As I write this, I have scheduled Accounta-Billie to launch a beta this Friday, 10-23-2020. Looking back I have been working on it for about 3 months, which makes me chuckle now because my initial goal was to finish version 1 in a weekend(!). Three months as a side project is honestly pretty respectable in my opinion, especially since it is actually launching Friday, versus many, many other projects of mine that have been started but have never seen the light of day.
You might be wondering why I gave in to the hype of a “weekend startup” and made that audacious goal in the first place. Firstly, I guess part of me really likes hack-a-thons. I don’t really participate in them outside of my home, but I do really like getting loads of soda and chips and staying up super late hacking away and watching Silicon Valley.
But beyond that, I also really believe in taking an idea from start to finish in the shortest amount of time possible. If you have an idea and you aren’t sure if it is viable, doable, whatever, its a smart idea to answer that question as soon as possible. If this is something you’re working on in your spare time, you don’t have a ton of it (that’s why it’s ‘spare’) and so it’s important to make it count. And it’s really easy to lose momentum on something that previous really excited you, especially if you’re super busy (like say, the world is in the middle of a pandemic, you’re working your full time job while doing virtual school with kids, and also generally trying to maintain some sanity). So in the interests of all of those things, I personally am a big believer in getting a project from start to finish in the shortest amount of time possible.
Of course, like all things in software and life, there are about a million caveats to that. The first caveat is that it has to be reasonable. To that end, you probably aren’t going to build Facebook in a weekend. This is where I made my first mistake.
So here’s the thing: while I believe really strongly in taking an idea from start to finish as quickly as possible, it has to be reasonable and that means it has to be small. Take your idea for an app that does all the things and start trimming. When you think it’s reasonable, trim some more, and then trim even more. You know that rule where you 3x your estimate at work? Do that here too.
So if you could “probably” finish this thing in a weekend? It’s too big. Could you finish it on a Saturday before dinner? That’s the right size! There are going to be things you haven’t thought of, and styling is going to take longer than you anticipated, and so on. By getting your idea down to a single feature (or two, if you’re Wonder Woman) you’re setting yourself up for success. And if you are the unicorn everyone talks about who has perfect estimates? Well you either have some free time this weekend, or you can start on the next feature. Win-win!
So now that I’ve preached the good word of keeping MVPs (minimum viable products) as small as possible, let me regale you with all the ways I did not take my own advice.
The original feature list included account creation (both in-app and social login), group creation and management, multiple calendar views, multiple permissions for views (a user deciding who can see a specific task), filters for viewing only certain group member’s tasks, include both a desktop and mobile view, and make it a PWA.
Phew, that is a lot of features. In hindsight, it’s easy for me to see that was never going to happen over a weekend, but I dream big. In the moment, it’s a much harder balancing act to both maintain the excitement you feel over a new project, as well as realistically determine what you can accomplish. I wish I had good advice for how to balance those two things, but the best I can really offer is to try to choose a project that you’ll use yourself. For me, that is Accounta-Billie, and knowing that it’s going to solve a problem I have is encouraging enough to keep me working on it.
I started off the project pretty well doing lots and lots of planning. I had everything broken down (I’ll write another post detailing how I handled the project management.), and I think that also helped keep me excited and focused. As long as I’m talking about planning, I want to mention Phil Schatz’s awesome project for adding extra functionality to a GitHub project board. It’s a wonderful and helpful project!
Over the first weekend, while I did not complete the first set of requirements, and honestly I still haven’t. A few of the features won’t be included in the beta, but will be added once the app moves to production. I ran into some troubles - especially with auth! It felt really good to get auth to completion, as well as deploying a project even though its incomplete. That’s right! It was deployed that first weekend, even without groups!
Unfortunately auth did take a lot longer than I had originally intended, and so I wasn’t able to create multiple calendar views. I also didn’t finish the filters or different permissions layers. Ultimately I spent probably half of my working time on auth, which really makes my auth win that much greater!
For my next project or features, I know a lot better how to plan and what to plan so that I can actually complete whatever I’m working on in a weekend. Let me know what you thought of the post, and please go check out Accounta-Billie and sign up for the beta!