The IKEA Effect – Projects Made with Love

Maybe the secret ingredient to project success is love.  After all, isn’t anything made with love more special to the maker and the receiver?  Maybe someone should do a study on this.  Wait, someone did!

The Ikea Effect says “labor enhances affection for its results.”  A recent study at Harvard written about by Michael Norton in Harvard Business Review found that people undervalue products that they don’t contribute to, and tend to overvalue – fall in love with – those on which they have labored. This study builds on marketing research from the 1950’s on cake mixes.  Housewives resisted instant cake mixes because they were too easy.  They were concerned that their labor to make the cake would be undervalued.  On the other hand, when the cake mixes were changed slightly requiring the cook to add an egg, adoption rose dramatically.  More labor = more love.ikea cake

The more recent study looked at IKEA furniture and Build-a-Bears.  Laypeople assemblers of bookcases and teddy bears tended to value the products of their labor higher than they valued more expertly crafted versions.

Another finding, to temper the thought that labor leads unconditionally to love, was that the work had to be completed for the IKEA Effect to take hold.  Partially finished work was not valued the same way.  You have to be able to step back from what you did, look proudly at it, and say “I did that.”  Kind of like I do when I finish each blog post.

There must be a lesson in here for our projects.  For me, the first thing that came to mind is that the IKEA Effect informs and supports my ideas about the importance defining a perfect journey to a perfect project outcome.  If the journey is the labor, then how we do it contributes to the outcome.  If it is to have value, it needs to involve the project owner and lead to a finished result.  If the outcome is to be considered perfect, those who will judge it have to be part of making it happen to completion.

Here are some practical applications of those ideas:

  • Agile projects involve all participants more consistently and finish work more regularly.  Agile = Love.
  • If the client is too busy to participate in a project, they are less likely to love with what you complete for them.
  • If the client is actively involved in creating the product, they may be more accepting of what is completed.  They may overlook things that they otherwise nitpick about.  This is mostly good.
  • There are benefits to having to grow into the expertise needed to complete a project.  That labor has intangible benefits that may outweigh slower delivery or problems encountered.  There’s a balance required to be sure that there is enough expertise to get results.
  • Think twice before disparaging the amateurish solution your software engineers may be replacing.  That Access database has a lot of love in it.  Also, look closely at how the original was built.  It may hold some secrets to the client’s true needs that get lost in the translation to best practices.
  • What looks great to you and your team may not look great to those who weren’t involved in creating it.  Be sure to involve others along the way to stay objective and garner their support.
  • It’s easy to call past efforts on imperfect products “sunk costs,” but lots of love may be sunk into them as well.  Consider this when deciding what to do next when things aren’t going well.

So, we may not start our projects with the idea of making them with love, but it seems that if we work hard enough, then that’s the way it turns out.  A satisfying journey may be a tough one, but it’s less tough if we see results and feel ownership. And, the love is reflected back when we look at what we did.   ‘Nothin says lovin like somethin from the oven…’

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

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