Kaizen, Maintenance, and the Freelance Web Developer

I first heard about Kaizen in a radio podcast called This American Life. Unlike most of my favourite podcasts, this had nothing to do with Web development, technology, or growing one’s own business. This episode was about a product, specifically the NUMMI, a car produced from a General Motors and Toyota joint venture that could have saved the American car industry but didn’t. Kaizen is loosely translated from both Chinese and Japanese as improvement but I see it as much more than that. It is about progressive improvement and improvement as a process and a strategy.

The principal challenges of web development are time, budget and manpower. Generally speaking when a client hires a sole freelance developer, they do not have unlimited time or an unlimited budget to devote to the project. As a result they have limited manpower. This puts the developer in the awkward position where they must explain to the client that are basically getting what they pay for, that one person can only do so much in a given time. Or they can outsource parts of the project if they find reliable and cheap enough labour but there is no guarantee of quality. Frameworks and plugins can also significantly reduce the amount of work to do but then become dependencies that should also be updated and maintained. The client invariably wants perfection and often doesn’t understand the imposed limitations. 

Let’s ignore for a moment the idea that perfection is unobtainable. The world of web development is an ever changing and evolving beast that we can only strive to tame. So even if a developer were to succeed in creating something that was indeed perfect, it would only be perfect for a time. And that time would be fairly short. Fashion is another factor. Today’s trend can look outdated in a year’s time. Or worse it can become ubiquitous. The avant-grade becomes stale very quickly.

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