When calculating the value of a project, consider the lifetime value of a client
Early in my career as a freelancer, I would look back on projects that went way over budget on time, and when eating a large portion of my time I would tell myself “I’m never doing that again”. However, on the very next project I would fall back into my old habits of trying to make sure that the customer got what they wanted for their budget.
Many times looking back, I considered this a business error. After all, how can I make any money if I flush it down the drain by going over budget and eating a large amount of my time on every startup project? Time and time again on new projects, I would add unnecessary features early in the project, and then late in the project regret it because of the non-billed time I spent in order to close the project out to the client’s satisfaction.
Lately however, I’ve looked back upon my career and a successful application lives on, grows and needs to be nurtured and enhanced. Some of my biggest failures on the initial project have virtually made my business. Without giving any numbers in particular, I’ve had several projects that, over the lifetime of the project, have provided revenues of over 70 times the initial project costs. Now with this comes a great deal of service, but after all, that’s what we sell right? And unlike the initial project, where there is usually some risk with the client, add-ons after the project is a success are typically a no-brainer. Adding a report here or a time-saving action there provides immediate quantifiable value, and is usually an easy target for us to stay on budget.
It’s so important to make sure you get to the finish line with relationships intact, even though at the end of it you may be so tired of the project that you want to rip all of your hair out and go be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I think this is where a lot of freelancers and businesses fail. At the end, they are so frustrated with the project and client relationship that they are ready to move on to something and someone else, where they swear they will not make the same mistakes.
With a focus on the life of the relationship, it has taken the pressure to avoid eating the cost of some overtime on the initial project off of our chest, and allowed us to focus on the long term goals of the client as if they are our own. After all, their success is our success and embracing that has made all the difference.
Read more about how we invest in the initial project for the sake of the lifetime value of the client with Test Driven Development.
A Programmer’s Haiku
For on-time launches
We admire to dispel
A programmer’s optimism
— Marshall Malone
Experience teaches a developer that the qualities that make great programmers can also break them.
Programmers are artists. Programming is a synthetic art. Programmers create something from nothing. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that a programmer, by nature, is an optimist.
The difficulty, however, is that a programmer’s belief in himself, or a project’s outcome, does not always allow him to factor sound logic in his construction of a timeline. When this happens, his optimism has failed him and the client. Most programmers will admit that they consistently underestimate how long it will take them to accomplish a task.
I’m inspired by the book; The Mythical Man-Month, by Frederick Brooks, Jr.; a well-known IBM developer. At the book’s core, he dispels the notion that adding man-hours to a project will speed the pace of that project. In fact, he affirms “adding manpower to a late project makes it later.” In describing this assertion, he uses the analogy that 9 women cannot work together to produce a baby in one month.
The Man-Month, in a timeline, suggests that X number of men can accomplish Y many tasks in Z many months and that the men and months are interchangeable. (more men = fewer months, more months = fewer men, etc…) As eager as programmers and patrons are to see a project to conclusion, many employ this myth into their logic. This brings a slow and painful death to their client’s satisfaction.
Brooks says, “Men and months are interchangeable commodities only when a task can be partitioned among many workers with no communication among them.” In other words; when tasks require heavy communication, the project doesn’t speed up with more effort. In fact, adding man-hours can slow a project down.
I remember a client’s story; how 2/3 of their team was replaced with “better developers” in the middle of the project. Though the developer believed and even insisted they would be on time, his reasoning was based on a false and optimistic notion; the mythical man-month. As the client feared, they launched almost 6-months later than intended, and by the end of the 6th month, everyone was seeing blood.
At the root of this is the understanding that programmers don’t just slip into a project. They require training by those people who are experienced in the project. For example; adding 2 men will require at least 3 man-months to get them up to speed; time, which is most likely, not budgeted in the original estimate. This also means the tasks are redistributed 5-ways so that by the end of the 3rd month, 7 more months of effort remain. With 5-trained people standing; only 1-month remains in the budget and the product is now late, as if no one had been added.
To hope to get done in 4-months, considering only training time and not repartitioning and extra systems test, would require adding 4 men, not 2, at the end of the 2nd month. Now, one has at least a 7-man team, not a 3-man [team]…”
And the client suffers as their expectations far exceed the reality. There are two prices that every client pays when a project falls behind.
- The financial and psychological costs to both developer and patron because of added man-hours.
- The impact of late software on a business, which depends on the project to support the business efforts.
As costly as this is, it is a failure by most developers to deploy sound planning principles. Instead of calculating myths, the average project should look like this, according to Brooks:
1/4 component test and early system test
1/4 system test, all components in hand
- The number of months of a project depends on its sequential restraints.
