Design, because it was too hard to figure out in the Design stage. It gets even harder to figure out in the Execution stage.
Most people are happiest and most fulfilled in the Execution stage. Tangible things get done. At the end of the day you can see what was accomplished. As a result, we sometimes spend more time than necessary in the Execution stage.
The Execution stage is the expensive part of the project. It's fun to have a crane on a construction project ... but a crane costs so much, you better have that crane working all the time it is on the job. And when the crane's work is done, the crane better be gone and you better not need it again. That's the way to think in Execution. Get in, get out, get done.
The specifics of Execution are different for every project. Finding better ways to work shows professional competence. Quality of Execution is heavily dependent on the quality of Architecture and Design.
Evaluation is the part of the work cycle most often neglected. That is because people don't understand how to do it in a way that gets results worth the effort.
Want to do a useful Evaluation? Ask these two questions:
- What did we do right?
- What do we do next?
These two questions generate the useful information needed to continue. They bind the team together, and often generate valuable answers that are impossible to get when fingers are pointing and hot words prevail.
Evaluation cycles back to Architecture. Few successful projects just stop. People working together create efficiencies and knowledge that have continuing market value.