I have been doing a lot of cloud dev in recent months, not Internet facing work (been doing that for over a decade), but proper work on various cloud platforms (4+ of them) and they have turned out to require a shifting of mental gears, not from a technical aspect nor from a platform or paradigm shift (saas) but from dealing with a different type of client point of view.
Now that seems odd, sure your cloud clients are nearly all the business rather than IT, but lots of my work is direct with the business and it is often a relief to do so as you can deliver a product that best matches the exact needs of the people that use it.
After a lot of head scratching and reviewing of the projects I have come up with the following reasons
Sales before IT: With cloud based projects the sales team have very often just finished with the customer, so the customer arrives with the expectation that the platform is a PERFECT fit for everything they might want and it might just needs a tiny update to match their needs and that the update will only take a hour or 2…. but as is always true the devil it in the details, so when we look at their requirements and say that it’s going to take a week of hard work and then they will have to spend time testing, you have suddenly upset both their time frames and budgets. 1
Client reflexes: A lot of the cloud clients are sales/marketing people or from another branch where haggling and negotiations are built-in, these people live in a fast moving world and have never liked the iterative and somewhat slow moving nature of traditional IT projects “I just want it to work how I want”. for such people paying “not a penny more” and getting more than you paid for are Good Things. A side-effect of this is that such clients are quick to anger when they require a change that will take more money or time. Small changes are non-stop with cloud projects where the client can see the work as it is done: I have heard phrases like “Just one more thing”, “It will only take 5 minutes”, “I had assumed” and — my absolute favourite — “It’s just common sense, it should do XXX,” more over the last six months than I have in the previous six years combined.
They have already paid: Decent cloud services are not cheap and the clients have often already paid a fair lump before they get to customising their environment, so every penny you want is money they feel is an extra, very much like someone at a hotel, we all enjoy the extra stuff but are really unhappy to see it on our bill. 2
Re-tooling: All of the new cloud platforms are feature rich and do a lot of things very quickly but that is often within the boundaries of a given tool or feature, I can see why this is so 3, you are aiming for the old 80/20 rule , so when a customer says “I just need it to do xxxxx” and you simply can’t make the tool do that, have then used a different tool and spent a load of time reconfiguring the new tool to look like the old one so you can add the one missing feature. it does not matter how clever that is or how hard you have worked, from a clients point of view you have turned a simple 5 min job into a 5 day job you and are from their point of view are not providing value for money 4.
Client rapport: Most cloud customisations are quick things, as a developer you have had very little time to get to know the client, what they mean vs what they say, what pressures they are under, if they have budget for these changes etc etc, and they often just view you as someone just getting in the way of their shiny new cloud platform.
These relatively new changes in the client developer relationship mean you have to change your way of dealing with clients
This is the hard bit, I have laid awake at night for a number of nights, wondering hard how to fix this, my time honoured method of working my guts off having failed me.
So far I have come up with:
Make it human: Try and make the relationship one between humans, site visit if possible, Skype video if not, so clients feel that they are working with people and more importantly people who’s professional opinion they can trust.
Speed up interactions: Not speed up coding as that has actually not got much faster with the new platforms, but speed-up the feedback you give clients, a quick Agile Scum with a client each morning can head a lot of bad things off and make them feel far more in the loop 5, use this to also keep them informed on how much the client has used / left in their bank / project pool, even it they have pushed for a fixed price, addionally the clients can cut their losses if a small change is going to take a long time.
Be firm: I’m rubbish at this part but with cloud clients there is an underlying expectation that you get loads for free, and that includes any changes they might want to make after a spec has been agreed, there is a middle groud between “nickle and diming” and being used as a doormat, try and get a rapport with your client so that you both know where that is.
Any one else got any good ideas?
One thing that I have found after multiple quotes, is that honesty works even less with cloud based quotes than it does with traditional IT quotes, I have had at least 3 occasions where I was genuinely puzzled that a quote I had done had not got picked for a spec, and a much cheaper quote was accepted, on all occasions I questioned the ability to deliver on a quote that low (even using offshore staff) and have been told each time that the competition just use the quote to get in the door then nickle and dime the project to death…. I hate that, I really hate it >:( ↩
Hell I’m one of the co-developers of a cloud platform and when we are coding new stuff it always with an eye to “how can we spend our time on stuff that will get the most use”. ↩
BTW the phrase “I’m trying to do what you asked” does not help here. ↩
But be firm that the meeting is only of keeping everyone on track, it is not a place to add a few new requirements in to the spec every day (ohhh boy don’t they love to try that), and that each person does only get 2-5 mins, if they want a longer meeting, book it later in the day. ↩