Secret ingredients to quality software

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Rules to Better Software Consultants - Happy Clients - 6 Rules

This page is for both developers and Account Managers

Aiming for 'happy clients' can be an elusive game. Ultimately what makes one client happy is different from what makes another happy.

Howeverthe first step to keeping anyone happy is to manage expectations from the beginning to the end of a project. The following steps are the processes by which you can manage client expectations and, with luck, keep them happy...

SuccessfulProjects ManagingExpectations
Figure: Making premature statements is not an effective way of managing expectations

  1. Just like how a beautiful house is more than the bricks, a software project is more than the sum of the coding tasks.

    Let's see what should be included :

    In fact, for every 1 hour of 'application building' coding tasks there is between 1 and 4 hours of other work which SSW will charge for. This other work includes administration, testing and bug fixing.

    Here is a list of the items which SSW considers when estimating a release.

  2. Do *not* wait until you have started to exceed your estimate before you notify the client that the release is running late.

    Keep them informed and avoid conflict by sending an email like this:

    To : Mr Northwind Cc : David (Project Manager)

    Dear Bill Northwind,

    As per our conversation, The Data Migration task in Sprint 3 will take longer than expected and so looks like it won't be delivered this sprint. The data migration of the Coverage Data is more complicated than originally anticipated because an external database (Media Disk) also reads from the coverage table. I am revising the estimate accordingly to 32 hours.

    Regards David

    Figure: Good Example - A sample of an email that informs the client that the estimate will be exceededAs soon as you realise that any of your estimates are likely to be exceeded by a material margin (about 20%), then let the customer know ASAP by phone and by email (using the 'as per our conversation' rule). This will ensure that the client is fully aware of any problems and has a chance to decide an alternative action. 

    Never keep the client in the dark when you exceed your estimates, it will only arouse suspicion and mistrust when they see the project deadline woosh past.

    Note: For Scrum projects, you should keep an eye on your burndown chart during your daily standups to see if you are on track to finish all the work in a Sprint.

  3. "Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission" - Tony Abbott

    The trouble is that the above is predicated on the notion that you're doing something wrong and are happy spending time putting out fires that needn't have been lit.

    Let's see how to live without stomach ulcers...

    SuccessfulProjects PuttingOutFires
    Figure: Get work approved and spend less time putting out fires

    Get permission for the work you do *before* you do it. Usually get permission verbally, confirmed with an email (or with a signature, although that's sometimes a whole lot harder).

    The natural time for this conversation to occur is in the Daily Scrum

    Always get permission for:

    • Additional Items
    • Investigation time for scoping out additional items
    • Adding additional resources onto a project
    • Exceeding estimates
    • Data migration

    Having said that, you need to manage two potential problems with seeking permission on work before acting:

    This rule is not generally applicable if:

  4. When you are working on a project, you need to follow the get work approved before you do it rule. However, you should assume some tasks will be approved by a client and do them anyway. This of course depends on the size of the task (e.g. half hour or less) and the obviousness of the task.

    If you reasonably assume that the task you are working on would be approved by the customer, and it will take less than half an hour, you should go ahead with that task.

    To: ScottSubject: QWI - Aqua UI Improvements from Adam

    Adam suggested that we make the positioning of the "New" Button consistent on all forms. Move the New to the right with the Save and close buttons. Estimated 15 minutes.Please approve.Figure: Bad example.To: ScottSubject: QWI - Aqua UI Improvements from Adam

    Adam suggested that we make the positioning of the "New" Button consistent on all forms. Move the New to the right with the Save and close buttons. Estimated 15 minutes.

    I have made these small changes. Test please.Figure: Good Example.

  5. Each sprint has a "Sprint Forecast" email that details what will be worked on during this sprint.

    At the end of the sprint, this should be replied to with a "Sprint Review" email that shows a breakdown of what was completed.

    If you're using GitHub to manage your project, create repeatable templates that can easily edited and emailed out.
    See GitHub Issues - Do you create a template for your Sprint Reviews, Retros and Forecasts? for more details.

    Each Sprint has the following stages:

    1. Planning meeting

    2. Work in progress

      • "Done" emails are sent asking for specific functionality to be tested
      • See Rules to better Email for details
    3. Review and Retro meetings

  6. When you are about to finish a client project, it is a good idea to prepare a "thank you" email, have it checked and send it to your customer (usually the Product Owner) on the last day. In this email include:

    1. Make sure you have completed all requirements
    2. Thank for the time and tell them the reasons why you enjoyed working on this project
    3. Prepare a list of future improvements you can think of that can be done

    There are a number of reasons why this is important:

    • It shows that you care about your client/project
    • Give them something to think about. They might get you back to fix the problems you have identified
    • Show that you will be supporting them after the project ends

    Below is a template email you can use:

    Email Template

    Figure: Good Example - Nice 'thank you' email with a list of future improvements

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