Everything takes longer than you think it should. Everything.
by Dennis Ernst • September 11, 2019
It doesn't seem to matter how much I think things out in advance and prepare, there are always obstacles that double or triple the time of any given project. Take, for example, the home my wife and I started renovating in 2008. What began as simply replacing nine windows that should have taken a few months turned into a total gutting of the three-story structure that took eight years. Then there's the deck-staining job I thought I could knock out in one afternoon. It took three days. Oh, and let's not forget the three-hour train ride from Chicago that turned into 14.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say my life is littered with projects and activities that go way over the anticipated time frame. There's always something that seems to get in the way, complicate the project, or expand its scope. You would think by now I'd factor those things in when setting my expectations for completion, but I don't. I'm either an eternal optimist or one who refuses to accept reality. Probably both.
My latest never-ending project is one I embarked upon last October, which should have taken three months tops: rebuilding the phlebotomy.com web site.
Every few years, it's important for any company to give their site a makeover, a new look and feel. And so it was for us last year when we started the facelift, which still isn't complete. The programmer I've been using for the last ten years or so is a very likeable chap and a whiz with web design. But highly talented web developers are also highly coveted. Being a longtime client, though, I figured we were a preferred customer. He confirmed that when he said, "I think we could have this done by the end of the month." Looking back, I should have asked what month and what year.
Knowing you can't rush perfection, I gave him a long leash. I felt lucky to be his client because he's so proficient and efficient. He can make changes to our site in half the time others can, and is always responsive. With the Phlebotomy Channel and Phlebotomy Central, it's a complicated site, for sure. This time, though, he went weeks without parsing even a snippet of code. Five months later and with precious little progress, I told him that it's time we part ways.
Sometimes consultants and clients outgrow the need for each other. Recognizing when it's time to move on is important in business, lest the attachment hampers your ability to grow and expand. Hence was the case with this developer, who really did outstanding work for us for many years, and gave us the infrastructure that allowed us to grow. But all things change, and redesigning our site had become something to do when all other clients have been satisfied. His priorities weren't working for us this time, and I needed to find a developer who didn't put everyone else's projects ahead of ours. I carefully composed the email pulling him off the project.
"You've done excellent work for us, and I greatly appreciate all you've done. But sometimes business relationships morph to a point where they don't work anymore. I think that's where we are and I need to move on to another developer."
He understood and made some recommendations. That's the kind of guy he is. He may be slow this time around the track, but he's a fair and decent man. I'm glad I chose my words carefully and politely so that they'd land softly. I learned a long time ago a flaming sendoff is never appropriate. No matter how scorned I may be, people are people and deserve honesty and civility. Besides, even when you close a door, someday you might be thankful it has hinges.
I became thankful just one week later.
As I looked for other companies that knew our shopping cart and the nuances it imparts to a site rebuild, it became obvious the search would last longer than I had anticipated. (I should have known.) I quickly realized the qualifications we needed in a developer were not easy to find. There are precious few freelancers who know the complexities of our site's shopping cart enough to be efficient, and the last thing I wanted was to pay a developer to learn programming on my dime. Plenty of companies have the expertise in-house, but when you hire a web design company instead of an individual, you can expect to pay five to ten times more than a decent freelancer... like the guy I had just turfed out.
As it turned out, I needed my developer more than he needed me. When both parties know who needs who the most, let's just say it's not the best situation. But the reality is I needed the rebuild completed at a reasonable cost, and had only one option. I was thankful the hinges on the door still worked.
He was very understanding and vowed to be more responsive. But if there's one thing I've learned in business is that when you let someone go, then invite them back, you've lost some dignity. With my developer, expecting to be treated any differently than before would have been pretty irrational on my part. As expected, he went back to work at his usual snail's pace, and I stopped complaining... except to you in the form of this column. This is where I vent sometimes, and I know you don't mind.
So, here we are six months later and almost a year since we first embarked upon the redesign. But I'm happy to report the site is really, truly just about ready. I expect it will go live in 2-3 weeks. I think you'll like it. It will be simpler, cleaner, and with better navigation. It will make it easier for us to place carefully selected ads on the site (something we've always shunned, but will experiment with) and make our free offerings easier for you to find and download. Once launched, the work won't be over, though. Web site work is never really over, but requires constant tweaking and perfecting.
A year is a long time to rebuild a web site. Not as long as gutting a 3-story house, mind you, but still a lot longer than it should be. It won't be much longer, though, and phlebotomy.com will have that new look we've all been waiting for (some longer than others), then I'll be on to the next big project. That project will be filming the third edition of our Preventing Preanalytical Errors video. Yeah, I know, it should be done by now. But you can't rush perfection, which is what we strive for with everything from videos to rebuilding our web site. By the end of the year, I think you'll be pleased with both.
I'm just not saying what year. :)
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