Scott’s Thoughts: The Other 90%

“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

Tom Cargill, Computer programmer, author of C++ Programming Style

Man lying down on 30-yard line.This humorous nugget of computer programming wisdom is called the “ninety-ninety rule.” With a sum of 180%, it’s a funny (if painful) nod to the fact that most programming projects involve a significant failure to anticipate the most difficult aspects of the project.

I don’t think this situation is unique to programming. In fact, in any genuinely artistic or entrepreneurial endeavor, the 90/90 rule is almost always in play. Once we get over our fear or procrastination, the “first 90%” can seem relatively easy. It’s finishing that is always the toughest. Just when we think the end is in sight, we realize the goal posts keep moving down field.

Rather than lament this fact, I have found that it is useful to prepare for it. If you accept it as a given in complex projects, it may serve as an important milestone. In any project, a sudden sense of extreme difficulty when we have anticipated a coast downhill is a perfect indicator we are but halfway done.

Don’t curse poor planning, or swear you’ll get it right next time. Ninety-percent of the way there, you’re ready to conquer the second half. This is the moment of greatness when you “embrace the suck” and push through to the finish.

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