The last 10% of a project
I recently came across the following tweet:
Most of the replies have the same theme: completing the last 10% of a project sucks. Here are some replies:
- “literally the worst/never gets done (at least for me :) )”
- “90% of the work”
- “As time-consuming as the first 90%”
- “Most exhausting”
This is a big problem for people. Since the last 10% of a project is so difficult, many projects are not completed. I personally know numerous people who delay, and ultimately abandon their project because the last 10% is so brutal. How many otherwise successful projects have gone to the graveyard because of this problem?
I’m in a particularly good position to think about this topic because I’m currently in the last 10% of a project. Hopefully, these insights lead to not only my project getting done quicker but also anyone who reads this.
I’ll point out three reasons why the last 10% of a project is so hard and then provide a possible solution for each.
Why the last 10% of a project is so hard
- The excruciating details
The first 90% of a project is comprised mostly of the fun work. It’s getting the core infrastructure all set up and bringing to life an idea that recently was a mere thought in your head. This core work is what matters most; it’s what the users of your project will see, feel, and touch. It’s what brings real value. Consequently, this is also the work that you want to get done as fast as possible. You want to complete all the harder and more practical tasks first, then come back to the details later. But, therein lies the problem….
The final 10% of a project is comprised of the details. It is in the final stretch that one has to come back to fix, fine-tune, or adjust all the parts of the project that they have been putting off. Even more frustratingly, this is likely the work that the end-users won’t notice. It’s like doing your taxes — and if you’re like me, you put it off for as long as you can.
I’ve solved this problem by creating a Trello board and creating a card (task) for each item in the last 10%. It’s crucial to take the time upfront to note every possible task you can think of. I refer to this as a “brain dump”; it’s key to get everything out of your head and onto this to-do list. Then, go through each task and label them “Hard”, “Medium” or “Easy”. Do the “Easy” cards right away. Then, break down the “Medium” and “Hard” cards as much as possible so the tasks become more manageable. Make a requirement that you need to spend a certain amount of time each day on these tasks until the project is complete — don’t let a single day go by without making progress. This ensures the project stays top of mind and doesn’t lose critically important momentum.
Also, it’s important to remember that “Done is better than perfect.” All the details and subtleties don’t need to be executed and completed perfectly; just get them done so you can launch the project as fast as possible.
2. Launch Nerves
During the final stretch of a project, it suddenly becomes apparent that it is close to being released to the world. This is a scary thought. The doubts flood in and thoughts come up like: “I’m not sure if I’m ready to release this”, “this isn’t good enough” or “people aren’t going to use this”. During the first 90%, I don’t have these doubts because the final 10% is comfortably in the distance! (what is too far away? — the answer is the last 10%) When self-doubt kicks in, it makes working on the project much harder than when you’re full of confidence and excitement. It goes from being something you look forward to something you keep putting off.
I make sure to remind myself of the famous Reid Hoffman line:
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
Coming from a person like Reid Hoffman, the creator of LinkedIn, this quote should inspire the confidence to just launch the product and not care too much about what people think. It’s of the utmost importance to just get the project out in the world and begin gathering feedback from a small cohort of users so you can keep improving and eventually develop the project to something you’re proud of.
3. It’s actually not the last 10% — it’s a lot longer than we think.
We tend to see the final stretch as the remaining 10% but in reality, it’s more like 50%. An apt analogy is when you have to move out of your apartment and you estimate in your head how long it’ll take — “maybe a few hours”, we tell ourselves. We give that estimate because we are only accounting for the noticeable items; clothes, furniture, and cookware. Inevitably, the move takes much longer than anticipated because there are small things not considered in all the nooks and crannies throughout the apartment. You have to unscrew the shades, deal with all the stuff in a random closet, and figure out what to do with all the food in your pantry. Fairly soon, it becomes apparent that your two-hour estimate becomes five or six hours or more. It’s the same with projects; we dupe ourselves into believing that the last 10% will be quick but it’s always longer than we expect. All the details we’ve been putting off since we first started now need to get done — and it always takes longer than we thought.
It’s important to confront this issue in the first 90%. It’s crucial to not leave as many tasks undone and make sure not to procrastinate nearly as much. That way, when we reach the last 10%, it’s manageable and not as unexpected in length. One practice that has helped me is to block out a certain amount of time called “procrastination time” this is where I spend solely to catch up on all the tasks I’ve been delaying.
I hope this will help some people complete their projects all the way through. The last 10% is tough but can readily be mitigated with a solid plan, confidence, and less procrastination. Remember, most of the hard work is done, so make sure to not quit and power through that last 10%.
Note: Thanks to David Silberman for contributing and editing this post.