Friday, February 27, 2009

Different strokes for different folks

There are two sorts of customers I deal with, very broadly speaking. The first kind approach a problem purely from a business point of view - "we need to do our scheduling via the internet", for instance - and are either uninterested in the technical details of how I achieve this, too busy with their own work to get involved, or just assume that they've hired a professional and that whatever solution I come up with will work and be done right.

The second type of client also has a business need, but has experience and knowledge of IT systems also. They have strong ideas about how the solution they're looking for should work and the technologies that should be used.

Both sorts have their advantages (as an advisor and/or developer) and...challenges! The "hands-off" customer allows a lot of freedom and flexibility in choosing the right approach, but can sometimes have unrealistic expectations. Pretty well everything is possible these days, of course, but some features can't be delivered within a limited budget or a short timeframe.

Naturally, it's up to me to explain the opportunities and the limitations at the outset and to frame expectations correctly, but this communication costs time and effort and is absolutely crucial to the success of a project. Delivering a technically perfect solution is only half the battle; the other half is showing the client that his needs are being met and confirming the value of his investment.

The more technically-literate customer requires a different approach. You need to know your subject and be able to support every position you take, but explanations are less necessary than discussions. On the other hand, people who've dabbled in programming or the likes aren't easily impressed, and often don't realise the background work that goes into making bomb-proof data solutions. They're often (for good and solid reasons) more technically conservative, too, and don't upgrade systems or software lightly. (Case in point - I don't have a single client using an OS newer than Windows XP...released when Bill Clinton was the U.S. President, remember).

At the end of the day, though, I enjoy working with and for both types of client, and think that it would be a sad and boring job to have if every customer were the same.