- The maximum number of men depends on the independent number of subtasks.
From these two quantities one can derive schedules using fewer men and more months. One cannot get a workable schedule using more men and fewer months.
Until estimating is on a sounder basis, individual managers will need to stiffen their backbones and defend their estimates with the assurance that their poor hunches are better than wish-derived estimates.
I think of our company as one that provides reliable service, but I have been recently affirmed in this notion when I began reaching out through social media. The results blew me away.
This summer we launched a new initiative to reach out to our personal connections and see whom we know. It wasn’t a difficult exercise, but required that we take a bit of time each day to engage ourselves on LinkedIn. When we began, our combined list of contacts was small, more indicative of our social networking inactivity than the reality of connections.
As we reached out, we did not merely send out invitations to connect and move on, but we relied on thoughtful engagement, going for as much quality as quantity. Our hope was to connect in a more tangible way; making referrals, endorsements, writing recommendations, and providing readable and relevant content on our website. It was important to us that this experience was less about intrusion for numbers sake and more about benefitting those with whom we connected. In other words; if they benefitted – it would be returned to us.
It didn’t take long to see an impact on our bottom line. New connections led to new conversations, which led to new projects. In short order, we nearly doubled the number of people in our network, and the connections we made gave us a great deal of positive feedback. Here’s one such example:
Whiteboard-IT is extremely knowledgeable, providing innovative IT solutions to help resolve my needs in a timely and cost effective manner. They are available at a moment’s notice and are highly responsive to issues that need to be resolved quickly. Bottom line…they do what they say they will do. I have recommended Whiteboard to other colleagues in a variety of businesses and will continue to do so. I cannot say enough good things about their customer service, technical expertise, and business personality.
Jessica Boroff, RN, BSN The Compliance Store
Of course she would not have said these things if we weren’t good at what we do. Her recommendation is now posted on our site, which others will also see. But the renewed activity, including these testimonials, has been a priceless part in priming our sales pipeline. And future clients are more confident when they you have mutual connections.
But it goes to show; If you do a quality work at your trade it’s unlikely that everything has completely dried up, fiscal cliff or not. You may find, as we did, that reaching out out to your connections may be of great benefit. It may also generate a nice return.
The general consensus is that Generation Y is less trustworthy than any before it. This is not the case and we are getting a bad rap for a few bad apples. Our entire social graph is online now and in many cases publicly exposed. Our interactions, our relationships and our friends are public record.
Everyone complains about the death of privacy. In another sense, however, it is the birth of accountability. Whether privacy is an inalienable human right is up for debate, but in today’s world it’s much less likely for a con artist to be successful because of our growing reliance on social reputation. In the past a con artist might move from town to town leaving their bad deeds behind them. Now, unless you are willing to assume a new identity and start over, your history will follow. Beware of those that have no history.
In today’s world of interconnectivity and social reputation there is no starting over unless you are in the witness protection program. The more connected you are, the more transparent you are, and the more trusted you will be. Your social reputation demonstrates your trustworthiness. So get out there and be nice to people and don’t be a crook. Today’s world will hold you socially accountable and that’s a price you can’t afford to pay!
Sunset arrives and your afternoon nap went a little long. Suddenly you launch yourself from the couch and hurriedly begin closing your shutters using the new bolts you located on Amazon, which also introduced its latest product; Zombie Preparedness Kits; complete with HK1 hydrokinetic adjustable wrench that you never knew you needed until now. With local distribution centers, you need not wait 43-days, the new UPS-Ground delivery time from the West Coast. It avoids most cemeteries where the undead are mostly concentrated.
Your shoe closet is worthless. The boxes are great for your kids new hobby of collecting and burying reanimated human digits that squirm on the ground; one of the creepiest normalities of this new world. Prada’s sales have plummeted, while Zappos more practical Kevlar boots and thick leather mid-calf selections are flying off the virtual shelf. Everything has changed. Graphic novelists now became useful, hired as consultants because who else knows more about reanimated human life forms? This is was one of the millions of ways uninfected men and women needed to reinvent themselves.
The CDC.gov document was prophetic, as was the reportedly fictional work published by the Weather Channel. They were ready. Those who didn’t adapt digitally were eaten alive. Literally. Fortifications needed to be strengthen, food needed to be hoarded, and e-business became competitive to the extreme. Why? Clothing racks are great hidy-holes for mindless “Walkers” eager to eat your brains.
Smart businesses prepared early, using SEO strategies with key words like Brain Delicacies, Undead, cross bow, and throwing axes. Knowing how to play ball, they saw the trends before-hand and coded their sites appropriately. Security features didn’t just deal with PCI compliance, but maintained new rules on delivery men, including those who rode shotgun. Old school sites were still optimized for Gangnam Style queries; laughably useless in days like this.
