Y'all are a bunch of wankers!

I yelled at a client

I told her to quit changing the spec every day so we can actually meet a real requirement.  "How would you like to be aiming at a constantly moving target!  Let's set some minimums so I can do something for you. Otherwise, these are just 'powwows' to hash out ideas!  If I changed your accounting style from cash to accrual every other day, you would lose your mind, too!"  I said it loudly.  Strangely, she didn't hang up on me.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 10:16am
It made me feel better, I'll say.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 10:17am
Good!  Now follow up with an email memo to document your new agreement that she won't arbitrarily change the spec anymore.

This issue is too important to just let it go with a verbal brow-beating.  You need some hard email documentation to make sure it stays nailed down.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 10:18am
I did.  But the fact that I let her drive me to nearly a screaming voice level irks me. 

When I got off the phone, the whole office was cracking up hysterically, wondering if I'd finally lost my mind.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 10:43am
Woo!  Stick it to the (wo)man!  God damned whitey.
Permalink Send private email muppet 
April 9th, 2007 10:45am
>> But the fact that I let her drive me to nearly a screaming voice level irks me. <<

Never lose your cool in front of a client.

Say (in an oh-so-reasonable voice) that "I'm sorry, but until you decide on what you really want, I've got to put your project on the back burner."

The threat of being ignored will spur them to amazing levels of decisiveness.  At least temporarily. :-)
Permalink xampl 
April 9th, 2007 10:48am
Ah.  Laughter is the best medicine.  Much better than the alternative of "Oh, Ms. Sharky?  There's an HR representative here who wants you to attend a "how to talk to the customer" seminar."

Besides, we've all wondered if you've gone too far around the bend from time to time.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 10:49am
Nobody's wondered for a moment.  Stop lying.
Permalink Send private email muppet 
April 9th, 2007 10:52am
Actually, muppet, our black customers are more unreasonable and irritating. I welcome "whitey".  Of course, money is all green, so it really doesn't matter.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 11:13am
I call it a "polite fiction", which is usually more true than "bald truth".  And "from time to time" can include "all the time", too, though personally I don't wonder about Sharky "all the time".

Where was you brought up anyway?  Don't you know it's rude to accuse other people of lying?
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 11:24am
There's absolutely nothing wrong with clients who change the spec.  It's actually good for business!

What you have to do is write in the additional costs of changing the spec into the initial contract.
Permalink Kenny 
April 9th, 2007 1:41pm
That's sweet, Kenny, but what's being complained about IS those who change the spec WITHOUT agreeing to any cost differences, or even thinking there might BE any cost differences.

I've been there, done that, and yes the best defense is a good response that says "why yes, we'd LOVE to change that for you!  That'll be another 1 FTE for another two weeks for that feature ($8,000) and another 2 FTE's for 1 week for that feature (another $8,000) and...

What's that?  We should have delivered it that way in the first place?  Our job is to be at your beck and call?  These changes must be on OUR nickel?

I'm so sorry, madam, I'm afraid you'll have to talk to our legal departement about that, they have a copy of the original specification.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 1:54pm
"That's sweet, Kenny, but what's being complained about IS those who change the spec WITHOUT agreeing to any cost differences, or even thinking there might BE any cost differences. "

And what Kenny is SAYING is that it's incumbent upon the CONTRACTOR to assert at the BEGINNING that there ARE such differences in cost, and THAT THEY can be INCURRED for THESE REASONS as outlined in the CONTRACT that we have PROPOSED.

So yeah, Kenny's comments are entirely relevant in that, apparently, sharkfish's employer failed to do his/her/it's job in the sense that they didn't make this issue known to the customer, who is (ostensibly) not a software developer.
Permalink Send private email muppet 
April 9th, 2007 1:56pm
Oh, sure, blame the victim.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 2:00pm
I'm always the victim.
Permalink the spec 
April 9th, 2007 2:49pm
it can work surprisingly well, or blow up in your face. but hey. if it gets to that, you're not thinking along those lines anyhow. some customers really can be dicks, so wtf. the customer is only always right if you will lick arse for money.

make sure you got it all backed up though.
Permalink $-- 
April 9th, 2007 4:31pm
I get conned sometimes, contrary to what my forum personality might indicate.  Someone might ask me to do "just a little something" and I do it and they get away with it, so they stretch it out more until I want to get a machine gun and blow them away for taking advantage of my nature.

