Walking skeleton is an awesome method for coming up with rapid planning of how you can build a product that can create value as soon as possible. This technique though, is not as well known as I think it should and sometimes it can be difficult to get your head around it when you never use it. So today I’m going to explain it in a very simplified manner.
Let’s set our example with this fictional scenario. Your existing desktop machine failed completely and you finally made up your mind to spend some cash to build a new gaming rig. This will be a desktop machine with quite a bit of grunt and should be able to play the latest and greatest games in high quality! You’ve got the money and ready to buy the equipment.
Unfortunately things are not that simple, at the very moment you are tasked with a report that you have to complete within the next 3 days and on top of that, the web app that you promised your customer has to be ready within the next 1 week (you almost complete it though and thankfully you sourced control it :) ).
With the above in mind, assume that you already researched the cheapest shop where you can get your gaming components. As always with good quality but good price, the graphic card that you want, the NVidia GTX 1080 is not available until the next 3 weeks and the shop only have one 8 GB RAM stick left in stock (you are after high performance ones after all).
So what do you need to do? As with any project, you have to prioritize. Here’s where walking skeleton comes into play. Let’s take a look at the one that I have drawn below:
In order to satisfy the need to complete the report within 3 days, you need to quickly build the machine with bare-bones spec. We can call this MVP V1 (Minimum Viable Product).
This initial version 1 rig will consist of:
- Extendable mother board (something high end that can easily take more components)
- Intel i7 4 Cores processor. Simply because this is available straight away and we don’t want to waste money buying processor again
- On-board graphic chip. At least we can attach a monitor to this computer.
- 8GB RAM. Because this is what’s available straight away.
- 256 SSD
- Other components such as power supply and case is assumed to be installed too
With the above version 1 rig, you should be able to install the operating system and any word processing applications that you use. You then get immediate value from you would be gaming machine in about half a day as all the parts are ready and it should take only a couple hours assembling and installing the software. With that the report is completed in 3 days and you are happy!
Next we have to satisfy the business requirement to complete our web application. After all, work comes before play most of the time. Software development requires a bit more grunt though and due to the nature of your application, you need to simulate a couple of virtual machines. Which means you’ll need more space.
This is why in our walking skeleton, in the V2 phase we add another 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. Let’s assume that the shop somehow manage to whip up an extra 8GB stick that week.
With that you finished up your application and your customer is happy. Again, iterative improvements of your desktop has provided quicker value for you, just in time.
3 weeks has passed, since then your report has been completed and you’ve delivered a working piece of software to your customer. It’s time to complete the gaming rig. Fortunately the shop finally has the GTX1080 that you’ve been waiting for at 25% discount! You buy that and while you are at it you throw in additional RAM that your desktop now have 32GB of RAM. On top of that you’ve take the processing power to the next level with liquid cooling!
In closing, the walking skeleton is quite a simple but powerful brainstorming and planning tool. Looking at our scenario above, if you had waited for 3 weeks for the perfect gaming machine (due to the graphic card) until you purchased all the components and started building the machine, you’d have missed the report deadline and the web application delivery deadline.
Therefore, always think of iterative planning using walking skeleton to produce a workable product as soon as possible. Think about what are the barebone components that you can put together until the product can produce some value to the customer. Then think about what are the next components that can provide more values within a reasonable timeframe.
I hope the example scenario above can help you with understand what the walking skeleton is all about. This article is of course a really simplified scenario and as usual start simple first and build upon it.