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How to unpack a project idea with 5 simple questions

You: “I have an idea! This will be huge.”
Me: “What is it?”
You: “Not sure yet.”
Me: “Hm. Okay.”
You: “Okay, nevermind.”

Despite all excitement about new opportunities and our wishes about a better future, discussions about new project ideas can get stuck easily.

Despite all excitement about new opportunities and our wishes about a better future, discussions about new project ideas can get stuck easily.

I was searching for a simple guide to keep you on track as you explore new business opportunities. Here is a manual on how to unpack a project idea with 5 simple questions.

Each question follows a theme to frame the mindset, a set of supporting questions that can be used to stimulate further results, and some instructions for the actual exercise.

While the instructions apply to the respective question, there are some general remarks we can set before we start into the exercise.

  • Work visually and create physical output for every point.
  • It is not a linear flow. Go back to a question and refine if needed.
  • Take your time. It’s okay to stop midway and continue later on.
  • Again, take your time, and repeat the exercise.
  • Change your physical environment, e.g. go outside, especially if you feel stuck, .

Now, the 5 questions to unpack a new project idea.

What is it?

Theme: The existential foundation of your project.

Supporting questions:

  • What does the endproduct look like?
  • What is it similar to?
  • What would a 5 year old call it?


Use rationality and simple words. Focus on the existential parts of your idea, the raison d’être. Feel grounded and supported by the simple aspects of your idea.

It’s okay if words don’t come easy with this exercise. Many times it’s more complicated to call out the simple facts than the complicated ones. Keep it simple though. If you come across open issues, track those on a separate worksheet and pick them up later on.

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Theme: The creative twist about what makes it special.

Supporting questions:

  • What problem is it trying to solve?
  • How does it mark a difference to the status quo?
  • How would it work?


Use your creativity, imagination, intuition. Have fun. Go mad really. Unleash the designer inside you. Dance or sing if you wish. There is no guilt. There is no right or wrong. Just feel free and create!

It may sound a little odd, still I want to advocate for this: don’t think too much. Really. Don’t overthink it. Rather try to feel it and allow the ideas to pop up from anywhere else but your brain. Be it your gut, intuition, subconsciousness, whatever. That’s how the most original ideas are born.

What is the vision?

Theme: The interior perspective on your motivation.

Supporting questions:

  • What is our northstar – the vision – driving us?
  • What is the growth journey, and what are our milestones?
  • Where do we see the project in 30 days, 1 year, 5 years?


Zoom out a bit. Lift your attention on what is driving you to do this.

This may be tough for thouse who struggle with self-respect and acceptance. It may feel quite uncomfortable to expose a dream. Be relaxed though. Don’t allow this chance to slip through your fingers. Use your self-confidence and willpower. Trust yourself and be ready to push for your aspirations.

In some later stages of the project delivery you will thank yourself for the honest groundwork that you built here. It will make you feel in control and allow you to be assertive about your decisions.


Theme: Embrace everyone with whom you share this.

Supporting questions:

  • Who are the people engaging in the project?
  • How does it make them think and feel?
  • What change does it cause in them?


Allow your heart to open up to everyone involved in your project. Relate to your team mates, your investors or sponsors, your buyers, your users. Really anyone you could think of.

List your emotional state again and use your empathy. Be compassionate and empathatic to take the perspective of your peers. Feel what they will feel when they get in touch with your project. Feel the joy and gratitude inside yourself for their support.


Theme: Prove all the haters wrong.

Supporting questions:

  • How are we going to kill our project?
  • What is our riskiest assumption?
  • What is the biggest technical challenge?


Yes. You heard me right. Put on the hat of your sceptics and be truthfully sceptical yourself. Even enthusiastically sceptical. Use your logic. Be honest and truthful. Dismantle illusion. See the bigger picture. Address what needs to be addressed.

I know that this may be something unexpected. Your project hasn’t kicked off yet and we’re already wondering about all the reasons what makes it a stupid idea. That is intentional though.

Too many projects never truly take off the ground because some tough problems were neglected or ignored from the start. That may never happen to you. We don’t want to waste time and money. Therefore, speak up and let your voice be heard.


Cool! You’ve just unpacked your project idea and put it in a framework that allows you to pick it up and work on it. First, I want to give a suggestion how to communicate it. Then, we learn how to take further action.

To communicate your idea, put it in reverse sequential order. Start with the last of the 5 questions. Chain the main results of your idea to form a compelling story.

Sure thing you can vary the length and depth of your story. Take this example of a radically abbreviated story of the Wright Brothers’ dream to build the first aircraft.

question examplary output
Why not? “no man has ever travelled the air”
Whom is it for? “every traveller in the world”
What is the vision? “the fastest and most reliable means of travel”
What is it for? “long distance air travelling”
What is it? “the first airplane”


Examplary pitch:

This project lives because we want to change the fact that no man has ever travelled the air. We want to call every commercial traveller in the world. Join us on our endeavour towards creating the fastest and most reliable means of travel for human kind. We solve the problem of long distance air travelling. This is the first airplane. Are you in?


Pick up the single hardest challenge why you should not do the project. Work on it for a defined time window, e.g. 30 days. Solve the challenge.

Then sit together. Present the results to an audience bigger than the project team. Ask yourself the following two questions.

  • How are we going to kill our project today? (enthusiastic scepticism)
  • Are we on the path to make an extensive difference? (unchecked optimism)

Note that this methodology was proven and used be the team of Astro Teller at Google’s Moonshot Factory. Here is how you move ahead.

If you were not able to solve the challenge, kill the project.

If you deviated too far from making an extensive difference, kill the project.

If both of the above does not apply, keep iterating and solve the second hardest challenge, then the third hardest, and so on, untill you reach a viable product.

Thanks for reading. Help to improve this post on GitHub. Thank you for your contribution.

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