When to Give Up on a Web Project

Contemplating the ProjectMost of the articles I read about project and client management deal with the positive aspects of the relationship. They offer tips and remedies for making everything work perfectly, and they try to give guidance on making sure your projects are fulfilling. There’s nothing wrong with these articles, and in fact, I’ve authored more than a few of them. However, what about those projects that just flat-out suck? You know. The ones that eat up all your time and subject you to a client who is never satisfied with your work and never compromising on his or her attitude.

Those projects stink, and it’s okay to give up on them.

What? Give up? We’ve always been told to stick our chins up and grind out the hard work, even if it leaves us devoid of mental reasoning by the end of the day.

I’ll readily admit that I’ve cultivated myself never to leave a project hanging. That may sound haughty, but I actually view it somewhat as a shortcoming. Being able to confidently give up on projects that warp time and make money disappear is an admirable quality that I wish I could better attune to. This may sound counterintuitive to good customer relations, so let me explain my reasoning.

There’s no such thing as a perfect project, but there definitely is such a thing as a horrendously bad project. The best way to think about web project management in this stream of thought is by comparing it to chess. In chess, you sacrifice lower status pieces to give your valuable pieces more time and better plays. Sacrificing a pawn is forgivable, but if you lose your king, game over.

In thinking about client projects, one may counter that you should pre-qualify and avoid the bad apples from the beginning. Unfortunately, that’s unrealistic. Like chess, you’ll always find yourself with pawns that maybe you thought could turn into queens (for those unfamiliar with chess, if you can get your pawn across the board to the opponent’s side, it becomes a queen). Or, maybe the relationship started out great but turned sour.

Whatever the case, once you begin to accept the fact that some projects just won’t live up to expectations, you can start allotting your time more effectively. But first, how can you identify a project worth giving up? Here are a few qualities of potentially bad projects.

  • The project is for a small amount of money, perhaps accepted based on the promise of more.
  • The client is impossible to reach or communicate with.
  • The client is susceptible to wild changes in needs or desires.
  • The project never seems to end.
  • The client continually forces scope creep on you.

Bear in mind, it may take more than one of these qualities to create a truly awful project. Also, notice how all of these qualities relate to the client or project. You need to think about yourself as well. Are you happy with the project? Does something about it seem off?

Now, the big question. Once you’ve determined that a project is no good, how do you go about giving up on it? Well, there are really only three ways I can see of approaching the situation.

The client does it for you. Sometimes the client will see the writing on the wall and confront you about ending the project. This is the best scenario, because you both understand the disconnect.

Announce your intentions. If the client doesn’t have a clue about your dissatisfaction with the project, tell them straight up. Pick up the phone or setup a quick meeting. Whatever you do, do not send an email. Web project management is like dating. You can’t break up via a text message unless you want to be perceived as a jerk.

Desert the project. This is the worse case. If you find the client intolerable or impossible to reach, and the amount of money due to you not worth fighting over, then abandon ship. Just freeze your activities on the project, and work on something else. You may want to revisit the project after a week or even a month, but it’s simply not worth the stress of dealing with it in the short-term. This tactic may seem like an absolute no-no, and you’d be right. Employ it only as a last resort, and make sure you carefully analyze the opportunity cost involved. No one wants to waste endless amounts of time trying to end an already rotten project.

And finally, when you have succeeded in ending the project, here are some tips that may help to alleviate any tension between you and the [former] client:

  • Offer up some alternatives. For example, if the [former] client is cheap, suggest they look into GoDaddy for their needs.
  • Be amicable, even if the [former] client is a tough nut. A friendly attitude can be like a cool stream of water over some hot coals.
  • Use your network to refer them to someone else. Be careful, though, because you don’t want to taint your network by shoving your bad clients onto other people.
  • Go the education route, and explain why the project isn’t working. Lack of knowledge can lead the [former] client to make assumptions.
  • Make yourself available for an hour or two to provide transition support, and definitely do not, under any circumstance, hold their site or domain hostage.

If this seemed like a surprisingly negative post, then I’m sorry, but this is what life can be like in the busy world of web design and development. Not everything works out, and occasionally, you have to value your time above that of projects and clients. Otherwise, you’ll miss opportunities, spend countless hours chasing undesirable projects, and worst of all, never be happy.

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