Project Management

Is failure ever the best option for consultants?

Would giving a client a little taste of disaster before your IT service saves the day make the client more appreciative of your work? Read why a TechRepublic member recently contemplated this question.

TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) keeps feeding me great topics. This time, Bob relates a case in which doing his job too well led to a client's suspicion of their need for his services.

In a previous article, I related Bob's "I told you so" adventure, in which he luckily happened to be on site on the weekend when a client's hard drive (which he had recommended for replacement) suddenly failed. Bob swapped in a drive that he carried with him and restored from an image he had taken earlier. The client then purchased the replacement drives Bob had recommended, which he swapped in on a Monday night. The client's business didn't miss a beat. A 100% happy ending. That's the way IT service should be conducted, right?

Well, according to Bob, the client made an ostensibly joking comment: "Whenever Bob needs money, gee, these problems happen!" Bob says, "I blew up at the client and told him in no uncertain terms he was damn lucky to have anything back so quickly this morning."

The client then expressed trust in Bob's honesty, but the incident bothered Bob. He discussed it with a colleague, who said, "Gee, maybe if you let the server be dead on Monday morning and restored it that day, the client would have appreciated your work all the more!"

In other words, because the client felt no pain they didn't perceive a real need. For all they knew, the drive never failed at all, because Bob was there at the time and rectified the situation so quickly. All they experienced of the transaction was shelling out the money for the new drives.

I have a couple of problems, though, with the alternatives suggested by this line of thought. First, in order to leave the system down, Bob would have had to adopt one of three stances:

  1. Pretend that he left the system running fine. That's lying to your client. Not only would that be unethical, but as with any lie, no matter how small, you run the risk of getting caught in it.
  2. Tell them that it failed while you were there, but that you needed to get the new drives before you could replace them. In other words, don't volunteer the spare drive you were carrying. That's either another lie, or an indication that you're somewhat callous towards your client's needs.
  3. Tell them that you left the system down because the decision to replace the drives would be up to them. That provokes a "Duh!"

Second, I've always held that we should do the best by our clients, regardless of how it looks. All other things being equal, less downtime is better.

I would suggest instead that you play out the alternate scenarios in a discussion with the client. "If I hadn't happened to be here at the time, or if I didn't carry a spare drive around, you'd have lost a few hours work on Monday. And if I hadn't made that ghost image, you'd be SOL." Perhaps a demonstration would be in order that the hard drive was really shot. Plug it into a spare system and try to boot it, so they can see it's dead.

That's my opinion, but I'm biased towards being truthful. What do the rest of you think? Would a little taste of disaster followed by a heroic rescue improve Bob's relationship with his client?

Also read these IT Consultant posts:

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

Editor's Picks