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Vendors Don’t Decide What’s “Good Enough”

Christopher Tuttle

A couple of weeks ago, we showed a client an early beta mockup of a custom development project we were doing for them. It was a big project, and it was taking quite a bit development resources (read: time) to complete.

The client’s feedback was, shall we say, “pointed” (though not unfair, and certainly relevant).

After the client meeting, the support liaison emailed them the following (I’m paraphrasing here):

“I apologize that we’re not finished yet. The main features you’ve requested are already built, and meet the requirements you scoped. When the other components get added to it, we’re confident it will be what you want.”

On the surface there’s nothing wrong with that, right? Just a reminder to the customer about the scope of the project, what was agreed on, and that there’s more to come.

Here’s the problem: In spite of its good intentions, the response includes the implied assumption that if the end product isn’t what the client wants, it’s their fault for not scoping it properly.

That’s something you never tell a client. As vendors, we don’t get to decide what’s “good enough.” Ever.

Sometimes, of course, we make the choice to prematurely stop working on a project. The return on investment isn’t there, or the opportunity costs too high. In that case, we work on the project until we decide it’s not worth it anymore, and the customer can take it or leave it. Depending on the circumstances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that choice—but that’s entirely different than the customer deciding that it’s “good enough.”

Telling a client “Well, that’s how you scoped it!” doesn’t solve the problem, it creates resentment. A client didn’t pay for a product scope, they paid for a solution, and if what they see isn’t meeting they’re needs, they have every right to voice their concern.

Telling a client that a product that doesn’t meet their needs is exactly what they asked for is a recipe for massive discontent, and if they think there’s a serious enough breach of contract, say hello to the lawyers.

When a client attacks our work, sometimes we get defensive—”Well, we’ve worked hard on this, we put our best people on it, we built this two weeks ahead of schedule.”

Unfortunately, defensiveness only exacerbates the problem. The client doesn’t care; it’s not what they want. Telling them how hard you worked, and the resources you invested doesn’t increase their confidence, it degrades it. Now not only is the client panicked that they’re not getting what they need, they also feel they can no longer trust you to understand what they need. In the prospect’s mind, if you don’t understand what they need, you have zero shot of producing it for them.

Look, I understand that sometimes a client’s expectations are unrealistic, and ironically, they’re usually the ones least equipped to make your solution work. If they knew what they wanted/needed, they wouldn’t be flailing around in the dark asking you to fix it, and it’s hardly your job to work miracles (of course it begs the question why you took a contract with an overly-demanding, pain-in-the-butt client to begin with—but that’s a whole other story).

But if a client’s not happy with what you’re producing, be darn sure before you throw out a nonchalant “It is what it is,” that you’ve done your part. If the cost-to-benefit of making them happy is too high, hand over what you’ve done and call it good. Just don’t presume to tell the client that it’s “good enough” when you’re finished.

Author: Ken Krogue |
Summary of Ken Krogue’s Forbes articles

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