Analytics and trend analysis has now saved many lives, feeding families with profits earned by businesses ahead of the horde. But even if there were not zombies, they would have been ready. Still – it’s not too late for you.
If you are thinking about how growing trends could impact your market then you have made your first step in staying ahead of the horde. Zombies or no, the tide is moving and you need to get on board.
CFO’s and business owners want feedback from their programmers, which is tough when often times the better programmers have spent their lives incubating skills that borrow from their ability to return phone calls. And costs for a web site are all over the place; from several hundred dollars for a simple revision to a hundreds of thousands of dollars for a site with vast databases, and volumes of functionality. So – when a project depends on a high level of accountability and communication, and all of them do, clients just want to know what is really happening behind the veil of code.
All consultants’ fees are based on a daily billing rate, which reflects the value they place on one day’s labor plus expected overhead expenses. These rates appear in fixed fees, monthly retainers, hourly billing or even by measuring a company’s performance. Either way, those fees must be justified with the quality of their work combined with effective communication and reporting.
The savior of the coding hero is to maintain good internal systems and to enjoy the ability to recognize weakness and to compensate for it by surrounding one’s self with colleagues of varying skills and personalities. This wisdom steers a client away from hiring one-man shops where “man-down” doesn’t mean the death of a project. Consistency comes when redundancies are as present as the front-line programmer.
At Whiteboard, we make a habit of communicating internally through continual education, participation in the open source community and a diligent internal peer review process. In doing so we encourage our staff to pay attention to the details. It also keeps us talking, keeping all parties informed. Upon request, our clients receive online access to reports that monitor the progress of each project, including time sheets.
We have cleaned up many messes created by one-man shops or companies who care little for the details. And while we are grateful for the opportunity to do so, we feel your pain and look forward to providing relief.
Whiteboard-IT is closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. We wish you a merry feast and will re-open for business on Monday, November 26th. For those traveling – please be safe.
As your company grows and the demands on your time grow more and more monumental, it is easy to fall into the trap of just reacting to the emails, forms and communication that bombard you with increasing frequency.
Your insurance company wants you to get some forms signed for them. You answer the phone, and a payroll processing company wants to take you to lunch. Your recruiters are scheduling interviews. Legal council has some contract adjustments to discuss. Before you know it, the calendar for your whole week is full. While all these things sound quite important, what’s more important is that you become the decider of what is important.
If you live in this reactive state, then you are letting the world around you decide what is most important for your business. It’s not that the world is necessarily out to get you, it’s just that time is finite. If you want to truly be the master of your destiny then you need to take control of what is put on your calendar, what calls you take, what calls you make, and what deserves your attention.
So what am I suggesting you do? Don’t be a slave to your to-do list. You should have three or less major endeavors that you are personally pursuing. Being an executive is about looking into that crystal ball and trying to skate to where the puck will be. Once you have decided what you want to do then it’s time to either do it or delegate it or scheduled it. There is really no other decision. The delay it, file it for later decisions are for hoarders. If it isn’t important enough to get someone started on it now or schedule it, then it isn’t important. If it becomes important again later then you will be aware of it because you will be doing it or delegating it.
In the transition to this mindset, you will need to frequently ask yourself the following question throughout the day.
Am I doing the most valuable thing I could be doing for the future of my business?
The answer will not always be yes, but if it is not yes at least twice a day then you are doing something wrong.
For the best lessons in Web Development, sometimes we don’t need to look further than the lessons we learned in kindergarten. We have found that one of the best tools to communicate between developer and customer is a simple pen and a few pieces of paper.
A crucial part in the development and design of websites and applications is communication. Communication of ideas, concepts, design and user experience between the developers and clients increases the likelihood of satisfaction for the client and a quality product. Frequent demonstrations of working software can keep the project moving and focused in the right direction. Yet it can sometime be hard to narrow down exactly what the client wants for their site or application. Most projects start with a general idea and become more focused as the project moves along. Clients don’t realize what it is they prefer in terms of design and functionality until they see the working software. This development method is called Agile Development and is very flexible and adaptive to constant changes. However, it’s most effective when the project has a basis/example from which to work towards. Think “like Facebook for [insert x]” or “similar to gmail.” But what if the idea is one of simple parameters and functions but no clearly defined user interface or implementation? That is where Paper Prototyping has value.
