The 90 per cent solution: how to finish projects on time for less money

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Posted by Matthew Stibbe

I have spent a lot of my life in software development, first at Intelligent Games and then, while at Articulate, designing and launching Turbine. If there’s one thing I know about software development it’s this: it’s hard to finish projects on time.

Based on that experience, I can tell you that there is a lot of truth in the old programmer saying: ‘the first 90 per cent of a project takes 90 per cent of the time but the last ten per cent of the work takes the other 90 per cent of the time.’ Geeks know things like that.

How many business decisions become more complicated and expensive because people want the perfect 100 per cent solution?

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A great example is the all-singing, all-dancing, fully automated, totally-integrated business application. But customised software costs a king’s ransom. It’s not just the development cost: perfect takes longer and demands more time and attention.

That’s okay if you’re writing software for nuclear power stations or autopilots. But most business projects don’t need to be failsafe or gold-plated.

The alternative is an off-the-shelf system or outsourced option that does most of what you want – the 90 per cent solution – but at a much lower price. Find ways around the missing ten per cent and move on to the next project or put them in the next sprint for future development.

It’s just easier to finish projects on time if you reduce the scope and lower your sights.

This is what we’re trying to do with Turbine. It’s an affordable off-the-shelf way to do routine admin chores that works well for most businesses.

My question for you is: are you letting ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good enough’? Stop wasting time and money seeking the perfect solution and upgrade to almost perfect.

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