Money Is No Object Client

Just before Thanksgiving I was asked to assist in the early stages of a project to build a web site with a serious set of requirements. I jumped on the opportunity because I knew the idea was solid and that I could help by providing Blueprint planning advice and hopefully keep this project on track.

I should have run the moment I learned nobody on the team besides myself had built a web site before.

I should have run the moment the client (a doctor) said: “It doesn’t matter whether we have a long term relationship with a developer because we’re going to be bought out in a year anyways.”

I should have run when the client said: “We absolutely must be live in 6 weeks” and would not discuss it arguing that the investors were anxious.

That brings me to my first point.

Spending a lot of money on the design and development of a web site or web service does not increase your chances of success. In fact, I would argue that the more you spend past a certain threshold, your chances of success diminish.

This client believed that money could buy him anything including success. Money was no object. I love a “make it happen” attitude, however let’s be real. A homeless guy (no, not this guy) could easily submit a proposal for 5X the cost of the nearest competitor but that doesn’t mean he can do it better.

After spending about 3 weeks building a site map and wireframes for about 20 pages we talked to 8 development companies about building this site (with a massive backend). Surprisingly half of them were interested.

Prior to our Blueprint process this business was nothing more than an idea that few people understood. After our Blueprint we found we could explain the concept to people in about an hour. It was amazing.

Something I found apparent after we began meeting with developers was that my client liked the companies with fancy offices and big smiles while I was able to see they didn’t have a clue.

Even more disturbing: of the two companies that actually got it, they didn’t even make my clients “cut.”

While one company said the site would only work in Internet Explorer, the other asked if they could use AJAX. When one said it wouldn’t work in FireFox until phase 2 or 3, the other asked if they could work out of our office to speed up development.

None of this sounded appealing to the client. All of it was appealing to me.

So in the end the client picked the company that only supported IE and was going to charge not just one arm and one leg, but for both of them. The company with the fancy office and floor-to-ceiling windows, the one with brand-name clients.

So how did it turn out? Well the project is doomed at this point and launched two months late. Apparently “design” wasn’t included and the client must have said ok to just exporting from Visual Studio. Unbelievable.

We bailed out after completing our Blueprint process as the client didn’t want to wait while we asked questions and prepared wireframes.

Lessons learned?

  1. Sometimes it’s good to tell the client a few industry horror stories. There is nothing like the potential for great failure to inspire success.
  2. Sometimes more is less. This client would have gotten more had he spent less with a more capable development team. Spending upper five-figures didn’t get anything this time.
  3. Customers sometimes buy based on price. Deal with it.
  4. Good ideas are everywhere and it’s the execution of those ideas that really matters.

This is a great case study in how “Getting Real” doesn’t work unless everybody involved in the process understands “Getting Real.”

The client ignored all of the wireframes and specifications, all of our planning, and so did the development company that bid five times as much as the nearest competitor. Great specifications and planning can save a project like this however in this case too many bad decisions were made and a lot of money was wasted.

That’s the end of my tale. The good news is we got paid. Unfortunately, the client probably doesn’t understand what went wrong and that’s ashame because he’ll never trust a web development firm again.

Coming up next: Planning Matters To Us Client.


6 responses to “Money Is No Object Client”

  1. This doctor reminds me of the “Anything is possible if you don’t know what you’re talking about” philosophy.

  2. It sounds like it was setup to fair. As a project manager I see this kind of issues all the time where a client just does not understand the planning and documentation that is needed to make an effort a success. You can throw all kinds of money at a project but it you are pressed against the wall it just will not work.

  3. Tomas – man have I ever met people that believe that. Some days I feel like it describes everybody.

    Bullock – Setup for failure. Well, I’d say that in this particular case what happened was that the client in this case didn’t want to spend the time necessary to make sure this project succeeded (by trusting experts). Since my company wasn’t hired to manage the project (nor did we have the time in December) we did our best but once the client decided our part was done everything moved over to a development shop that handled it horribly. Oh well.

  4. Wonderful story, do you mind if I use it as a resource the next time I teach beginning WebDesign. It seems to really speak to the importance of planning and compatability issues which most beginning students don’t want to hear about.

    Back when I used to manage a web development company, I saw this happen more than once. It was always nice to see the clients come back with tail between their legs to ask us to fix it. Amzazing how much time and money can be saved by doing things right the first time.


  5. Que gran verdad, y es que con la mierda que pagan a los programadores no me extrañaria que un recoge cartones o chatarrero ganase mal.
    que asco de enseñanza, de pais y de todo.

    ¡¡¡ Por un sueldo digno y justo para los programadores!!!
    ¡¡¡ basta ya de explotacion !!!

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