I was flying back from California last night, reading my latest Seth Godin purchase (Free Prize Inside) and happened to slow down and ponder pages 112 and 113.  After reading Software Project Survival Guide, Seth argues that successful projects have lots of thrashing up front with all the inventing at the beginning.  The “lock the thing, throw away the key and spend the last third of the project doing nothing but building it and testing it.”  Dang, that reminds me of the Startup Weekend process, whether here in Birmingham or over in ATL.  If you don’t, there’s no way that a final product can be launched by Sunday at midnight!

Then, he evokes a memory I’ve long but forgotten… that of a “charrette“.

The French word, “charrette” means “cart” and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or “charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.from National Charrette Institute

I started my college career in the field of architecture.  Many, many projects were assigned with a due date of the very next morning.  Nevermind family.  Nevermind work.  Nevermind dates with your girlfriend.  We had a massive amount of work due in an impossibly short period of time.  I got used to working ALL night and depriving myself of sleep.  To this day, some 25 years later, I still pull a full all-nighter about once a quarter. Now, it just takes me longer to recover! :^)

Seth claims the charrette is “the last-minute hoo-ha that occurs right before a presentation is due – where all the great juices flow and the good decisions are made.”  For that, he’s flat out WRONG.  While the cart is circulating, no one is making decisions… they’re putting the final production touches on the work product.  It also couldn’t be further from the truth for Andrew Hyde’s Startup Weekend, nor Birmingham’s.  But he does get one reference right… “have your charrette at the beginning, not at the end.”  That’s what is great about the Startup Weekend effort… it puts the high-pressure, time-sensitive effort up front and at the very beginning of the entrepreneurial process.