The 90 / 10 Rule of Web Development

May 25, 2010 | Web Design

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It seems that every web site project I am involved with has some little issue at the end that is hard to figure out. It may be a CSS style problem where something is not looking as I predicted. Or it may be finding a solution that is acceptable in multiple browsers. Sometimes, there is one little piece of functionality that is not working as expected.

I call this phenomenon the 90 / 10 rule because we can usually prepare and plan for about 90% of a web development project. But it is the last 10% that cannot be fully planned for, or expected up front.

What to do?

Allow time. First of all, you should plan for the unexpected. You don’t know what the issue will be, but there is always something. Allow time to de-bug and investigate those last items. Don’t be designing and coding right up til the deadline. Do a soft launch ahead of time.

Test. Test as much as possible. Get the site up onto a host where people can go through and try out the functionality. Plan for a way to do this, whether it’s using a development area, a different directory, or a temporary URL.

Revise. Go back to the original intent and see whether or not a different solution is possible. For example, there is often more than one way to use CSS to create a layout. Sometimes it’s better to take a different path to the end result, rather than only trying to debug the current solution.

Is it critical?

There are times when trying to get the last detail fixed is very difficult. Hour after hour is spent identifying the problem and trying solutions. Some of these times we need to step back and ask how critical something is to the solution.

I hate stepping back. I usually worry that I’m giving up on the one little detail the client absolutely loved. I’d rather be the hero who figures it all out, and compromises nothing.

I think that the problem is the word compromise. Many web designers and developers tend to think of it as a compromise if we readjust and remove an element (design or functionally) from a web site. But often times, when we step back, we realize it is not critical. In the best of times, we realize that another solution is more functional and is even better.

What are you expectations?

I’m curious about other people’s expectations, whether you are a designer, developer or client.

Are you open to compromising on those last head-banging details, or do you always try to make it work? Have you improved on the 90/10 rule—maybe you’re at 95/5?

Another problem with these last details is that they can seriously eat into profitability. If you think you’ve got 90% of the work done, but then spend another 25% of your time on that last bit, you may have just lost the profit margin on a job. Are you up front with your clients about the problems, solutions, and time involved?

4 comments

  1. Kyle Pouliot | May 26, 2010 at 8:32 am

    I agree with potential problems eating into profitability. You should never run into the same problem more than once, by then you have already found and documented a solution. It is always a learning experience where you encounter an obstacle, discover or develop a solution so that you are better prepared to handle it if or when it comes around again.

    Focusing on the details at the end of the project is extremely important, finish strong!

    Great article!

  2. Emily Brackett | May 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Kyle, I like your advice to finish strong. Otherwise those last details, if they are not dealt with well, are what we all remember.

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