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  1. #1
    SitePoint Wizard mPeror's Avatar
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    Are developers supposed to meet clients?

    I work in a small design firm as a web developer. I'm facing an annoying issue which is that I don't get to meet clients and collect project requirements myself nor discuss anything with them. Instead, the lead graphic designer, who has very little web experience compared to me, does that and forwards all their requirements to me. Then if I had to change or suggest something, I'll have to send it to him and he would forward it to them.

    I discussed this issue briefly with the business owner, but he seemed to blindly trust that graphic designer and think that I shouldn't be involved.

    What I want to know is: am I, as a developer, supposed to meet clients before starting the project? or do businesses tend to assign a representative to collect requirements for all kinds of projects?

  2. #2
    SitePoint Addict battra's Avatar
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    Usually only a representative meets the customer for requirement gathering, at least during the initial phase. This is to maintain a single point of contact for the customer. Technical person may be included at the later stage to fine tune the requirements. This can be a disadvantage for the developer if, for example, the representative over-promise the customer due to lack of technical knowledge. If you have this problem, maybe you can suggest both of you meeting the customer.

  3. #3
    SitePoint Wizard mPeror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by battra
    if, for example, the representative over-promise the customer due to lack of technical knowledge
    That's what's happening actually. This and the fact that he's giving me open requirements like asking for the ability for users to view other users' profile on a web site without telling me what should be included there (for example).

  4. #4
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    Usually developers don't meet clients except in critical situations, the customer requests/expects it. The latter usually when the client is technical. Inter-company meetings are usually between like positions (presidents meet presidents, project managers meet project managers, sales people meet other sales people, etc.).

    So from an idealistic point of view the owner is right, not to mention it's his company. But it sounds like you have a valid concern that would probably improve everybody's productivity, client happiness and ultimately the company's bottom line. That last one your boss will understand so my suggestion is to frame it in those terms.

    If the representative isn't asking enough questions then volunteer the questions based on past contracts in a nice document and send it to them asking that they gather all the information up-front.

    If they don't or refuse to then send a revised document but this time CC yours and his boss, if they're different and always be nice and frame your wording in showing how asking those questions helps the company make more money. Nobody ever complains about that.

    If they still won't ask the questions and the same mistakes keep happening then ask for a meeting with your boss and the person who is now shown to be hurting the company and ask that they explain why they can't do what you asked and can you present the questions in a different format, worded differently, written on tea leaves delivered by doves? Okay, that last one is out of line but sometimes I can't help myself. If you make a good case your boss should back you. If your boss doesn't then that's probably it and you can either live with it or consider your options if you're unhappy. GL
    I study speed waiting. I can wait an entire hour in 10 minutes.

  5. #5
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    Introducing Clients with Developers have it's pros and cons and IMHO, there is really no single answer. In fact, we have both instances within our organization.

    I think that developers should be present when the initial requirements are being discusssed. This is specially important when the client themselves are non technical. Sales guys have a tendency to say "Yes" without actually thinking too much about the requirements and it's only later than the developer is given a task to develop a penguin that can fly. Developer should also be allowed to get in touch with the clients should they have a specific query that the PM is also not sure about.

    The above statement should also be read as, developers should talk to client only in presence of people who can understand business requirement. This is because while a client is thinking - "This is what I want" , the developer is thinking - "what do I have to do". Thus, they filter out lot of things that cannot be put in the terms of PHP/MySQL. The difference in volcabulary makes it very difficult for relationship to gel and a project manager can be very effective here. Another point is that a project has multiple types of requirement and thus an SPOC is mandatory unless, the plan is to drive the client mad by having him contacted by 5-6 different people.
    Mukul Gupta
    Indus Net Technologies
    _______________________________________
    Design | Development | Internet Marketing

  6. #6
    PHP/Rails Developer Czaries's Avatar
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    In this line of work, I often find that it is very common to NOT have developers involved in the client meetings, unless they are especially gifted in explaining things to clients in a way that non-technical clients will understand. Usually developers can be safely substituted with a good project manager, who must understand the technical aspects of the programmer's job, but is also a very good communicator.

    Now obviously in your situation, if the project is not being properly spec'd out, then it creates problems for everyone. If you see this as a consistent problem (which you seem to), then you should definitely do something to try and bring this to your boss' attention.

  7. #7
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    I've had meetings with agencies where the developer was present but the only reason we were in the same room is that they were project leads and could have doubled as sales/ strategy people and were involved in seven-figure projects where we spent days and days chewing through details, processes, etc... (and without most of the other marketing/ business owners for that reason).

    In your larger agencies / firms, a project manager or business analyst will gather requirements from the client and turn them over to the development team going back and forth to gain additional information as necessary. If the client has a technical team in-house, the developers may contact them directly and may even participate on a conference call to discuss project status updates, issues and challenges, but generally through a lead or business facing role.

    As companies get smaller, the lines blur more and companies tend to send out the people they feel best represent them. Hopefully these people are also able to gather requirements and have some technical sense but frankly I'd rather go back and forth 20 times with a developer than sit down with one that has no people skills -- it would be quicker.

    From you company’s end, this is often a matter of cost control. Chances are the designer has to be there and chances are the design is what the client cares about (features are just something that appear, design encompasses everything to most clients) thus the designer's time has to be taken. If the designer makes less than you, it's easy to see why he or she would go in your place... lower salary = less expense to the company. By the same token if they make more but have less workload the same logic applies. You may also be limited because they already have “enough” people there and have “got by” in the past – you can’t send the entire company to meet with clients so the line has to be drawn somewhere and many companies do this at development.

    If they make more and are slammed as much as you are and no one cares about double stacking employees in meetings, then it's likely a matter of who they feel better represents the company, something which you can only change by fitting in and showing them your "people skills" which judging from some of your other posts, they may not be thrilled with (not because you don't have them but because companies often confuse inner-office issues with outer facing appearances).

    You’ve already broached the subject with the owner so it may be wise to play this one gently. That said, in an upcoming meeting you can always suggest face time as it relates to a particular set of needs and if denied, ask if they feel you would represent them well to the client or if they prefer the designer’s tact. Another tactic is to go to the designer and ask him or her if they feel they capture the requirements well enough… you can work this one in as a “we keep going around and around and I’m wondering if I’m not giving you the right info” as opposed to putting it on them… if they don’t feel they’re technical enough, they can help you double up on the owner as well.

    You have to be gentle here or your risk opening a big can but if getting things to change is important to you, you’ll have to figure out what the issue is.
    - Ted S

  8. #8
    SitePoint Addict battra's Avatar
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    You can also prepare some kind of checklist or questionnaire for the sales guy to guide him and at the same time getting the information that *you* want to know as a developer. I assume before this guy meets the client, you already have some idea what the client wants, e.g. e-commerce app, company website, etc so this questionnaire will help to direct the requirement gathering in the right path. Adding list of common nice-to-have and absolutely-no-no features may also be helpful to avoid over-promise and educating the sales guy a bit about technical limitations.


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