Builders of anything custom have an ethical obligation to their clients.
Clients don’t know what craftsmen know. They shouldn’t and in most cases can’t. Even with the proliferation of content, how to’s, and guides, clients will not be able to obtain the knowledge and know-how acquired by craftsmen who have spent countless hours learning, doing, and perfecting a specific skill.
For the purpose of this post, we’re considering craftsmen as anyone who has a specialized skill to build something. This can be everyone from a woodworker, to a sculptor, to a software developer.
Craftsmen don’t have to be a vendor. Craftsmen can be within a company or organization too. Internal design and development teams have expertise and experience others in the company don’t have to create new, digital products and software.
So what’s the ethical obligation of craftsmen? Craftsmen of any type have an obligation to work in their client’s best interest and to advise and guide them in a mutually responsible manner. Sometimes this means the craftsmen must turn down work when it isn’t mutually beneficial and/or stop working if an engagement should prove to not be mutually beneficial. The obligation also means craftsmen will not take advantage of a clients less informed and knowledgeable position to work only in the best interest of the craftsmen.
Sadly, we consistently see digital firms (that’s the business we’re in) and internal IT/development teams taking advantage of less informed and knowledgeable clients. We’ve seen it across the spectrum of internal teams at companies, large agencies, small firms, and freelancers. This probably applies to craftsmen in all industries, but we can only speak to our experience building software applications.
Here are a couple of examples we’ve seen in the last few weeks alone:
1. A company that spent over $50k with a development firm and all they have to show for it is a simple document repository that is really about $10k worth of work. Maybe. Not cool, development firm. The company, a startup, is now in a bind because they need to find more money to be able to get their product developed. When we asked how it went so wrong with the development firm they said the development firm ignored everything they said and asked for, and just developed what the development firm wanted to. Clearly the customer has some culpability in not doing an effective job in owning the process and product, but the development firm knew they were taking advantage of the client.
2. A company let their internal development team determine who they were going to engage with for the rework of an existing web application that isn’t meeting the company’s need. So, the people that have been in charge of an application that isn’t meeting the needs of the business got to pick and will be managing the firm that will be reworking the application. Why? The business people (the client in this case) is operating in fear of IT/development. The business (ownership, management, marketing, sales) with customers being centric needs to drive the digital products for the company, not development. When the business side of a company let’s IT drive new, digital products instead of the business doing it, the IT department is taking advantage of the business people perceiving they are in a weaker position than IT.
3. A freelance developer bailed on project with a design firm. The developer committed to a project they couldn’t complete. The developer left the design firm holding the bag after the developer had already agreed to a scope, timeline, and budget. It’s disingenuous for craftsmen to take on a project they don’t have the skill to complete. Even worse for a craftsmen to take on a project they know they have no intention of completing.
Craftsmen working in an irresponsible manner harm all craftsmen in the industry. Clients become distrustful and skeptical. They shut down and don’t pursue new projects. Projects that could mean more jobs, improved efficiency, and/or innovation don’t deliver these outcomes. The craftsmen in these cases probably get emboldened in some weird Freudian way, but in the end no one wins.
If you are a craftsmen, be responsible and remember your obligation to work in your client’s best interest.
If you are a client, take the time to collaborate with and to validate the intentions and actions of the craftsmen you are considering engaging with.