So even though we have written agreements, it is still an issue I have to grapple with.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 5:15pm
I recently had an experience where a project snowballed out of control. 

I learned that the most important thing is to manage your client's expectations. 

If you let him add "a little something" without any added cost, then you're not serving the client properly.  You're giving them a false impression of what those changes are worth.

Once you add on QA, management, documentation, hardware, and software costs, that "little something" is not little at all. 

We developers tend to underestimate the time it'll take to do something because we tend not to see the costs from a management perspective.  There's quite a bit of support behind each line of code that gets delivered.
Permalink Send private email Kenny 
April 9th, 2007 5:42pm
"You're giving them a false impression of what those changes are worth. "

See, that's a blanket statement I can't go with.  If you want me to change color of the background of a title, I feel it is dishonest to charge you.  Period.

Nickel and diming people will not get your repeat business.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 5:47pm
no, I think Kenny is right.

from back when I used to bespoke projects, the best way to handle stuff was for both client and supplier to have a kind of a list of concessions made or wished for. Then every now and again you just have these little bargaining sessions.

If you give stuff away for free, it devalues the whole process. At this point, its not a sales exercise, or shouldn't be. It's about both parties making sure that the right thing happens, creating a win-win. You want your client to be happy, but that should just mean that they got what they paid for, 100%.
Permalink $-- 
April 9th, 2007 6:37pm
Yeah. I can see someone willing to pay for two hours of consulting time to change the title bar from white to gray.

I don't see me asking them for a list of other items just so I can justify the time changing it from white to gray.

You have to use judgement.  It works great with most people.  Some people just need a gun shoved up their ass and my hand on the trigger for every time they try to cheat.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 6:41pm
Kenny is absolutely right. You have 3 basic categories of changes.

- Hasn't been implemented yet, doesn't affect turnaround time or architecture, is easy to do, doesn't affect cost or deadlines.

- Adds extra cost, but doesn't affect deadlines - can be picked up by someone who has some cushion in their schedule (like the graphic designer).

- Affects the critical path of the project, changes scope, adds additional features, increases both cost & deadlines.

Even something like changing the color of the title requires time on the part of the designer. Maybe it's 15 minutes and falls under the billable radar, but enough of those changes and you do get to a point where people are basically working for free.

When I started tracking my time I discovered that the things I thought took 5 minutes frequently took a half hour or more because it wasn't just "going in and making the change" there was always administrative time and a bit of back & forth as I tested the changes and made adjustments.

The two ways to mitigate this are to:

- Charge a flat fee for the work and tell them that you're both committed, so no further changes can be accepted for this release, any changes other than those in the first category will fall into a future dot release.

- Charge per hour and let them make as many changes as they want, but ensure that every step of the way they're aware of the additional monetary and temporal costs.

In other words, saying "it's just the color of the door, we don't need to charge them" only applies if you haven't already painted the door or purchased the paint.
Permalink Send private email ~~~x 
April 9th, 2007 7:28pm
What you said to the client sounds extremely reasonable to me. I wouldn't classify it as yelling at them, more giving a reality check.
Permalink Practical Economist 
April 9th, 2007 9:08pm
Again, x, you don't make money and get repeat business by nickel and diming people.  At the same time, you won't get to keep good consultants by making major changes after the contract is signed.

Your intelligent discourse sounds good, but in the real world, I have never seen a technical liaison say to the customer, every single change you make will cost you two hours of consulting time.  It would frighten the customers away from the purchase in the first place.  Who would buy into such a contract?

