Idealism is a great place to , and a terrible place to finish.

I really like this piece about design compromise. If you don’t know me, you might think that I’m a bit of a hardass when it comes to accessibility and usability (I’ve certainly blogged about it enough lately). You couldn’t be more wrong.

Idealism is a great place to start, and a terrible place to finish.

When I start out by saying “yes, but this interaction has to be accessible in this way and yes but that feature has to work in a way that reflects the audience’s mental model”, I don’t necessarily that I am going to get what I ask for. I just want to begin negotiations from a starting point that I know is good.

If you come to me and tell me that we have half a day to identify everything usability-related that should be improved, we’ll work on it for half a day and I’ll give you my very best shot. (I might discuss with you afterwards whether we could have identified this stuff earlier in the project, and what we should try and do differently next time. But that was then, and now we’re here.) Let’s do the best we can with the time we have; I am so grateful to have any time for improvements. (I’ve seen things, man. When all’s said and done, this ain’t so bad.)

Everybody compromises.

The developer didn’t start the project with the thought that “well, I’ll finish up by hacking something together that more or less works so we deliver something inside our budget.”

The project manager didn’t set out with the idea that there would be some seriously fast and loose replanning, iteration and re-scoping.

The client didn’t come to us with a budget designed to buy them around 60% of the scope originally envisaged. (You can and should estimate, but the only way to know how long a thing takes to understand, design and build is to start understanding, designing and building it.)

It’s easy to forget that everyone compromises on their thing all the time.

Here’s what looks like:

“Okay, so what are the features that most users are going to need?”

“Okay, how much time do I have left on this?”

“Okay, when do we need to deliver X feature by?”

“Okay, does this really need to integrate with Y system in the first release, or is it good enough without for now?”

… in other words, pretty much every project ever.

Compromise can be a sign that healthy prioritisation is happening.

You know what I love? A product or service owner who says “Yeah, that’s going to have to wait”. Very few things make me happier than ruthless prioritisation of all the work we’d like to be able to do, until it’s reorganised along the lines of must have/should have/nice to have/not in your wildest dreams, sunshine. Yes, even if that means the thing I want is in version 2 (or later). Without that “this is in, this is out”, everyone just drowns in the backlog of work — because when everything is equally important, nothing is important.

You want me to stop banging my drum? Give me a “nope” — one that’s based on data. The proportion of users affected; your remaining budget; your planned backlog for version 2. Something meaningful in the context of what we’re doing here. I will shut the heck up, because I hate, really hate, wasting time and money.

Compromise is all about time and money.

I wouldn’t expect a project to spend 10% of the budget on anything that produces 1% of the value without a really serious discussion about priorities. Occasionally you really need to go ahead and build that 1% anyway, but not often. At the other end, sometimes 10% of the budget can produce 30% of the value. It’s the conversation about priorities which matters, not whether you ‘win’ or not. It’s not even about winning: winning is having the good conversation that leads to a well-prioritised backlog and delivering smartest bang for buck.

Compromise can also be a good sign that people are more invested in collaboration than in their own ego

Do I think I’m right that this thing could be better? Usually, yeah, but not always. Talk me down! Prove me wrong!

Should I shut up when you give me a really good reason why we can’t do the thing I want to do? You bet. We don’t even have time for me to collect my toys so I can throw them out of the pram. How do we make the boat go faster?

I’m still not going to stop asking.

Because sometimes the answer is “yep”, or “actually, I can do that in five minutes” or “you’re right, that is important — let’s do it this week”. And those conversations don’t happen if you don’t push it a little. Even though you know you are probably going to have to settle.

But what I can’t start with is, “Eh, that’ll do”. And, if you’re honest, neither can you.

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