I just read a quick post over on another Drupal shop's blog, Be a Partner, not a Vendor, and added a comment to the great point Dylan made about not limiting your project to the specs.

We've recently started asking our clients directly about their priorities for the project. Not just overall, but specifically for each one -- and particularly how they would rank these three aspects:

  • Timing
  • Budget
  • User Experience

It turns out the answer to this question can vary a lot! And if you're not on the same page with your client, you're probably going to disappoint them.

We find with most of our projects that delivering the base functionality is generally really straightforward, and we almost always nail the budget. But it turns out that the base functionality often is not as user-friendly as our clients pictured. Getting really nice, usable interfaces can take a lot more effort to get right, than just delivering a working, functional solution. This is the grey area where disagreements and missed expectations grow.

It's particularly a challenge for budget-sensitive clients. Lots of people come to us looking for Facebook-like user experiences, but they certainly don't have the budget to have a development team the size of Facebook working full time! We can provide an amazing amount of functionality on shoestring budgets, but that doesn't mean they're going to be as polished as what software-as-a-service providers build with multiple in-house developers.

Which are your priorities?

This model is not new. It's commonly called the Quality Triangle or Project Management Triangle -- "Fast, cheap, or good -- pick 2." However, instead of just identifying the lowest priority, we think ranking all three is more useful. If we take these 3 priorities, there are 6 different ways of ordering them:

  • Fast, within budget, cut scope
  • Strict budget, get launched, cut scope
  • Fast, high quality, add budget to get there
  • Premium user experience, get launched, ok to go over budget
  • Strict budget, high quality, take as long as you need
  • Premium user experience, keep to budget, willing to wait

Let's drill down into these project priorities just a little more, and give them names.

The Agile Entrepreneur - Fast and within budget

If you prioritize speed over all else, and don't mind reducing scope, you're probably into Agile. "Launch early and often", "if you're not breaking things you're not moving fast enough" and other slogans fit this type of prioritization, and it's pretty much the Silicon Valley mindset these days -- many of the most successful Internet companies started out this way.

The Hustler - Spend the least amount to get a result quickly

Starting with little or no budget, the hustlers get out and get to work, creating value out of not much resources. They may not have the budget to spend early on, but they emphasize getting something up and working so they can grow and add more functionality later, even if the first few releases are garbage -- having a presence is more important than getting it right.

The Mogul - Get there fast, don't care how much it costs

This clearly describes Amazon.com -- throw money at the problem with speed being the highest priority. Get something out the door and fix it later -- the biggest difference between the Mogul and the Agile entrepreneur is how much capital they have to throw at the problem.

The Visionary - It's got to be the best, get it going quickly

With more of an emphasis on quality, while still getting the project done and launched, these kinds of visionaries are among our favorites to work with. These are the sites that win awards, let us stretch our toolbox, and can be really fun to do.

The Main Street business - Will wait for a decent result, but it's got to be within my budget

We are quite accustomed to working with businesses with a very limited budget who want to get the best result possible. The web is developing so rapidly, things are changing so quickly, that cutting-edge sites of five years ago cost a quarter of what they used to cost. We can spin up basic sites in an afternoon. But if you want sophisticated user experiences, you might have to wait until there's a publicly-available module we can drop into your site, if you don't have the budget for us to develop it.

The Craftsman - Get the best result, however long it takes

We recently launched a site that was over 2 years in development. Most of the delay was our client going quiet on us, and not having their content ready to go, but part of it was the pixel-perfect, exacting design priorities they had, and not a lot of budget to spend on it. Eventually their priorities changed to more of the "Visionary" that needed to actually get it launched, they freed up some budget, and we got them live -- but if you want the best result on no budget, it's probably best to learn how to use the tools to build it yourself!

Or, another alternative these days is crowd-sourcing. We're quite interested in working with companies or organizations with a need, that many other organizations might share -- while you may not have the budget to get the job done, if you can help us reach out to other organizations who might be able to chip in, you could pool resources to make it something we can deliver. Obviously, this takes time, but it's a very interesting model...

Which one describes you -- today?

I can think of a client for every one of these categories -- we can usually find a way to work well with any of these. Where things go downhill is when we either misunderstand a client's priorities (which is why we now ask for these up front) or if we fail to manage to what we know are a client's priorities (allowing a "main street" customer to expand the scope beyond the budget they were willing to spend).

Internally, we definitely fall into the "Craftsman" category, building out our stuff, usually too slow, but always at the highest quality. Our favorite clients are the Visionaries -- the clients who want the highest quality, and don't mind spending to get it. But our successes go across the board.

Which one are you?

Feel free to drop us a line, or give us a ring at 206-577-0540.

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