7 ways a web project is like running a half marathon

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I recently completed the 2015 GO! St. Louis Half Marathon, my first such race. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s fully sunken in yet – probably because I spent a crazy amount of time training for it, and by the time race day arrived, it felt like just another day at the office. During that intense training, I started thinking about all the parallels between running a half marathon and running a web application development project. Here are seven of the biggest similarities:

You must set realistic expectations.

The idea to run the half marathon came to me last October as I was riding the high from completing my first 10K. I ran the whole thing, finished in just over an hour and felt pretty damn invincible. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in. I’d put a ton of effort into running just half of a half marathon; it was going to take a lot more to make it to 13.1 miles. I needed a training plan, a strategy to maximize the six months between races. “Just go for it and see what happens” wasn’t going to cut it.

Similarly, successful web application development projects must carry reasonable expectations. There has to be a detailed list of requirements and a clear plan for meeting them. Timelines must reflect those requirements, as well as possible delays and other risks.

Working with the right team will successfully get you across the finish line.

I knew from the moment I decided to run the half marathon that there was no way I could stay motivated training by myself. I would need guidance, encouragement and, probably most importantly, someone to pace me so I wouldn’t speed up and burn out too early. Enter the Big River Running Training Team, an amazing group of running enthusiasts with probably more than 100 half and full marathons completed among them. Every Sunday we would meet for long training runs with carefully planned out mileage and expert pacing. I simply couldn’t have done it without them.

Web application development projects are a huge investment and risk; shouldn’t you tackle them with a team that knows its stuff? A team that’s transparent, up-front and honest with you. A team that’s with you every step of the way and prioritizes achieving your business goals above all else.

You have to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it in the first place.

evan-young-integrity-web-application-development-like-running-half-marathonAround mile seven of the half marathon, I passed a spectator holding a sign that said “So, you still think this is a good idea?” It was, of course, meant to be a playful jab, but I’m sure at that point many of my fellow runners started realizing they still had six miles left and wondered if it was all worth it. I certainly did at times. But I fought off those doubts by reminding myself how far I’d come and why I was doing this to begin with: to achieve a personal fitness milestone I previously thought was out of reach.

There inevitably will be days (or sleepless nights) during the course of a web application development project in which you’ll wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into and seriously doubt if it’s worth it. But when in doubt, go back to the project goals. You started this project for a reason.

There will be some 11th-hour change that throws you for a loop.

So there I was, 10 miles into the half marathon, cruising along and feeling good about the 3.1 miles left. That’s just a 5K, I told myself, and I’d done at least a dozen of those. Then came mile 11. And the half-mile-long mile 11 hill. “Son of a b*tch,” I breathlessly grumbled at this family-friendly race. I sort of knew the uphill was coming (we ran the same street, downhill, a few miles back), but I’d pretty much forgotten about it. I quickly activated my “contingency plan,” slowing it down to just above a brisk walk. The struggle was definitely real, but I finally reached the crest of that beast, shook off the tension and kept moving to finish strong.

You should never expect a web application development project to go exactly as planned. So much can change – scope, stakeholders and technical requirements, just to name a few variables – that you and your team must be flexible and allow for these contingencies. You should also work with a partner that can do the same.

It might be costlier than you think.

Running a half marathon – that is, running one properly – is a serious investment of time and money. Registration is considerably more expensive than 5K and 10K races. You need to invest in the correct running gear, such as shoes, socks and shirts. Good running gear ain’t cheap, and cheap running gear ain’t good. Grocery store outings start costing you a little more as you buy more nutritious foods to properly fuel your body. Your schedule bends and stretches to make room for weekday training runs (I aimed for at least three times per week) and for weekend long runs. Going into your preparation expecting these costs makes them easier to swallow.

Depending on your business goals, the cost to extend your brand online – be it through a new website, app, social media program or something completely new and custom – could be much higher than you expect. Sure, there’ll always be someone who can do it cheaper, but the outcome may fall well short of your goals and expectations.

That’s why we kick off almost every project with a thorough discovery phase. We dive deep into your business to discover what works, what doesn’t and what solution will deliver the results you need. The cost may be higher than you expect, but the decision to proceed will be easier because you'll have the necessary data to help you make it.

Front-loading the work makes the final stretch as pain-free as possible.

How you run the first few miles of a half marathon is a good indicator of how you’ll feel during the last few miles. So it’s no surprise running experts recommend taking it nice and easy during those initial miles to conserve energy. It’s a long race; you definitely don’t want to burn out too quickly or get sidelined with an injury halfway through. Being strategic on mile one will make reaching mile 13.1 that much more awesome.

Similarly, we’ve found that putting in the extra effort and strategy at the beginning of a web application development project makes the final phases easier on the project team. We work closely with clients to answer every question and eliminate every assumption at the outset – before any line of code is written – so there are no nasty surprises during buildout or before launch.

The work continues after you cross the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment at the finish line, especially the finish line of your first half marathon. Your body is pumping a seemingly endless amount of adrenaline. There are hundreds of spectators cheering. Volunteers are handing you water and snacks and putting a medal around your neck. But when things start to calm down a bit – on the drive home, later in the day, whenever – it’s crucial to take a step back and assess the good, the bad and the ugly of your performance. Did you warm up properly? Was your hydration game on point? How about that pacing; did you go gangbusters on those first miles and feel like death warmed over at the finish? This retrospective can help you become a better runner and, hopefully, achieve a personal record on future half marathons. (I’ve already signed up for two more.)

A project launch, especially after a long, complex effort, is truly a cause for celebration. Ours have run the gamut from massages to straight up booze-fests. But we always make a point to convene the project team one last time for a comprehensive retrospective to discuss what went well and what could’ve gone better. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We'll be the first to admit we’re a little insane, but we make sure we only repeat awesomeness.

If you're looking for a web development company to run alongside you, start to finish, as you race toward achieving your business goals, we've got our shoes laced up and are ready to help.

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