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What would you do?

The owner of my small software shop wants us to take this contract to build an Emergency Response Notification System.  He really wants to do it because the money is good, but I really don't because (being the lead developer of a 1.5 man team) we can hardly keep up with bug-fixes for our main software product, I am not a master programmer and I don't want to be responsible for this system.

I've voiced my opinion to him many times, however the client is willing to spend a lot of money.  The client wants us to develop this product for him so that he can compete with companies that have been developing their own software for 20 years, and my boss is telling him that we can have something for him in 6-9 months!

My boss said he would hire someone else to help out if we get the contract, but I don't think you can bring someone in *after* the planning phase since you have to make estimates and give out quotes based on things that you can't plan since you don't have the expertise!

I just don't want to build software that lives might depend on, and I'm thinking about just flat-out refusing to do it. Am I over-reacting?

A-none
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Are you over-reacting? Yes.  Just don't work any more hours than you currently do.  Software projects always go over.  It doesn't matter what your boss tells them, 2 weeks or 6-9 months.  Once they've sunk the money into it, they'll spend the extra $ to finish it.

GiorgioG
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Hire more people, contract out.. I am with your boss.. why would you want to forego a contract where the client is willing to work with you and spend a lot of money..  Contact me.. if you want programming support

KS
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Keep in mind that the person who owns the company
is interested in making money, while your interests are
a little narrower.

son of parnas
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Take the job and get the Indians to build it. :)

Tapiwa
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Does the customer (who's hiring your company to build the ERS) have a realistic business plan?

I've found that customers without a real way to make money from the software they're paying me to build can be ... problematic. 

I've had only 2 experiences with this, but in one of them the customer ended up yanking us around as he tried to find funding.

Is your sw company promarily a SERVICE or PRODUCT company?  (i.e., do you actually have a product which you sell or do you just do programming for-hire) ?

If it's the latter, then see Joel's articles about the benefits of sticking with the latter. Or, in my words "the problem with selling your time is that you keep running out of inventory".

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 22, 2004

If they come, you will build it.

sid6581
Thursday, April 22, 2004

If I come, your mom will swallow.

Wise*ss
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"Keep in mind that the person who owns the company
is interested in making money, while your interests are
a little narrower. "

Give me a break, Son of my Parn-ass.

I happen to think that just doing something for money is narrow-minded.  Would you want lives depending on software that isn't high quality?  Do you have a conscience?

A-none
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"It doesn't matter what your boss tells them, 2 weeks or 6-9 months."

The point is really that I don't think we have the skills (management or developement wise) to do this kind of job at the quality level that I would feel comfortable with.

A-none
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Well, maybe he is trying to tell you something.  Maybe doing a project like this and bringing in the people with the skills will be a learning experience for you and allow the business to grow.

A true win-win and one that may never come again. 

MSHack
Thursday, April 22, 2004

> Give me a break, Son of my Parn-ass.

It would be a pleasure.

>I happen to think that just doing something for money
>is narrow-minded. 

How very consistent of you to work for free.

> Would you want lives depending on
> software that isn't high quality? 

Perhaps it is your own limitation that prevents
you from thinking how the software could be
done and how it could be done with excellence.

I have seen too much of the no-can-do attitude
to give it much currency.

> Do you have a conscience?

How would i know?

son of parnas
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Your boss is right. In business situations where you are trying to sell or get a deal always say yes.

Tom Vu
Thursday, April 22, 2004

If your boss is pitching for a 9-month project without extra developers and in the middle of a maintenance disaster, he is an idiot.

On top of that, emergency response is a critical area where lives can be at stake and there will be CLOSE scrutiny when the system makes a mistake. It's not an area to venture into like some corporate DB. You will end up explaining your incompetence in court.

Must be a Manager
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Thank you, Must be a Manager for keeping it real.

The challenge is definitely too much for 1.5 people (the other "full time" programmer is part secretary/tech support).

