Coming up with a business idea, part 1

I have zero illusions about my ability to intuit some great idea, even less so in my ability to do it on demand. Thankfully, Eli Goldratt wrote about how to systematically approach generating ideas for any domain.

The goal is to come up with a Mafia Offer: an offer so good my customers can’t refuse. According to Goldratt, this is the actual job of Marketing (not to be confused with Advertising or Sales).

The first step is to understand my potential customers’ problems. To do that, I come up with a list customer complaints. Five to seven complaints are normally enough, and they can be randomly ordered.

I don’t have any customers yet, so I’ll pick some complaints I’m familiar with in the software development space:

  • We spend lots of time in meetings
  • We are under time pressure to make estimates
  • It is difficult to track relevant communication
  • Estimates are not reliable
  • Important work is missed until late in the process
  • Projects are consistently late
  • Estimates become commitments
  • People are under stress
  • We cut corners to deliver

According to Goldratt, these are all symptoms of a core problem. They can not be addressed one at a time, even though that is my natural tendency. Instead, I must understand the fundamental cause of these symptoms and fix that.

This fits with system thinking if we view the people working to deliver software as a system. These “problems” are outputs of the system, so to change them, we must change the actual system.

So my next step is to see if there really is one thing I can point to that causes all of these “problems”.