Professional trust - delivering more than what the customer sees

Sunday, 24 January 2010

What makes a person a professional? I would suggest two things; knowledge and experience. You can have knowledge without experience as in a college graduate and it's possible to have years of experience without learning anything new. As consumers we put a fair bit of faith in professionals, we trust what an auto mechanic says about our car and we must rely on the opinion of a doctor.

This trust is extended even further, we expect that a professional can do something better than we can do ourselves. If you go to get a haircut you never get specifically what you asked for, the reason for this is the person cutting our hair can see what we can't see ourselves and adjusts accordingly. So this is another special trait of a professional, they have an insight into their subject. When they look at a piece of work they can see when something has been done well and when something has been done poorly. We as a consumer need to extend our trust to relying on a quality piece of work, even when we can't see it ourselves.

This reminds me of an old episode of the Simpsons. Homer goes to visit his long lost brother who owns and operates a previously successful car design business. Homer's brother asks him to help design their next model car for the "average American". What ensues is an argument between the designers and Homer as to exactly how the car should look. The designers want to inerperate Homer's ideas into something that appears sleek and marketable while Homer just wants something that looks like what he has in his head. In the end, his brother agrees to let Homer build the car in his head and it ends up costing him his business.

So we see for success, although the customer may always be right, it takes a good quality professional to implement the ideas and not in exactly the same way that the customer expected.

So how do we apply this to the work we do in the IT industry. If you are on the other side of the fence and you are providing a client with work, you have the client's trust that you are going to deliver a good quality piece of work. In the IT industry we have an even greater level of smokescreen as we hide behind the code we write. The average guy on the street can see a good quality car or can pick out a bad haircut, but your customer has no chance of picking out your poorly written code.

There is an unfortunate acceptance of well presented, poorly implemented, badly structured, overly cluttered and user-unfriendly code within our industry. I've heard the excuse many times that bugs in design and usability of web applications attributed to "it just works that way and it can't be fixed" which is accepted as the norm. People just expect less of the IT industry because it's apparantly over technical and supposedly unwieldly.

The general acceptance of poorly written web sites results in people charging excesive amounts in return for something that is below par. Recently an IT colleague of mine recieved some code via another colleague (non-IT) that had been written by an agency. The initial delivery was table based HTML which would have fit well in 1996. After rejecting the code as unusable (it was to be included as part of a larger site), the rework came back and was the same code, but each TD, TR and TABLE element were replace with DIVs. Not only is there one person who still thinks it's acceptable to code this way, but there's a whole damn agency of monkeys who thinks it's fine to deliver this kind of work to a paying customer.

Delivering poor quality work to a customer who is both accepting and uneducated is not only unprofessional, but it shows a lack of respect for the customer. This trust is given in the hopes that a customer will get not only what they ask for, but also for what they can't see. Are you selling or delivering to your customers a beautiful car with a second-hand engine?

I wish I knew the source of this quote, I read it somewhere a while back. It said, when you work on a web application for your company, always write it to the highest possible standard. It doesn't matter that nobody will ever look at that piece of code and smile in recognition. What does matter is that you have delivered the best piece of work that you can. It's only by working to the best of your ability that you can continue to go further.

So don't try to sell your customers or your company short. If you are a professional you will be delivering professional quality work. If you are just using your customers to make a quick buck you won't be doing it for long... I've had too many bad haircuts to know when not to go back.

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