If you’re like me, not having great ideas to work on is not a problem you have. You’ve got gazillions of project ideas lined up. Too many, in fact, and they’re all irresistible. But you won’t get far if all you do is flit from flower to flower and sip.
While I was in the middle of one such muddle recently, I decided to set down my thoughts on paper and disentangle them like any other puzzle. While I seemed to have a fair assessment of the individual attributes of any particular project (e.g. how long it would take to complete, how interesting the work was, how much money it was likely to earn, etc.), I did not have the big picture.
And how could I? If there are x projects and y attributes, there are x . y variables to track. It was too much to think about, but it had never occurred to me that I could write it down.
Let’s do that now. Any spreadsheet software will do. Here’s an example from Google Docs:
Let’s look at what columns B to G represent:
- Time, valued at -2, because I especially hate longer projects.
- Earning potential, valued at 1, because money matters, but not that much right now.
- Intrinsic fun, valued at 1, because having fun matters, but not that much.
- Outreach, valued at 2, because networking is good.
- Special commitments, valued at 2.
- Difficulty, valued at 0 currently.
Column H represents the final score of the project. How is the score computed?
H4 = SUMPRODUCT(B4:G4,B2:G2)
and so forth, i.e. the score of a project is the sum of the products of a) how I value an attribute in general, b) the magnitude or strength of that attribute for that particular project. So it’s a simple linear model; maybe it’s not the best, but it’s better than nothing.
If I were to act perfectly rationally, sorting rows by that column in decreasing order yields the order in which I should do my projects. So it looks like I should prefer porting my existing iOS apps to HTML5 rather than developing new ones.
Once I am sure I agree with all the data points (yes, I know they are all subjective), I should just stop worrying and trust the model. And that’s it. I can stop at this point.
Playing with it
But why stop now? It’s a spreadsheet: what’s cool is that you can play what-if games.
Let’s say I decide that time spent doesn’t matter. So B2 is changed to zero.
What’s new? Blogging is now the most important thing I can do.
Perhaps I’ll add a column for competition, valued at -1 (I’m averse to it).
So image processing it is.
Perhaps I’d split ‘time’ into ‘time to first results’ and ‘time to completion’, which would matter if I valued those differently.
The only criteria for new fields is that they should be independent of existing fields. I’d add a field even if it’s not currently relevant, but may become relevant at some point. For instance, I’ve added a ‘difficulty’ column, and assigned a rough difficulty to each project. I don’t care about difficulty right now, but that could change.
It appears I have re-discovered something Operations Research people call the weighted decision matrix or Pugh matrix.