Do Little Things First

When working on a web project that has multiple features/components, there is a tendency to want to get all the big stuff done first and then focus on the little stuff. For example, when building a site with a blog, forums and an online store I will typically see developers working on getting the basics of each of these done first and then going back to work on the details.

This is a good way to start the project, but as the project gets closer to completion I’m going to suggest that doing the opposite is often a good idea.

Let’s say you go have the blog and forums pretty much done, but haven’t really started on the store yet. Your client1 is reviewing the completed blog and forums and starts sending feedback:

  • I think we should remove the user location from the forums and just leave it in the profile view.
  • Can we remove the link to the web site of the person who left the comment?
  • On posts in category X, I want to center the main image in the full post view.

None of these things are hard, and none will take long to fix. A developer’s view is generally that these things can wait until they turn back to the blog and forums for a clean-up pass, but they really need to focus on the store for now. I completely understand that view.

However, let’s look at the ramifications of taking that approach.

The client isn’t seeing action on the items they requested. This can be somewhat mitigated by giving them a punchlist they can see and giving them dates to expect the items to be completed, but in the back of their mind in every interaction after they ask for these changes, they are doing their mental checklist. “This still needs to be fixed, that hasn’t been done yet either…” Eventually this can lead to frustration and a sense that their requests aren’t being tracked or considered important.

Working on the little things gives your subconscious time to think about the big things. A funny thing happens when you want to be working on the store but take the time to clear out the little forum requests first – your brain has switched modes and is already working away on the store problem. You get the benefits of both knocking your list down and being better prepared to start work on the store because your brain has been figuring out the potential pitfalls, etc. in the store build while you were addressing the little things in the forums.

If there is a list of 5 things that need to be done, 4 of which are quick/easy, get them done first. Now when you deliver your status to the client they see a list with just one remaining item on it. They see that you cleared 4 out of the 5 remaining things for the site. Sure it might delay that 5th item for a half day, but good communication will address that, and you’ll have built goodwill by addressing the issues items have raised.

Having little things linger on the list while focusing on something big can make it appear (to you and to the client) that no action is happening. By knocking out the little stuff, you show that things are moving along; and you will get a good feeling of accomplishment and confidence that can give you energy as you move on to tackle the bigger things on the list.

This doesn’t work in all situations, but it does in many. It’s at least worth considering if you don’t already take this approach.

  1. Your “client” might be an external client or your internal manager or boss – anyone who has is providing feedback that you have to care about on the project. [back]