Cassandra’s Curse: You Can’t Make Clients Take Action | TechWell

Cassandra’s Curse: You Can’t Make Clients Take Action

To seduce the Greek maiden Cassandra, the god Apollo granted her the ability to predict the future. When she refused his advances, he bestowed a curse upon her: No one would believe her prophecies.

Years ago I performed quality assurance on a large system development project. Our small, smart team was full of enthusiasm as the project began, but our efforts quickly soured.

Although the vendor’s proposal was strong, the procurement was delayed several months. When the project began, the stellar team roster in the proposal must have been redeployed elsewhere. The team that showed up was not tall enough for this ride, and problems emerged immediately.

The systems integrator had expected to provide a high-powered project management and technical leadership team and then make a profit using low-cost subcontractors for development. The vendor’s chief architect was a programmer who had coded some utilities but had never been an architect before. The project manager was a salesman who thought project management was a public relations job that entailed telling everyone what they wanted to hear while subcontractors in the basement spun straw into gold.

According to the vendor’s proposal, the initial architectural specification would identify the basic subsystems and how they were going to interact, including error handling, data integrity, and security. They delivered more than a hundred pages of word salad that didn’t address any of those topics.

I wrote a detailed response, identifying what was expected and critiquing what was present. The vendor project manager apologized to my client, promising to address the issue. Four weeks later, the same document was resubmitted with nothing changed except the date on the cover.

I reviewed eleven versions of that document, each produced several weeks apart. None of them described a functional basic architecture or addressed the questions and findings of my written reviews.

I cautioned the client that they should pause the project and sort this out, but the vendor project manager reminded the client that there were schedule constraints and the systems integrator was a global firm with a great reputation and because design was continuing without an architectural specification, it must not be a very important document….

A year later I left the project in disgust. Three years later, the project failed spectacularly. It turns out the architecture was fundamentally flawed.

I relay this story for three reasons:

  1. To remind you that a firm’s reputation is only tangentially connected to the quality of the troops who show up on your particular project. Be skeptical.
  2. To persuade you to pay attention when your quality assurance team has issues with work products or processes. If they are right, act—it won’t get better. If they are wrong, replace them with better people.
  3. To console people who are having a similar experience and getting discouraged. Heed Jerry Weinberg’s words of wisdom: “Remember they pay you to give them advice, not to take it.” Give the best assessment you can. It isn’t your fault if clients don’t use it.

Cassandra’s situation was demoralizing, Apollo knew how to throw a curse.

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