It seems like every couple of weeks I get an email along these lines:
We have a website that cannot be completed by the current developers….is this something you would like to work on?
Over the years I’ve responded differently, from simple one-line “no thanks” to more involved responses declining the work. I thought I’d write up a more detailed blog post both to record my thought process in responding and as way to have a link to send out in the future when these requests come in.
Who Fired Whom?
As the potential late-comer to the project, unfinished projects are little mysteries waiting to be solved, and you’re asking me to put on my trenchcoat.
You are only telling me one side of the story and using vague words that make me suspicious. Are the current developers unable to complete the site because they don’t have the technical savvy? Or the developer doing most of the work took a new job? Did their salesperson over-promise?
Then there is the other side of the coin - what if the current developers have stopped working on the project because you stopped paying them? Or you were a horrible client with shifting expectations and schedules? Did you not, as a potential client looking to spend thousands of dollars, do your due diligence in finding a development partner capable of building what you needed? To be a bit crass, why are you coming to me now in “salvage a failure” mode but not when the project was new?
All of this is probably answerable with a few uncomfortable phone calls to both parties, but maybe not. Will you be totally upfront about these issues or gloss over them in hopes of getting me signed on? Either way, will you compensate me for the time spent researching the project history?
Speaking of getting paid - does the project have any budget left? Or has the current developer soaked up all the profit leaving the nit-picky (and time consuming) details undone that are tough for me to quote or you to pay for by the hour?
Don’t forget the reverse-engineering time. A web project is not a web project. Different developers have different methodologies and any half-baked site that’s getting turned over to a new developer is going to need to be reverse-engineered by the new guy. If your current developers did a great job documenting what they did this might be easy, but if they aren’t able to complete the work what are the odds of them doing a good job with documentation? More likely I would have to go through everything line by line to get a sense of the build approach. That time also needs to be compensated, so are you prepared for spending more than you initially budgeted to get this project done even though the scope hasn’t changed?
What if the existing work sucks? I’ve logged into some sites that were horribly built and not even close to something I’d feel comfortable delivering to a client or having my name associated with. Are you prepared to pay me several hours time to both investigate the failure situation and reverse-engineer the site only to come back and tell you it’s a lost cause?
High Risk, Little Reward
Projects in failure mode are risky. People involved in trying to salvage them are tense - someone expected this thing to be done by now and it’s not. Trust has already been broken so the second guy is going to have to work harder to earn it. The project now has baggage - the initial developer will continue to be the elephant in the room during the rest of the project development. Budgets are usually thin and it’s hard to justify spending even more money on something that’s already a failure. The second guy isn’t responsible for the project being in failure mode but is expected to take on the stress of getting it done - a virtual super-hero flying in to scoop up the fallen heroine and fly her to safety just before the earth cracks wide open.
Ultimately the risk is only worth it if either the reward is greater than taking on a project in non-failure mode or the potential second developer doesn’t have any other less risky and stressful projects to do. I’ve never needed the work that badly and haven’t been able to bring myself to charge significantly higher rates to a client in this position. But that doesn’t give (possibly innocent) clients in this position a way out of this mess.
How about you other developers? Have you taken on a project in failure mode? How did it go? Are there ways to surmount the challenges as the newcomer to the project? Or did it end as it began? Would you do it again?
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