[LRUG] Contact Work and setting limits

Taryn East teast at globalpersonals.co.uk
Thu Oct 29 08:21:13 PDT 2009

Fixed time/price contracts are always tricky. Once you've said 'it'll take
this long' a client has a reasonable expectation that it will. You, of
course, have a reasonable expectation that the client won't keep changing
their mind or have unspeakable lurking horrors in their legacy code... both
of you are kinda, sorta right and kinda sorta at the mercy of murphy's law

A lot of time this stuff is all about managing expectations.

Tips for the future: - make sure you put in place some kind of official way
to make changes to the plan - that you both have to agree upon before it
goes ahead. As part of this, make sure your client realises that if the
plans change (eg new requirements, adjustments to existing requirements or
'things they forgot to mention') - that you will have to readjust the
time/price and usually not in their favour. Also make sure they are aware
that a change will often have ripple-on effects, changing the timing of
other things you've already estimated.

As to suddenly discovering that there's crazy code to fix instead of neat
stuff... that's a toughie. I guess you could say that you can't really
estimate how long it'll take to fix it until you've had a good, long look at
it. A quick squiz often means you don't really get a feel for some of the
lurking horrors in a legacy codebase...

Of course, it's much harder to convince a client that you can't just figure
it all out on a quick look...

The best option, of course, is to shift off the fixed contract. However that
may not be possible when you're a beginning contractor, sometimes you just
have to do a few bad, fixed-price contracts until you have enough of a
reputation to insist on time-based accounting.

My 2c :)

2009/10/29 Rob Lacey <contact at robl.me>

> Hey guys,
> I wanted to ask for a bit of advice about contract work as I know many of
> you are contractors or have contracted. I am wrapping up a project with a
> client which has been troublesome to say the least. I initially quoted 13
> days to make ammendments to their existing Rails application, and through
> the process this has stretched to about 32 days work. So I badly misjudged
> the length of the project, primarily because I hadn't realised how broken
> their app was and how crazy some of the code was (to me at least), along
> with requirements creeping in that I should maybe have said no to, and
> problems post re-launch which may have been there all along but have reared
> their ugly head only now.
> The problem being that the client wants a working site, some of the
> requirements fell outside of the original spec, and delivering a far from
> finished article at the end of the quoted time was not really an option. I
> can see from their point of view I quoted a time and price, and delivered
> the project be it over a longer period of time so they got what they wanted.
> But from my point of view the work I'm 19 days down which is far from ideal.
> How does anyone deal with the issue of estimation going horribly wrong? And
> how would you broach this with the client, obviously they thought it would
> take only the quoted amount that time, so its a tricky one. Is it fair to
> approach them and come to some compromise over the cost of the project or do
> you just pick yourself up, forget it and be more mean (and realistic) with
> your estimates next time.
> RobL
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