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14 nightmare clients -- and how to defang them

Steven A. Lowe | Jan. 21, 2015
The key to survival in a client-based profession like software development is recognizing the signals of a project heading south despite your best efforts. Here, difficult clients can be a clear impediment to your success.

The key to survival in a client-based profession like software development is recognizing the signals of a project heading south despite your best efforts. Here, difficult clients can be a clear impediment to your success.

In fact, anyone who has spent time working directly with clients has probably come across a few that reminded them of mythological beasts. Maybe the project kicked off well but took a wrong turn into a bureaucratic fog, only to die a slow death. Maybe a powerful executive suddenly rose up from behind the scenes to kill your project midway through. Maybe an unreasonable demand late in the game burned to a crisp your chances of ever getting paid.

Here are 14 nightmare clients you may very well encounter on your quest for success as an independent software developer. May you have strength in recognizing, avoiding, and neutralizing them, when possible.

Nightmare client No. 1: The Kraken

Like the legendary sea monster for which this type of nightmare client is named, the Kraken surfaces suddenly, often in the middle of a project, to ensnare you in its multiple tentacles, also known as conflicting requirements.

On the one hand, you want the client to be satisfied and get the system they want. On the other hand, conflicting requirements are difficult to resolve. On the other other hand, more requirements means more billable work. On the other other other hand, unresolved conflicts are likely to cause the project to fail. On the other other other other hand — you get the picture.

The Kraken sees no conflict among its multiple arms; after all, more often than not, each arm comes from a different department that's unaware of the others. Plus, the Kraken is so large that it is oblivious to the fact that its thrashing is breaking the mast and crushing your crew.

The instant you recognize that one arm doesn't know what the other arm is doing, call an all-hands meeting. Only by enumerating and exposing the conflicting requirements can you tame the Kraken. You may find that in a group discussion some of the conflicts dissolve, or you may have to work a little harder to disentangle what would otherwise end up destroying your project.

Nightmare client No. 2: Stirges

Much like its mythical, blood-sucking, mosquito-size namesake, the Stirge does little damage on its own — a little prick that barely sets you back, leaving you to wonder whether anything untoward happened at all. But a swarm of Stirges is serious trouble. If you don't swat Stirges early, your project will soon be left bloodless.

The conversation starts innocently enough: The client has an "idea," and it sounds feasible, at least in theory, so you ask a question. In response to your question, the client calls in someone to help. This person sort of answers your question and brings up another possibility — slightly conflicting, but perhaps resolvable.

 

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