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Chinese Proverb

journey-chinese-proverbA few years ago I was introduced to the ancient Chinese proverb* that states, “It will take you twice as long, and cost you twice as much as you expected.” At the time I was working inside of a large, public company for the first time in my career. The frequency that this proverb proved true drove me absolutely crazy. At times it seemed like teams took this concept to new extremes by not only doubling estimates, but also rounding up to the next unit for good measure. For example, “This should take us 2 weeks to complete, double that gives us 4 weeks, rounding up the units means we will need 4 months to complete this project.”

When I struck out on my own again I was determined to not allow this to happen on my projects. Surely it had to be the culture of big companies that made something like this happen.  After working on 3 of my own projects, here are the results so far:

  • Mobile App: I started this project in August of 2013. The goal was to release it right before the end of the year in time to catch the New Year’s resolution crowd. I figured 5 months was more than enough time to build what I was envisioning. The app released in May of 2014, a full 5 months late. Chinese Proverb 1, Shane 0.
  • Mobile App Update: In July of 2014 I started the first update to my mobile app. I carefully wrote the spec, and limited the scope of what would be included in the update. I figured it should take no longer than 4 weeks to complete the work. The update took 8 weeks and 3 days. Chinese Proverb 2, Shane 0.
  • FilterSnap “Coming Soon” Website: I needed a logo, a simple website design and someone to put the code together to make the website work. I estimated a couple of weeks in late-July 2014. It is now September, and the website is still in development. Chinese proverb 3, Shane 0.

I am getting slaughtered by this Chinese proverb!

Why is this? Thanks for asking. I’ve come to realize that there is a big difference in projects where you do all of the work, and projects where you rely on others to help you complete them. When my brother and I started I don’t recall missing deadlines like this, but we did everything ourselves. I believe the root cause is a passion problem.

When you are passionate about a project, and you are doing all of the work yourself, it is easy for you to put in 15 hour days, stopping only for a couple slices of pizza, and to refill your Mt Dew.  You don’t miss deadline because you just work harder to make sure you don’t.  Working on holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays isn’t a question, you do whatever it takes to get the project done.

When you hire others to do work on your projects, they do not bring this same level of passion.  This is not an indictment of the people you hired, just a simple fact. Sure, they may want to work on your project because they love the idea, or see value in working on it with you, but in the end it is just a job. They have no reason to put in extra hours, work weekends, not take vacations days or call in sick just to make your deadline.

So what does all this mean? If you are willing, and able, to do all of the work on your project by yourself there is a good chance you can deliver in whatever timeline you estimate. However, if you are relaying on others to help you complete a project, you’d better plan on it taking twice as long, and costing twice as much as you expected.

* Disclaimer: This is not actually an ancient Chinese proverb.