I just had one of those unsettling phone calls you get from a client in possession of their final invoice. “I’m not happy about the way the site looks and there’s a few things we need to change”.
Funny, I thought we’d signed off the visuals and functionality some time ago.
So I troop over to the client’s office. “Remember what I said to you on Day One”, the client begins, in lecture mode. And he asks for a fundamental change in the database architecture. There followed my explanation of how we arrived at the current solution. At no point did I cover my ears and start loudly singing “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Not singing worked. We established where the misunderstanding had happened and how to address his issues.
When you deal with clients who are inexperienced in I.T. you take a great risk. That risk is that you say “database” and they hear “magic data beans”. The outcome: they fail to communicate everything they need to. They have an idea in their head about how the site will work but they don’t know enough about databases to explain it. So the idea about the site takes up space in their head, and is unmodified by anything that happens during the development process.
Subsequently, you write a specification, explain what you’re doing and get it signed off at every stage, but at some point, probably the pointy bit of the point, the client properly tests the web site and realises it differs from his original vision.
Web developers have formalised approaches to specifying a client’s requirements. We write specs, develop user-cases, draw wireframes & flow charts and we learn how to
cover our arses manage client expectations.
But I’m wondering if we need a more structured approach to client communication because we sometimes incorrectly assume the client knows enough to properly brief us. In the SEO world, training of clients is part of the process and part of the income stream. Perhaps we should more formally train our web development clients; assess their tech IQ, teach them what they need to know before they brief us and schedule early-stage meetings for Q&A’s.
This would mean that less sophisticated clients pay relatively more for an equivalent web site but that is a premium they must pay to offset the larger risk they face; that things might go badly wrong.