How to love your dev!

Business Learnings

21st August 2020

Occasionally (recently quite often), we’ll have a new business call with a client where the relationship with the incumbent developer has gone sour. Sometimes this is lack of progress on a project, sometimes it’s a yawning gap between expectation and delivery and, on a couple of occasions, even a developer gone AWOL. We started to wonder: what went wrong? And how can we prevent it?

The relationship between a business or entrepreneur and a development team is a bit like a romance.

It all starts excited and optimistic. Sometimes, warning bells get ignored because of the wonderful prospects ahead. For a smaller agency it might be the team’s (or at least part of the team’s) entire focus. It gets lots of attention and everyone is excited to see it come to life. But as time goes on, the reality of delivery bites and issues which were glossed over at first rear their head, creating resentment and, at worst, a failed project. So can it be saved? And when is it time to move on?

To find out how the synergy (yes, we said it!) present at the start of a project can be maintained right through to launch and beyond, we turned it around and looked at our very best relationships and what makes them successful. Of course, we’ve been on the bad end of things once or twice, but – with a couple of exceptions that still give us shudders – we’ve always managed to end it amicably and with mutual respect. I like to think that all partners involved walked away with a bunch of learnings on their backs.

In our experience, the most important factors are:

  • Communication – it’s such a hackneyed point, but whatever happens, ignoring people is never going to lead to a fruitful relationship. If the budget is gone or you simply don’t have the capacity – say so!
  • Trust the early warning signs – if there are things that you or your gut do not like, address them early on so they don’t compound into big problems further down the line. Be honest about whether you are the right fit for each other and don’t be seduced into taking on a project or a development team unless the skills and experience fit.
  • Managing expectations – this is one that probably every agency has to learn the hard way. Write. Everything. Down. Explaining up front what is and – more importantly – isn’t in scope is probably the single most important thing that keeps a dev/client relationship healthy. With smaller projects, it’s tempting to think you can be lax with the scoping process – there’s no budget for it, you want to crack on with the dev. Don’t. The more experience we have gained, the more time we have spent scoping everything we do.
  • Explain – a lot of frustration comes from ‘simple’ things. It’s not the clients job to know how complex or easy a task is. If their expectations are wildly off the mark, take the time to explain the background of timings or costs. You don’t need to give your clients a Python tutorial, but every client-facing dev or digital project manager worth their salt should be able to explain in simple terms the functionality, limitations and challenges of the platforms and technologies they’re using.
  • Mutual honesty – say it like it is. Even if its bad news, it’s better to be open about issues early on so they don’t turn into a big deal later
  • Endurance – this is a marathon, not a sprint. To be able to finish a project and see things through to the end (we’re digital here, so that’s really the end and beyond!) is one of the pillars of software development. There’s no point in making anything if it never sees the light of day!
  • Underpromise and overdeliver
  • Underpromise and overdeliver

No one is perfect, but when we are at our best, we probably hit most of the points from this list. From the ones that didn’t work out: there are at least 4 of these points that we ignored.

What are your experiences with digital teams? Let us know!

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