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The skills required when building something new

Building something new, be it a home, product, or IT system, starts with a vision and requirements and then goes through the lifecycle of prototype, design, construction, test & release. Each stage of this cycle requires specific skills and expertise from those participating in it

Besides the scheduled work, unplanned contingencies changes in user requirements will occur & require adjustments to scope, schedules & costs through the lifecycle. Hence the one skill which is required across all stages is the ability to adapt and adjust to change.

For anyone aspiring to be part of a team involved in a new build, it is important to understand the skill types required at each stage. Then identify the overlap with personal skills / strengths and hence which part of the lifecycle these will allow participation in.

Alternatively, knowing the skills / abilities required at different stages, work on building the requisite skills to be able to participate in the stage of the build which you want to.

Outlined below is the high level skill matrix for the 5 stages which any new build goes through. These are the broad skills required across most new builds. Taking them as a starting point a more context specific skill matrix can be detailed for the skills required for any new build like a television, or parking lot or mobile app. (can be also taken to the end)

1. Requirements stage - Understand the functionality required

The usage, design, and functionality of a concert theater are unique, as are those for a hotel. Similarly, a mobile application being built to enable remote banking has its unique functional requirements, very different from one which is being built to enable remote customer care workers.

Even for the same facility or application, the usage & functionality required will differ in different locations & geographies.

Therefore knowledge of the industry, location & usage is essential in the requirements gathering phase.

During this stage there is very close interaction with the end users to understand their expectations of functionality & usage from the end outcome. The ability to interactively engage with them is a critical skill.

2. Prototype or proof of concept

With the functionality outlined, it’s time to create a wireframe, visualization, or prototype of what the final outcome will look like. This allows allow end users to do a test drive or walk through and share feedback on what they would want to retain, drop, change, or add. They can understand the constraints and benefits of different options and determine which is best suited for their needs.

Key skills required at this stage are the ability to visualize and implement. Take a functional scope, envision a working prototype, and work with tools & technologies to create it.

Since the prototyping stage involves lower cost and risk compared to the final build, it is a stage which allows greater experimentation of approaches, tools, techniques, and technologies.

This is a fertile stage for those who are naturally curious and experimenters. Those who are inclined to take a set of requirements translate it into alternative visualizations or prototypes, incorporate new and emerging ideas and approaches, and detail which will be the right ones to use in which situations.

Once prototyped, the alternative options need to be presented to end users, helping them use or walk through them. The pros and cons of each option will be outlined, feedback solicited and, a consensus reached on the final feature set & requirements. Here again, the ability to engaged closely with end users and interactively lead to a consensus is a key skill.

3. Design

Once a prototype / concept & functionality has been approved, it’ s time to detail the design, architecture, bill of materials, tools, and schedules and make choices, tradeoffs and prioritization of which is best suited for the intended end result .

This is the phase in which the experienced hands will come in to ensure that the design and choices of tools, materials, and schedules are robust and suitable for development / construction.

4. Development

In the development stage, it’s all hands to deck now to take the project to fruition.

There are multiple moving parts, resources, and high costs involved. It’s the stage for those who have the experience and expertise of delivering the output on spec, schedule & budget.

In addition to the design & build teams, project and program managers will get added to the team to track schedules, resources, & budgets. There will be active participation of specialists from resource supply chain & infrastructure to enable the development teams. If the program requires it, specialists in compliance, environment, and legal may also be involved.

With so many entities engaged, the ability to collaborate and work constructively with these multiple groups is a key skill required of those participating in the development stage.

And through the development process there will be periodic demonstration of progress to the end users to get their input & approval, and then build further. Hence the ability to engage regularly and interactively with them is an essential skill at this stage too.

5. Test & release

Wherever feasible, test and release cycles are getting intertwined into the development process to enable regular and phased delivery of the end outcome.

In some cases like new software applications, the short cycle releases can also be delivered to end users for final usage with limited functionality. In other cases like the construction of a parking lot or television, these shorter cycles or sprints are still used even though the release to end users may only be when the final product or building is completed.

In either case, successful participation in the test cycle requires understanding of the required functionality of the end output, the circumstances under which it will get used in order to set up the appropriate test cases & scenarios.

The use of tools & technologies is a significant facilitator in ensuring comprehensive and rapid testing. Derivatively, the knowledge of which validation tools to use, and how, is a very valuable skill in this phase.

Having completed the testing process, the product, app or building is to be released to end users. This is again an extremely interactive activity with walkthroughs of features, functionality, and best practices of usage. It is also the time to capture feedback from users on what meets their intended requirements and what could be improvements or enhancements required in the future.

In closing

A new build starts with users outlining their requirements and culminates in the final testing & handover of a finished end product, facility or application code.

During each stage of the build process, specific set of skills are required. Some skills are required only in one stage, while others like the ability or adapt to changes in scope and because of unplanned events is required at each stage.

Highlighted in the table below are the key skills required at different stages of a new build

Any professional who is looking to participate in a new build, be it a computer application, apartment, automobile, or television, should understand the skills required at each stage of a build lifecycle.

Then make an assessment of his/her skills and strengths and if/where they can participate and contribute

Alternatively, if she/he aspires to work at a certain stage of a build cycle, say prototyping, then understand what skills are required at that stage and develop them to be an asset at that stage of the development

Keep swinging!

You may also want to read - What are your professional assets?

Acknowledgements - Thank you Prashant Mahajan for your inputs and insight.


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