The Agilist Network

Tales and Tips from Agile Software Projects

So You Want to Build a Better Mousetrap?

Posted by kenhoward on November 7, 2008

The first mousetrap was invented over 100 years ago. To this day, many have pursued the perfect mousetrap. Ralph Waldo Emerson added fuel to the fire when he said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” So what is “better”, anyway?

The de facto mousetrap choice is the “two for a dollar” Victor snap trap (pictured.) It’s easy to use and has a nearly 90% success rate in achieving its intended goal. So if that’s the case, why have over 4400 mousetrap patents been issued by the US Patent Office? What are we looking for in a mousetrap anyway?

In surveying the market, I found everything from mouse electric chairs to mouse gas chambers . (The latter actually sends you a text message when the deed is done.)

If building a better mousetrap were a software development project, I’d be fascinated to learn what the world really wants in a mousetrap. My guess is that some want cheap, some want exotic, and still others want humane. If I were assigned to the “build a better mousetrap” project, there may truly be 4400 viable (and vastly different) solutions. Therein lies the problem for requirements analysts – The primary functional requirement of all mousetraps is the same (don’t make me say it.) Nailing the surrounding requirements, the values of the stakeholder, the attributes of the target solution — it’s all this stuff that can turn a simple project into a huge project. In my many consulting assignments around the world have encountered very few requirements analysts who truly know how to manage these requirements very well…and it’s these surrounding requirements that can make the difference between project success and project failure.


2 Responses to “So You Want to Build a Better Mousetrap?”

  1. Vicky said

    Something else that will make a difference is making sure you’re headed down the right path, mousetrap-wise. If you’re committed to making a mousetrap, there might be 4,440+ solutions. But if you’re committed to solving someone’s mouse problem and throw other non-mousetrap solutions into the mix — extermination services, poison, cats, terriers, etc. — then the possibilities are countless. The key is determining not what you, the mousetrap developer, thinks is the best solution, but what the end user thinks is the best solution.

  2. […] Comments Vicky on So You Want to Build a Better…kenhoward on Sudoku Sizing of User Sto…Chris Tullier on Sudoku Sizing of […]

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