Projects as Subtractive Processes


Technical projects are often thought of as additive processes. Engineers will often say that they're makers or builders of new products or technologies, adding value to something, or that they're designing a new solution.

Those are all useful ways to describe technology development, but it can also be good to describe projects with subtractive terms, as in "we're removing obstacles". I think I need some of that.

Let's make a little model of (or remove confusion about) projects in general, to explain the image above.

Imagine that every technical project is carving out a hole in a wall that separates a user or consumer from something desirable.

Obstacles can be categorized and layered. Different projects have different kinds and amounts of layers.

Let's look at the lowest layer. Before one starts a project, it's important to learn if the desired outcome conflicts with the laws of physics. Don't start a project where laws of physics stand between your user and success.

So product creation is a subtractive process, removing obstacles between the user and some desirable outcome.

To maximize the field of view for the consumer through the hole, we should shape it like this, ideally:

The field of view metaphor says that the more unknown or fundamental problems should be removed more thoroughly, or require more work per user happiness.

But product creation is a process. We need to plan some steps between start and finish.

The process is often designed to secure sustainable funding throughout the development process, like this:

A well known but ambitious project, like quantum computing or a space mission, will look like a pit dug down from above, at least for the first few years. This shape makes people expect breakthroughs.

An in-house product development or research project, will look more like a cone shape drilling up from below. The shape of invisible ground work. This shape makes people confused and surprised.

The ideal final shape of a hole can also be discussed. A heavily marketed product looks good from afar, like this:

A more niched or indy-style product is invisible from afar, but looks good if you come up close, like this:

I think Hangprinter has become a product with goodness that is almost completely unapproachable, like this:

... Or even this:

Or actually, most of the people that I want to reach haven't even heard about Hangprinter. Like the shape in the first image of this post, with no opening at the top.

Among the hard-to-see and hard-to-use stars in the Hangprinter Project are the line-collision-detector, hp-mark, and auto-calibration-simulation-for-hangprinter.

I'm eager to add other low level features like line force measurements and various kinds of online adaptive algorithms to improve accuracy, precision, speed etc. Really eager.

The subtractive way to look at Hangprinter makes it easier for me to wait, and instead focus more on getting the existing features to fit together. Sticking to what I wrote in the previous Hangprinter newsletter.

Anyways, I hope this home-made toy-model of a project can be useful or entertaining to you. Try it when you need to communicate project status or during project planning. Bye!

- tobben


Hangprinter Campaign: Bountysource Salt

Hangprinter Merchandise USA:

Hangprinter Merchandise Sweden:

Hangprinter Project: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24], [25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30], [31], [32], [33], [34], [35], [36], [37], [38], [39], [40], [41], [42], [43], [44], [45], [46], [47], [48], [49], [50], [51], [52], [53], [54], [55], [56], [57], [58], [59], [60], [61], [62], [63], [64], [65], [66], [67], [68], [69], [70], [71], [72], [73], [74], [75], [76], [77]

Hangprinter Project Homepage:

Print Issue Solution Filter Project: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Sourcing RepRappro Mendel in Larvik: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7]

Archive: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021

Github Profile: link

Gitlab Profile: link

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