Flying Car Syndrome - Digital Tool Factory blog Flying Car Syndrome - Digital Tool Factory blog

Flying Car Syndrome

This is will most likely be included in some form in my upcoming e-book.

Flying Car Syndrome

Imagine the following exchange one week after a car sale:

Salesman: So, how do you like the new Prius?

Prius Buyer: It’s a piece of crap, I’m never buying a hybrid again.  You lied to me!

Salesman: What do you mean?  Aren’t you getting great mileage?

Prius Buyer: Mileage?  Who cares about mileage, it doesn’t fly!

Salesman: WTF?  Who told you cars could fly?

Prius Buyer: Of course hybrid cars can fly, why else would they be called hybrids?  And I saw a flying car in a movie once.

Now imagine talking to a client after a site has launched.  He came to you ignorant of the technology but specific in his requirements.  He wanted a site that mirrors the designer’s Photoshop files, standards compliant CSS and XHTML,  written in MVC, optimized for 1280 by 920 screen resolutions and complete by the end of the month.  You do all those things, and wow, the site looks awesome – just like the Photoshop files, standards compliant,  and delivered on time.  If you’re dealing with Flying Car Syndrome, the call sounds something like this:

You: Isn’t the site great?

Client (in evil, angry voice): What do you mean!  It’s horribly broken!

You: What?  It works perfectly for me.  What problem are you having?

Client: I just tried searching for it on Google and it wasn’t first!  It wasn’t even in the top five!

You: Well, no, why would it be?  That doesn’t just happen by itself.

Client: But the graphic designer designed the mockups in the newest version of PhotoShop!  If you had done your job that would have made it show up first in Google!

You: WTF!?  What are you talking about?

Client: If a site is designed in the newest version of Photoshop it shows up first on Google, everyone knows that.

You: No it doesn’t!  There is no relationship between the two.

Client: Well, why didn’t you tell me that!  I never would have gone through with the project if I knew that.  You cheated me!

This happens quite often – namely the client has impossible and ludicrous expectations for the project.  He does not vocalize the expectations, and since they are quite ludicrous, the vendor cannot shoot them down in advance.  When the ludicrous expectation does not come to pass it is assumed to be the fault of the vendor.  These clients are never happy with any vendor or any project and do not know quality when they see it.  It’s just a sad reality.

Both of these examples are hyperbolic, but not by much, and as you get into specialized deliverables the gap in expectations can get large indeed.  Clients don’t like to admit being wrong, and the more sweeping the assumption, the less they like admitting it.  Clients don’t care much for being corrected either.  You cannot remove these problems, but you can mitigate some of the negative effects with pre-planning .

If the client exhibits the following warning signs:

  1. Gratuitous use of technical terms.
  2. Name dropping people you don’t know who are supposedly experts in the field and also personal friends of the client.
  3. Becoming defensive on the third item, be it change order, scope change, document, or what have you.  For whatever reason three seems (to the client) to be the point where honest vendors stop, and for whatever reason people assume they are being taken advantage of if they are presented with more than two items, whatever they are.
  4. Requiring constant correction – for example if you are to say “Plus having that as text makes it easy for search engines to index the page” the client says “Being Number One on Google will be great!”  Not correcting everything at once is taken as a promise.

Then you should

  1. Be as specific as possible in all possible ways.
  2. Send the client as many technical items as possible to cover yourself.
  3. Talk to other people this client has worked with.
  4. Make the client write out similar sites or applications, do not suggest them for him.  This sort of client does not, and will not do preliminary homework without serious prompting.  It is tempting to try to educate him, but that is something the client has to do for himself.


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog


Written By Steve French


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