A Work In Progress

February 9, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Posted in General, Management | Leave a comment

What is the general feeling on showing clients the work while it is in progress? I pose this question specifically to the web designers/developers of the world, but I guess it applies to a number of different fields.

Where I work, we upload websites in development to the life server, to a live domain name, but under an undisclosed development folder. The reason for this is mainly because we’ve noticed in the past that even if you think your development server is set up identical to your final hosting server, something will go wrong, and at least one unforeseen bug will come up.

It also helps when clients ask to see the progress on a website. The website is already there, we don’t have to create any special user accounts on private servers, all we do is tell them the name of the subfolder and tell them to surf their browser there.

But, after my most recent client, I’m second guessing our policy to allow the client to view a website that is in the middle of construction.

I was developing a website with a customized CMS that was developed in house. I haven’t been working at this company for very long, and the company is very new, and not extremely advanced in terms of web technology used in websites. I’m trying to develop a CMS on the fly, site by site, against my wishes.

Very close to the start of the project, the client asked to see the site progress and I agreed. What followed was constant hounding from the client that the website doesn’t look anything like we agreed it to look. No matter how hard I tried to explain to the client, I couldn’t get across that I was developing the backend of the website, the framework that the website is going to be built on. When he first asked for a look at the website, I didn’t have any graphics made. I left the design to build up the frame work and configure modules that had been written for a previous site.

So I put up a very quick home page with non-functioning links, and of course, didn’t bother optimizing the CSS for multiple browsers.

What’s worse, the client kept checking, day after day, and was growing increasingly frustrated at the perceived lack of progress. While I was building an object-oriented image gallery for his website, he thought I was sitting on my behind and doing nothing. He felt like he was not getting his value for money at all, which is understandable, and his knowledge of technology, specifically web technology, was so low that he couldn’t understand that a lot of the work I was doing, he would never see.

Unfortunately, this is really my only current experience in showing a client a website in progress, still being built. The client, in their limited understanding, and capacity to understand, was very unsatisfied and frustrated during the whole process, and it damaged his perception of us as a company, and set him instantly on the defensive whenever he dealt with us.

I believe, however, with a more “tech-savvy” client, that this process would be reassuring to them. I believe that if I explained what I was doing, and they tinkered around a bit with the admin section, they would see how it works before my demonstration, and be able to direct the administration of their website the way they want it.

I believe that it is important to keep in mind who you are dealing with when you are considering showing the client a website before it is finished. If the client has an honest, complete understanding that the site is not finished, will not perform as it is intended in the final product, and often doesn’t look anything like what they want it to, then there should be no objection to showing them a work in progress. However, in all seriousness, how many of those clients do web developers often get?

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