14 nightmare clients -- and how to defang them

Here’s how to identify and neutralize beastly client behavior before it gets the best of your project

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Most clients don’t intend to be Will-o-Wisps, but they end up that way, largely because they are unable to commit to or declare a goal or path. Many are rendered timid by technology. Others are simply wandering around in a fog themselves, so bound by their own bureaucracy that they cannot escape. But you don't have to join them on their death march! Whatever you do, don’t get dragged into the muck and fog with them.

Intentional Will-o-Wisps are more nefarious. Often they simply use you for information because they already have another vendor in mind or are window-shopping. The way to escape is to escalate. Recognize you are talking with the wrong person, and you need be referred to the person who has actual authority, vision, and purpose in the organization. Chances are it is not this person’s boss, but the boss’s boss’s boss, maybe even higher up the chain. It’s OK if your contact is unwilling to go with you on your escalation; you must climb a tree, get above the fog, and find firm ground, or you will both fail. Do nothing, and you both stay lost.

Nightmare client No. 14: Frankenstein's Monster

Frankenstein’s Monster was misunderstood. Cobbled together out of pieces and bits of others, he tried to be good, but failed -- disastrously.

One encounters Frankenstein’s Monster not so much in client form, but as the emergent result of a client who places no value on consistent methods, clean code, testing, refactoring, user experience, and so forth. Dr. Frankenstein was the real monster in that story, and that is what to watch out for in a client.

Has your client asked you to take questionable shortcuts? Has you client spouted morally ambiguous principles, eternally emphasized results-now and don’t-care-how approaches with zero remorse or responsibility for cleaning up the resulting mess? If so, you might be working for Dr. Frankenstein and unwittingly building a Monster.

You, as an ethical software professional, must make provisions in your work to keep the code clean. Emergency fixes and features will happen, but don’t simply fire and forget -- when negotiating to fix or create these things (which will, over time, add enough cruft to your code base to bring the Monster to life) you must include time and provisions for refactoring, testing, and when appropriate, reanalyzing and redesigning the offending/affected subsystems.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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