Reality, people.  Reality.  Let's get our heads out of the books.  Making money requires finessing these kinds of things.
Permalink Send private email sharkfish 
April 9th, 2007 9:32pm
+1 Sharky.  All these "absolute, perfectionist" answers never fly in the real world.

Service is part of what the customer is paying for.  So you do need some way to be able to say 'yes' to 'trivial' mods, while not giving away the store on 'difficult' mods.  And some way of showing the customer which is which.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 9th, 2007 9:57pm
I'm so glad my job isn't running some SW hamburger stand. 
Permalink Send private email LinuxOrBust 
April 10th, 2007 2:07am
"Yeah. I can see someone willing to pay for two hours of consulting time to change the title bar from white to gray. "

The thing is, once you go with that, what next? change some fonts. Oh, that box is in the wrong place. Shit snowballs, and fast, with some people.

It's about the relationship. If there is reasonable give and take, then fair enough. In some circumstances, you might be better saying "look, we'd like to get the functionality right first then we'll sort out the look, in one hit". Or whatever.

Obviously it all depends on the individual circumstances.
Permalink $-- 
April 10th, 2007 3:49am
I agree that you can't penalize people for every little thing. On the other hand, you can't let things slide as far as you seem to have either.

Software is frequently soft field because programmers aren't paid by the hour & there are no material costs in producing the software. It's frequently difficult to actually calculate the cost of producing something because Jim is going to be paid the same whether he's sipping coffee and surfing Slashdot or adding the latest client revisions. It's also difficult to track because on a small scale there are no project managers and you're more or less dealing with the clients directly because the projects are so small that the overhead doesn't add any value & just adds to the noise.

Construction, on the other hand, deals very specifically with costs of materials and labor. Constant revisions will make it go over budget in a very real way. A construction project more or less has to be managed the way I described. I'm saying this as a former project manager for a supplier of industrial lighting fixtures who's worked, however peripherally, with multi-million dollar construction projects

This is also how we we handled vendors at Citigroup, though it could be argued that our requirements gathering & prototyping process was thorough enough that wild course corrections weren't necessary. Any changes were pushed out to future dot releases, and we typically had a roadmap that was at least 2 or 3 dot releases away from where we were at any given moment, if not more. The vendor either charged per hour or gave a flat cost estimate per release & the numbers were always very close. Whether or not that masked total chaos on the vendor's part, I really don't know, but based on the professionalism of their project managers & the few days I spent with them at their headquarters, I'll assume they just ran a really tight ship.

Things started to fall apart when we brought development in house & the manager assigned to handle it couldn't say "no" to the business, and requirements kept getting added on. The business loved him because he said yes to everything. Once it became obvious that he didn't have a handle on the project and deadlines weren't going to be met, he was promptly removed.

But we're talking about multi million dollar projects. For smaller in-house projects, we had a very informal process that allowed for a lot of back & forth. This was partly because our budget came out of a global technology budget as part of the cost of doing business and nobody was charged for the specific work we did, partly due to the fact that these were small projects, and partly due to the fact that we had an ongoing relationship with these people and we always doing these sort of ad-hoc projects for them.

In your OP you said that the client's revisions were beginning to affect your ability to complete the project and you communicated this to the client. That's more or less what I'd advocated - make a distinction between the kinds of changes that will affect the deadline and those that won't. It's just a matter of degree and where you finally decide to say "You can get that, but it's going to cost you."

Also, it's somewhat unprofessional to constantly cave in to a client because it says your time isn't worth much and that you don't have much else to do.

So it may seem like an unrealistic ideal & bad customer service, but projects really are run this way. Maybe on a small scale, people don't realize that additional cost accompanies additional work because they can call you directly and occasionally you can do the changes "while you wait," but on a large scale nothing is done "while you wait" and everyone understands that work takes time and time costs money.

Albert D. Ka.. errr, um. Nevermind.
Permalink Send private email ~~~x 
April 10th, 2007 7:51am
well put.
Permalink $-- 
April 10th, 2007 8:38am

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