How to get what you want from tech projects

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Right now there are two poor fellows in my office sanding all the paint off the bookcase they painted for me last week.

They have to start over from scratch because they made the same mistake that a lot of software development teams make: The sales person/project manager screwed over the technicians.

And I can promise you that their project now is more than twice as difficult, costly and unpleasant as if they had been able to do it correctly the first time. I genuinely feel for these guys.

Sales people, project managers and project pricing

Here’s what happened with my painters. I hired the team for three days to paint the bookcase. Their salesperson came over and I mentioned off-handedly that it would be nice if they could do the job in two days. The salesperson then went to the Gantt chart for the painters and whacked eight hours off their completion time.

The painters came and went in two days, per the salesperson’s promise, but my bookcase looks like it was painted by squirrels.

Tech projects are particularly vulnerable to the “just take a few days off the development schedule” request from clients because what we do isn’t as visual as paint on a bookcase. And we’re way more expensive than painters.

Here are some things that can happen to your project when we get short on time:

  • We don’t have time to fully test your software before it goes live
  • You won’t get all the features you requested in your software
  • Your software will only work in “some” browsers (aka whatever browser you use the most in your office)
  • The graphics used in your user interface probably won’t look the same as the design comps you had made by your User Interface design guy.

How to get the most out of your tech team

We fully understand that we make you nervous, and we try to talk in a language that’s accessible, but we know we still slip into jargon here and there. If you don’t understand what we’re saying, don’t get frustrated. Just say something like, “I didn’t understand that last thing you said. Can you say it in a different way?”

We talk to each other like this all the time, even among members of senior development teams. Nobody thinks it’s the mark of a dummy, so relax and talk through the issue all the way until you are comfortable with the plan we develop together for resolving your question.

Check in often, but don’t micromanage. We actually like it when clients look at the project on the staging server and ask questions. We will give you access to our project when it’s far enough along that we need feedback. Give lots of feedback, but listen to the answers we give you so we don’t have to answer the same question two or three times. Give us a list of things to look at, and when we are at the end of that list, we’ll have you look again.

Finally, the price is the price. The timing is the timing. The results are the results. If you push on any one of these factors, the others will change. We are in a partnership together, based on agreements we both made. Once the agreement starts to suffer due to time or money constraints, the project is compromised. And none of us want to see that happen.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at