"We're going for the low hanging fruit."

While I understand the metaphor, that is by picking low hanging fruit we will achieve earlier benefits, at lower cost and with less effort, I was wondering what would happen if we extended the metaphor. In other words, when do we pick the rest of the fruit? And is it right to pick the low hanging fruit first?

I've become so frustrated with the over use of the phrase that I sent a note to a friend of mine who had an apple farm to find out if the statement really made any sense.

Here is what I found out.

It turns out, there is one good reason to pick the low fruit first. It prevents lower apples from getting damaged by apples that naturally drop during picking. Otherwise, there are no further benefits to picking the low hanging fruit first.

I asked my friend if apples ripen in any particular order, like from the top down, or from the bottom up, or from the sunniest side to the shadiest. It turns out Apples all ripen together. Even though all the fruit is ripe, apples inside the tree canopy tend to be smaller and have less colour but if you wait for them to colour the rest of the fruit will be overripe.

While the picker starts from the bottom, the whole tree is picked together because labour costs are too great to go over a tree several times.

There is an exception for premium apples like Honeycrisp and Ambrosia that bring in more money. These varieties may be picked twice and maybe three times to give a chance for the greener apples to redden and size up.

The problem that occur with multiple pickings is that the apples picked later are riper, softer, and have a shorter storage life. Apples left to redden and picked later, though they are greener in colour and smaller, are riper than the ones picking earlier. For this reason the apples picked last are sold first while apples that were picked first are sold later due to their longer storage life.

Returning to the project delivery metaphor. Substituting the word 'fruit' with the word 'deliverable'. Then if we pick our low hanging deliverables first and wait to pick the remaining deliverables later I can expect these things:

Less impact from the later deliverables on the early deliverables – Less damage to the low hanging fruit because it didn't get hit with higher fruit dropping on it
More long term value from the earlier deliverables – Longer shelf life for low hanging fruit because I picked it first
Higher labour costs for returning to the project to implement later deliverables -when I return to the remaining deliverables to a second time for the higher fruit
Less long term value from the later deliverables – Shorter shelf life for the higher fruit because it was riper when picked
And if we never return to the tree to pick the remaining fruit we lose any realized value for them.

So much for tree fruit. What about vine or bush fruit? Raspberries and blueberries do not ripen as evenly as apples. They ripen randomly all over the bush and need to be picked as they turn colour regardless of where they are on the plant! Some picking the low hanging fruit in this scenario makes no sense.

Wine grapes are picked all at the same time and depending on the ripeness of the fruit and the sugar level or brixs. As the sugar level determines the alcohol content of the fermented grapes. Again, picking the low hanging fruit in this scenario makes no sense.

  1. Jim Hayward Reply

    I am afraid you took the metaphor a little far and most metaphors do not hold up to your level of scrutiny.
    However expect the underlying message is you have an issue with taking low hanging fruit.
    However If I would like a few apples or berries to see if I like them before I start a major harvest I would take the ones that are easily accessible.
    See, I cannot resist debating the metaphor as code for arguing about the underlying subject.
    However if you do not have a good crop, it is a good idea to save money by first picking the low hanging fruit.
    Loved the discussion. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

captcha *