Where uncertainty exists, don’t order specific.

Idiot Case Study #1

True story: Today I ordered what I thought was this:

The coffee I thought I had ordered (artist’s rendering).

Instead I got this:

The coffee I got (artist’s rendering) – I wanted a big cup of coffee, instead, I got a tiny cup that is dwarfed by a decorative teaspoon.

I don’t know how to order coffee, and I should have stayed in my lane. Instead of describing roughly what I wanted using hand signals and “oomphs” like the neanderthal I am, I showed off my idiot-smarts by ordering “medium espresso” – what I thought was a big cup filled with coffee. Had I described my end goal using my gross motor skills, I’m confident that I would have received something very close to what I wanted.

Idiot Case Study #2

Similarly, years ago, a friend of mine contracted with an oversees team to build a complex web app. My friend sent over mockups that used Safari browser to show what it would look like inside a browser. Turns out, the oversees team had never seen a Safari browser and assumed the Safari stuff was part of the app – You can see where this is going. They built an app that looked something like this:

Safari browser inside of IE6 (Frankenstein!!!)

Idiot Case Study #3

One time, a customer asked me to build “that” – pointing to a fancy million-dollar e-commerce site the way my 2-year-old son points to Mickey Mouse ice cream bars in the freezer.

I said, “That’s a million-dollar website…perhaps we can build some of that for your miniscule-by-comparison budget…”

“Okay,” my customer grunted. And we went to work.

You can see where this is heading…

We built an awesome website. I actually poured more money into it than the customer, himself, invested into it. But it wasn’t a million-dollar website.

“Why it no go like that?!” my customer grunted, pointing again to the million-dollar website (I’m paraphrasing now…I’ll stop.)

What the customer wanted was for a website to solve all his business problems. Websites don’t do that. Even that million dollar website doesn’t solve the big business problems. Had the customer asked me, “How can we generate more qualified leads?”, my answer would have been something completely different.

Idiot Case Study #4

My friend told me a story recently where a potential customer wanted to build a very complex medical device using a very specific piece of technology. When my friend asked, “Why that piece of technology?”, he did not get a straight answer – this is a red flag. My friend saw the red flag for what it was and offered to help the customer first research what technologies might be best for a large fee, then build to spec for an even larger fee. The customer first flinched at the pricetag, then ended up accepting the proposal (smart).

The age-old lessons are always the same:

  1. Always ask the core business question: How will this thing help me generate more profit?
  2. Stay away from shiny objects: They are costly, fun, and generally run counter to the goal of putting more money in your pocket.

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for WPTavern.com.