Do Your Homework (Research Spike)
Ok, so I was inspired, but wasn’t ready to build anything just yet. I started where most research starts these days–the internet. Specifically Google and Amazon. I was looking for a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solution to my problem. Basically, something I could buy and it would just work. This is almost always a great place to start, but a difficult one for some software teams to embrace.
Because development teams are in the business of building new things, there is a tendency to want to be creative when solving each new problem. There is pride and ownership in creating something new and solving a problem in a new way.
Trouble is, most problems aren’t new problems. And when you solve a problem (old or new) in a new way, you don’t get the benefit of what other people have learned along the way. You take full responsibility for performance, scalability and maintainability with your new solution. Knowing this, I started looking for an existing solution.
I found several options. Some wood, some wire, some metal. All good solutions, but there weren’t any that met my requirements.
Based on the space available, I needed shelves that were 24 inches by 48 inches and that hung approximately 17 inches from the ceiling in order to clear the garage doors.
Nearly every solution I found was for a larger shelf (meaning the COTS solutions were designed for bigger problems than the one I had). And there weren’t any I found that were the right size and would let me hang less than 18 inches from the ceiling. Again, if you are mass producing a solution, how big is the market for people who need a shelf this small?
I concluded that I truly did need a custom solution, but since my background isn’t in construction, I didn’t want to (and didn’t trust myself) to design it completely from scratch. So I took inspiration from the COTS solutions.
All the solutions consisted of some similar features (identify what is the same). There was a shelf, hanging supports on each corner and ceiling mounts.
I looked at my garage and found that my garage doors were hung from the ceiling using slotted angle iron (a term I had to learn–I hate the point in a new project where you don’t even know what terms to use when you do a google search). This looked like a possibility.
I noticed that this was the same solution used in several of the commercial solutions. Some used a 3 inch piece of angle iron for each ceiling mount. I discovered they used 3 inch long lag bolts to screw the brackets into the ceiling, so I copied that design element.
I found several instruction sets for building shelves or work tables using slotted angle iron and from those saw the basic construction principles involved. Which, truthfully are no different than a kid’s erector set.
Confident I had the basics down, it was time for some more detailed planning.