Right Little Thing: Second 90%

The “Right Little Thing” is a category of posts I use to share quotes that have really helped me, and to explore why. (They’re called the right little thing because they remind me of the moment when a teacher says the right little thing, and suddenly the student gets it. My first post in this category has more info.)

Today I was listening to Developer on Fire, which is a fantastic podcast that I recently discovered, and I heard an interview with Daniel Moore, the creator of HyperDev, which is an awesome product I recently discovered.

Amid all this awesome, Daniel said something in his interview that really struck me. He said:

When you’re 90% done, then it’s time to start working on the second 90%.

Daniel uses this to capture the fact that the innovative, interesting, solving-cool-problems-with-code part of software is not enough to make a shippable product. If you want to make something people will pay you for, you have to be prepared to put in the “second 90%.”

I’ve recently been contemplating all the half-abandoned side projects I have, and thinking about finishing up, and I think that the part of what happened with these projects is that I didn’t budget for the second 90%.

This saying can also help a lot of project managers. I know I’ve tripped myself up at work by telling a boss I was almost done with something, when I was really almost done only with the problems that I knew about. I could have saved myself a lot of estimate-revising and a little face by saying, “I’m about to start the second 90% of the project.”

This principle reminds me of Hofstadter’s Law:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

I think that’s the whole lesson this week: in work and in life, remember to account for the second 90%; when you’re 90% done with what you think a project will need, roll up you sleeves and get ready to do the second 90% of the project.

Till next time, happy learning,


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