When I first speak with potential clients, many are flush with the excitement of promoting their new product, or starting a new business. Rightly so: Good clients with truly innovative, interesting products are fun to work for, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
And then there’s Richard. (That’s what I’ll call him, at least.) Richard is a salesman, and he’s found a new angle to sell things (that people already buy) to people (who already buy them). Richard is excited because he sees dollar signs, and he wants boots on the ground toot sweet. Richard is familiar with his industry — very familiar, in fact. His industry is rife with politics, and fortunes are made and lost on relationships alone. Richard has these relationships, and he has this idea that will get him the yacht and the mansion and the Alfa Maserghini. He breathlessly outlined his idea to me in a phone call. But for now, of course, his budget is five bucks, two buttons, and a bottlecap.
The idea wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it was very new. It was newborn, and its fontanelle hadn’t exactly closed up yet. At the beginning of the conversation, the site behaved one way; Near the middle it behaved another way entirely. When I asked about the differences between these two versions of the site, he said, “I keep changing my mind every day. We need to start coding a prototype now and just tweak it as we go.”
Never mind the fact that his ideas are not only changing daily, but over the course of a phone call. Also, ignore the fact that to build his prototype by itself is a five-figure proposition. The excitement of starting his new project was leading him to jump in the pilot’s seat, pull some levers, and learn how to fly on the way there.
I said to Richard, “The day that your mind stops changing is the day you can start thinking about development. Until then, you need to keep refining your plan.”
Planning doesn’t have to be all Gantt charts and functional specifications. Richard’s idea had a bit of a game component to it, so I suggested that maybe making a board game first (out of scraps of paper or sticky notes, even) would be a good way to flesh out his nascent concept. But — as much as he wanted to — it was far too early to get designers, developers and project managers on board.
Richard, apparently, had called me after speaking with a development agency in India, who was ready to get started writing code. This could certainly explain some of the horror stories from outsourced projects: Overzealous clients and a can-do-how-high vendor attitude can be dangerous. Starting development too early means that when you change your mind halfway through, you have a half-baked solution that took half your resources. Not exactly efficient.
As easy as building a website seems to some, it’s still a process. It’s a partnership. We all need to be on the same page so we can get there together in one piece.
Jumping into the pool from the highest diving board may be exciting, but it’s risky.