Extracting Exactness

By Hubert Liu

The chaotic nature of a startup can leave team members feeling confused or left out. Creating any body of work in a team environment generates a ton of energy. However, sometimes this energy must be deliberately channeled to achieve favorable outcomes.

In user interface design, fidelity helps define exactness  -- low fidelity is rough and approximate, while high fidelity is polished and accurate. Recently we touched on the value of sharing context, which can be enhanced by using the right level of exactness. This idea of exactness is a great topic for many different applications outside of building a software product.

Finding the right level of exactness that matches the current stage of planning will keep things moving forward, while rushing exactness too early leads to back-peddling and wasted time as changes occur.

Imagine you’re back in grade school, writing an essay, using (non-erasable) pen and paper. It’s expensive (time, effort, paper) to make changes, so you’ll want to get things right the first time on the paper you’re turning in. In order to produce a quality final deliverable, it’s recommended to do this in four steps: brainstorming, outlining, rough draft, and final draft. We’ll start with these four steps, as they are a good example of how to increase exactness to move further along in our project.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming (low exactness) is the best way to get all the ideas, opinions, or questions in the open. Keep the format casual, with bullet points and incomplete sentences. Don’t get caught up on the importance of certain ideas over others -- write them all down and decide later if they should be included or not. If you’re unsure of something, write it down as a question, and find the answer later.

Outlining

Once you’ve all agreed that you have exhausted your brainstorming focus, move on to outlining (low exactness). This is where you can start grouping common themes and similar ideas into something with more structure. We’re still operating in a low exactness environment, so don’t worry about wordsmithing just yet, but start developing a master list of vocabulary. This master list is an agreement on the usage of certain terms (E.g. “customer” vs “client”), if they are important to your brand.

Rough Draft

Moving on from the outline, the first rough draft (medium exactness) is where grouped ideas start evolving into connected paragraphs. This stage is important to set the flow of the final work. Before this stage, sections just existed as separates, but now recognizing how sections transition into one another is crucial for cohesion.

Final Draft

At this point you’re ready to start working on a final draft. The final draft (high exactness) is a representative of the finished work. Any changes at this point must be low impact and superficial, such as spelling, word choice, or line breaks.


I’ve used the example of writing an essay for the purpose of illustrating the evolution of exactness, but the same ideas apply whether you’re writing content, building software, or planning an event. The following diagram illustrates how exactness progresses through different examples.

  Tolerance To Major Changes Examples

Tolerance To Major Changes Examples


Just remember that as you progress further along and invest more time, any changes made come at a greater cost. Starting rough, and then systematically increasing the exactness of your work will keep you on track for success!