Project Management: Simple = Success

Jason Fried’s company, 37signals, builds niche business applications and sells them by subscription on the Web. But this small fry’s philosophy could be a good model for developers of internal Web applications at large corporations.

“My advice to corporate Web developers is that the most effective thing is to have something you can use right now,” Fried says. “Build something in three weeks, because people love results. And the way you do that is you cut your vision in half.”

In other words, don’t get bogged down in writing the spec for the perfect system and spending weeks locked in meetings ironing out the project plan. Developers trying to “prove their worth” often wind up “biting off more than they can chew,” Fried says in an interview.

This is consistent with studies showing that the risk of project failure goes up as the project schedule stretches out. For that reason, research firm Gartner recommends that anything taking longer than a month or so requires additional planning to mitigate that risk (read: more meetings). Of course, there are inherently complex projects for which a three-week schedule just won’t work. Still, Fried suggests taking a hard look at whether there’s a simpler solution, something that meets the 80% or more of project goals that really matter and can be done quicker.

If you’re building rather than buying software within an enterprise these days, you’re probably filling a niche need–some set of requirements within your company that differ from everybody else’s, or solve a problem in a slightly different way. And that’s not so different from what 37signals does.

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