Why You Should Build Your Product Like a Rube Goldberg Machine

Making the most complex things dead simple

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Here’s what happened

My youngest got assigned a science project to build a Rube Goldberg machine, a device named after a cartoonist who drew up elaborate plans for systems that performed simple tasks in purposefully complicated ways.

Build one modular piece at a time

Here’s how most products are built: Great designs are drawn up to create a dozen or more major feature sets, all of them linked, all of them working together in perfect harmony to complete one awesome use case for the customer.

  • They chose their goal (play the song) at the outset, and they stuck to it.
  • They designed way more steps than the assignment called for, because they wanted to impress everyone.
  • They chose the functionality of each step because that functionality was awesome, not because it was necessary to move the marble from step to step.

Do you build the first step first or the last step first?

This is where the term “Minimum Viable Product” entered the project. Almost every startup struggles trying to decide which piece to build first.

Test your viability

Our end goal was to impress all his classmates with a push of a spacebar on a laptop that would play a song (I’m compelled here to add that it was not the Spice Girls). Because the last step required a certain amount of accuracy and force, we built the next-to-last step first.

This is what regression testing is for

As we built additional steps, we tested each step individually, then slotted the step into our MVP and tested our growing machine thoroughly. This is regression testing, and it’s one of the most overlooked steps in the process.

Check your team, manage your time

Now, my son’s lab partner is a good kid and a smart student. He’s also a good guy to have around, funny, energetic, and creative.

Pre-launch and launch

Their Rube Goldberg machine is to be demonstrated at an assembly, this morning actually, so the last thing we did, once all the testing was done and all the glue was dry, was very carefully test walk the machine from his room to the car. This was our test launch to make sure the system held up under the duress of production.

I’m a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. Building Precision Fermentation & Teaching Startup. Former Spiffy & Automated Insights. More at joeprocopio.com

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