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Talking Point – Unrealistic Expectations

Do you ever wonder if technology has gone too far in thinking for us?

With almost everything being able to be found on Google, whether accurate or not, we seem to have lost the ability to think or problem solve on our own. We’ve in effect allowed our own inquisitiveness to be dumbed down to such a level that many of us seem incapable of being able to figure stuff out for ourselves. Unfortunately, this dependence on Google to supply the answers to everything (whether right or wrong) has resulted in the average Joe (or Jill) relying on having their problems resolved or needs met by someone (or something) else.

And it’s not just Google at fault. There’s a lot of software used on a daily basis that is so predictive that we need to make minimal effort to communicate. Think smart phones. How many times do you send apologetic texts to make up for the garbled one the phone wrote for you? Does your TV (if you still use one) decide you’ve seen enough and switch off by itself? Or does your heater turn off because there’s been no movement in your room that it can detect for the last X number of minutes?

This might be a massive generalisation on my part, and in the absence of any qualitative research, I’d love to be proved wrong. However, real-world experience tends to confirm that I might just have a point.

Hard to beat a good briefing

Take the work we do at Expert for example. The majority of our clients thankfully know their business and how it works better than we do, and when they want to make any changes, they generally have a good idea of how the changes should be made. Sure, they probably won’t know the nitty-gritty of the back-end side of things unless they’re software developers or are really familiar with the inner workings, but they have a fairly good idea of what needs to be done to reach the desired result. Even knowing what the desired result might look like can help immensely.

We sit down with them and discuss what is wanted and how we might help. We try to play devil’s advocate so that no stones are left unturned and there won’t be anything to come back and bite them once the changes have been made. It usually concludes in a happy ending, with the client getting what they want and Expert feeling good that we could help them.

And then there are the others … “Pass the crystal ball please”

I’m still surprised by how many potential clients think we’re mind-readers. It’s akin to asking a builder to build you a new home without supplying any plans and then complaining that it’s not what they had in mind.

Some people seem to overlook the fact that Expert’s primary reason for being is to create clever software solutions and build fantastic websites, and while we have vast experience of business in general, it really isn’t our job to figure out the unique supply chain process of a bespoke clothing retailer for example, or the freight options for an online plant nursery. Nor do we always have the specialist knowledge required, for example, to calculate calories for an at-home baker or chutney maker – surely that should be within their own expertise as a manufacturer? If it’s not, they might want to rethink if being in business is the best option for them.

It doesn’t end there. We’re often approached by some obscure operator in a far-off land who seems to think we should know all there is to know about not just their product or service, but also the customs and behaviours of the country they come from, or are trying to sell to.

From our very first dealings with a client or potential client, we try to glean as much information as possible from the client, or potential client, so that we can help them in the best possible way. We even undertake our own research to learn more about their product or service, the market they’re operating in, supply chain options of a typical operation similar to theirs, and even who their competitors are and what they’re up to. We do all this without any guarantee that the potential client will end up as an actual client, or that the project will proceed with existing clients. And we do it for free.

What’s your budget?

Jobs that don’t proceed usually don’t due to budget constraints, and given that Expert’s operation sits between the big fat companies who specialise in charging six-figures for projects and the little guys working out of cafes or on their kitchen tables using free software platforms found on the internet, we still need to charge for our time and overheads at a realistic rate.

You’d probably be surprised to learn how few people give a second thought to the likely cost of the technical work that’s required for their project or business start-up, or have even allocated a budget for it.

If we were cold-hearted, we would ask before the first meeting has been scheduled, if there is a realistic budget set for the work required, and not put any of our time into discussing anything if there isn’t. Experience has shown us that a surprising number of people either rarely think this far through, or are not prepared to tell us their budget in case we max out on it. Really. Why would anyone want to work with clients like these? Certainly not us.

Then there’s the occasional ‘not-for-profit’ client who doesn’t understand that businesses need to be ‘for-profit’ if they’re going to be around for more than five minutes. I don’t know anyone who operates ‘for-loss’, probably because it’s illegal to do so and it’s not sustainable. I’m never sure what these peoples’ expectations are. Maybe they think we should do their work for nothing, or next to nothing, and be happy to have our logo displayed on the footer of their website instead of receiving actual payment. Try using that to pay your staff’s wages or the office rent.

Too good to be true usually is just that

Joint ventures or equity partnerships with potential clients are another carrot dangled in front of us from time to time. This is where Expert does a pile of work in return for a miniscule share of the client’s profits, assuming that there might actually be some, though the projections always look amazing. The few times we did engage in this madness (in our very early days when we weren’t that busy) all ended in tears and we vowed we’d never do it again.

So, in closing, before you undertake your next project have you considered the following?

  • What does the outcome of the project look like?
    • Can I explain it clearly to others?
  • What needs to be done by others to get there?
    • Have I got a set of specifications, screen shots or a plan to share?
  • What needs to be done by me to get there?
    • Will I deliver my part as promised?
    • What might get in the way?
  • What’s my time frame?
    • Are there any specific deadlines to meet?
    • Have I allowed for any contingencies?
  • How much money have I allocated to spend on this?
    • Can it be done in stages to suit my budget or cashflow?
    • Can I secure additional funding to complete it if the scope creeps?
  • How do I want the project to run – Waterfall or Agile?*
    • *A future blog will provide info on these two project methods; watch this space.

Once you’ve addressed the items on the above list you should be ready to proceed with making things happen. If you get stuck with anything, remember there’s always Google to help you out if all else fails. It’s okay to accept that you don’t know everything, but at least do some thinking first.


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