One of the most challenging things about running a software or design consultancy is managing expectations with clients. Many (if not all) programmers, like the late Boris Grishenko from Goldeneye, have a tendency to think they’re invincible. It’s tempting to want to get the product specs and then retreat to your code cave for a month and bang the entire thing out. If the specs were completely accurate, the genius programmer should deliver a perfect product, right?
Unfortunately for us neckbeards, this isn’t the case. With any project, but particularly with early-stage startups, products need to be able to evolve based on client feedback as quickly as possible. Clients change their minds about features when they actually see how they work. They also need to let you know when the specs weren’t exactly right. It puts a huge burden on an early stage founder to produce complete specs in a vacuum devoid of actual user feedback. Sure, the founder might have done low-fidelity tests or market research, but they don’t really know how people will respond to the product until they use it. By delaying showing clients early versions of your work, you’re setting yourself up for misaligned expectations when you finally do show them the product.
We’re a design and development shop, so in our business customer service is really about building a working, trusting relationship with someone in a relatively short period of time. From our experience, it’s critical to get feedback every step of the way, to keep the client involved in what you’re doing. Even though your early work on a project might not be pixel-perfect, getting a client to see it and use it as soon as possible will help you nip potential disagreements in the bud.
At StartupGiraffe, we try to show our clients our work as often as possible. In addition to iterating on mockups and graphic designs together, we try to get something in front of our clients after a few days of coding. Even if we can only show them signup and an unfinished page or two, we’ll do it to show the client our progress and get them used to giving feedback. Every few days throughout the rest of the project, we try to release a new build with notes about the features we’re working on. This gives them ample opportunities for feedback and small changes in product direction. We also timebox our products instead of tying them to stringent scopes of work to allow for corrections along the way and to ensure our clients get a quality product out in front of customers as soon as possible.
It’s a common fear (and myth, really) that showing a client something too early will give them a bad impression of your work. “I can’t even go to my account page or post a comment!” they’ll exclaim and then cancel the contract. In our experience, this is extremely far from the truth. Clients are usually thrilled to see their product come to life and watch its evolution. The challenge is just making sure that the client understands what they’re looking at, what works and what doesn’t, and what they should expect.