Instead of working software to demonstrate after a week of development, Paper Prototyping is utilized at the beginning of a development cycle. This method asks the client to act as the user while the developers “drive” them through the interface. However, it’s not software that is used, instead it’s common paper items found in every office. Sometimes it’s as simple as a white piece of paper with a drawing of the website’s look. The best and more effective kinds use folders, note cards, note pads, and post-it notes to represent different functions on the page. To show you what I mean, let’s look at some prototyping for a site that might want to implement a User Management feature.
Most sites today have users create some form of account or profile. If you are looking to design a site with this function, maybe you don’t know exactly how it should look or what functions should be available. For this example, we’ll use a site who’s company is looking to sell products and or services. Let’s start with a mock-up of the homepage:
It’s a white piece of paper with a “To-Do List” paper note as the profile sign-in. On the left hand side or two sticky notes used to represent possible functions or features on the page. These features may have been explicitly stated by the client, but in the case where it’s not, they are easily changeable. Case in point, you can quickly demonstrate what the user would see if they had an invalid login.
Quick and Easy. As the user, you are asked to then make a selection by the developer. So let’s say your goal is to attract new users. One thing they will all have in common is to fill out information on a “Subscribe” page. So, the user clicks the “Sign-up/Subscribe” button (indicated in green writing in the picture above) and the current page is taken away and the “subscribe” page is presented.
All we have here is a manilla folder with some notes pages and writing in pen. The value comes from being able to demonstrate clearly what the page looks like and answer questions such as: Is this function useful? Could we make this better? Do we want to expand on this? Should more data be provided during this process? Is it simple and easy to understand?
Those types of questions usually get answered later in the development process. Lots of times its for no other reason than the client “hadn’t thought about that”. We are web-developers and, more to the point, we are the guides for clients to get into the expansive world of possibilities known as the internet. Paper Prototyping allows everyone involved to start on the most direct path toward the final product.
Go to Part 2 where we use Paper Prototyping to demonstrate standard user management features for existing profiles.
Businessmen want to know how much effort to invest in pursuing “Likes.” The popular feature seems to many as a cheap form of validation, equivalent to the old Stuart Smalley bit, “I’m good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” Those who never wanted to become experts in social media are asking “why is it important?” and “will this bring me money?”
Likes Bring Measurable Results
To say a “Like” is an end is short-sided, like saying that motion stops when a pebble hits the water. To do so would ignore the ripples that act like homing beacons to viewers and search engines.
A Like does many things behind the scenes, providing measurable objectives, reports, and now impacting search queries. Bing’s new features make it easier to see what your Facebook friends Like, incorporating your community in your search results. This begins a more conversational aspect to your searches. Decisions can now be made by a committee of your choosing on news stories, bands, celebrities, movies, or brands.
A Like is a validation that someone is interested in you, your product or your service. And in social media, we collect validation like currency.
Still, there are many benefits to a Like. When someone “Likes” your page it appears on news feeds, meaning their recommendation will be broadcasting to their 300 closest friends; a ripple effect that allows compounding affirmation. This is validation supreme.
Those Likes that you click will also help Facebook configure what advertisements go to you, so for those Facebook advertisers who choose to focus on one or another interest, this is big.
Likes Bring Conversation
That Like also gives you permission to talk to your clients who have, in essence, voted for you. When you update your status, there is now a measurable audience waiting to see what you have to say. And if your content is share-worthy, you have the potential to go viral. This, of course, increases the need for your content to be impactful and relevant.
For Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the Like acts as a beacon for Google’s eager robots seeking content with recency and relevancy. And while Google algorithms cannot see what is happening inside Facebook, they can certainly see what relevant activity is occurring on your site. And a Like button embedded on your site is highly relevant, especially if it is clicked often.
Of course, frequency is as important as reach; it’s important to get in front of your people repeatedly and often. And that endorsement from a friend is much more powerful than an paid ad, creating greater loyalty. It’s a handy medium to remind people that they have a friend when they need it, and the transparency personalizes and localizes in a format that allows the occasional shameless plug.
Can you monetize this? Sure – like this article, which says:
- On average, fans spend an extra $71.84 they would not otherwise spend on products they describe themselves as fans of, compared to those who are not fans.
- Fans are 28 percent more likely than non-fans to continue using a specific brand.
- Fans are 41 percent more likely than non-fans to recommend a product they are a fan of to their friends.
And this one which gives conflicting information:
Depending on who you ask and the metrics you use, a Facebook follower could be worth nothing at all, as little as $3.60, as much as $22.93, exactly $136.38 more than a non-follower, or a whopping $214.81 for a nonprofit organization.
Still, for those who grew up in traditional media, the Like button is Nirvana. Where we once were dependent on expensive statistics dependent on research diaries filled with vague groups and guesses, we can now track individual motivations and interests with laser-LIKE focus. Its value is measurable beyond compare.