Less Latte, More Work

I recently took a course on Coursera.org about innovation, and prof. Owens had a great insight, regarding the graph below (where x is money, y is time):

“Taking the 2 curves together, you should conclude that changes are far easier and far less costly when performed early in the life of a project rather than later. But my experience observing and working with teams has led me to refer to the left side of the chart as the latte phase, as in This is fun; we didn’t get much done, but that sure was a good latte. I think of the right side as the inferno phase, as in Dear Lord, my hair is on fire and we’re going to die!

Funny, but true, right? 🙂 He concludes: “Teams should be spending significant amounts of time and resources in the early stages when investment is low and when the possibility for implementing valuable changes based on new insights is high.” So put into our process (see my previous blog post): focus on idea, site map & user flow, wireframes.


The important thing to remember here is that working harder on defining and planning the project will actually:

  • avoid problems down the road (not all – there will always be unpredictable issues – but a fare amount). If you’re on the same page with the client from the beginning you can avoid situations like: deliveries don’t meet expectations, budget expansions, re-work, last minute changes, etc.
  • demonstrate your commitment to the client, and most of all, your expertise. You all heard the phrase “A question that makes you think is worth asking” – ask the right questions and you may bring up issues they haven’t even considered. This is the time to find out all you need, to give advice, to transform your clients’ ideas into features / apps / websites. As a PM I always say that if you can’t explain it to your team and answer all their questions, then you did not do the briefing right. (P.S.: you can definitely include your designers/tech guys to compile the list of questions – you might miss something they need)
  • allow you to present more accurate estimates and deadlines. It is very important for the client to have an idea on the budget and the timeline of the project, so if you mess up the estimates because you had to little info (and you did not need to build a cheap boat in 1 month, but an expensive yacht in 3 days), they will hardly process this as their fault and you’ll end up with ferocious negotiations.
  • [UPDATE – thanks Sam for this!] help you motivate your team. It is very important to make the team ‘feel’ the project, understand the needs of that client, what’s at stake and why is important to give their best. If they have enough time to create a relationship with the client, do some research, understand the market…then they’ll be more motivated and interested in what they are doing.

And don’t forget to include your clients into these stages – their involvement is crucial, since is their product the one getting built. You might think some features are top priority and plan your work around them, when they are just nice-to-have’s for the client.

pick two

What’s your approach on new projects?


2 thoughts on “Less Latte, More Work

  1. I was thinking the same thing a few days ago but my analogy was with an archer shooting at a target. Any adjustment of trajectory at the shooting point has a huge effect on the target area size. You can easily miss if you are in a hurry to take the shot, but if you take it easy and make the right move you will most definetly hit the target, maybe even the bullseye. Like this http://i.imgur.com/rTXOP39.jpg

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