I myself have had only 3 solid years of *professional* programming experience, and although I consider myself skilled, I do not think that I'm qualified to lead this kind of project.  I have never worked on a real team, so where am I supposed to learn this from?

So parnas, money people, there is more to it than you bothered to ask about.  There is nothing wrong with knowing your limits.

I will bring up this maintenance disaster point to boss-man and force him to look at reality.  He is partly with me, but it must be a lot of money so maybe I will suggest that we get a new lead person in here *right now* if we want to be agressive about this.

A-none
Thursday, April 22, 2004

>So parnas, money people, there is more to it than you >bothered to ask about.  There is nothing wrong with knowing >your limits.

I wouldn't want you to lead my team either.
Though you might want to think out of your
very tiny box and figure out how it could be
done. It's not just about you and your
fears.

son of parnas
Friday, April 23, 2004

parnas, I feel sorry for you.  How have you become so envenomed? Should we want you as a team leader with your arrogance?

Allow me to retort so people will know who is in a tiny box. 

First of all, if you say that you've never had a second thought, you are l-y-i-n-g. Secondly, you haven't even asked one important question.  You are a fool who prefers insult over insight.

I can handle my part of this project, but we *are* in the middle of a maintenance nightmare and I am not going to do this unless the proper resources (i.e. people, time, money) are available.  From past projects, I know that bosses (at least mine) always want to take shortcuts and do ugly hacks to make things work right now and I can't afford that for this project.

So, you see this is not *only* about my own limits, it's more about the inability of business people to see past their wallet.

A-none
Friday, April 23, 2004

I'm sure parnas will come back with some clever and petty response.

So, thanks for playing everyone!  Have a nice day :-)

A-none
Friday, April 23, 2004

First getting the contract, then hiring or buying in the expertise is quite normal practice.
I understand your worries about being overloaded with extra work. I understand you feeling that you in that case would not be in a position to provide sufficient quality and I do understand your reserves about doing a botch job in that case giving the nature of the project.
You should make this clear to your boss.
However, this does not mean that your company should not go for it. It could very well be that there is a hefty margin to this thing that allows for adequate staffing or subcontracting.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, April 23, 2004

>parnas, I feel sorry for you.

Thank you. It has been a tough month or two.

> How have you become so envenomed?

You went ballistic from my rather simple post
suggesting the obvious, that you and your
boss have different concerns and the implication
you might want exercise that little used skill
called empathy.  Later i suggested that it might
help to figure out how it could be done, which it
can, rather than focus only on why it can't be
done.

Your rather disproportionate response and
no-can-do attitude and your lack of confidence
led me to the same conclusion as you, that
i wouldn't want you leading my team either.

From where does your venom spring?

> Should we want you as a team leader with your arrogance?

You could do worse. You could do better.

son of parnas
Friday, April 23, 2004

Sorry parnas, I didn't think that telling someone that their concerns were narrow (ie that they were narrow-minded) was anything short of an insult.

So, I'm sorry if I was slightly offended.

A-none
Friday, April 23, 2004

Part of running a healthy software business is knowing when to reject contracts that are over your head or diverge too far from your expertise.

It is one thing when there is an initiative within the company to expand into a certain domain, and the necessary time, R&D, and planning is done to build the relevant expertise.  But it is quite another when the divergence is a hurried response to a bag of big dollar bills.

This type of system has a high requirement for reliability, and has complexities you can't begin to imagine.  As a result, it is quite expensive to develop.  That high expense is probably what led your naive client to make the offer to your equally naive boss.  Everybody else quotes a bazillion dollars, but your boss is happy to do it for a million because for him a million is big bucks, and the client feels like they'll be getting it done cheaply.

The most likely result here is that this system will never see a day of live operations, and the shop won't get the full payment because of the failure to deliver.  So at least you (A-none) probably won't have to worry about explaining any injurious snafus in court. You'll just have to worry about whether your company will be able to stay in business after this.

T. Norman
Saturday, April 24, 2004

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