Social Vampirism in Services
Companies are very bottom line focused. Even after a high level scope of work is determined, the most appealing bids often are on the lower end. Even if some form of a deliverable can be achieved in a given number of hours, it often does not yield the correct one. Smarter bids allocate more time for damage control, error correction, and proper testing. For low bids, especially really low ones, one has to wonder what part of the product suffers.
Most places I have worked have emphasized ethics and client success over the written contract. And, honestly, this tenet is part of my moral fiber. I just don't like letting people down. Where I become sensitive is when clients do not pull their own weight. It could be a lack of people involved on the project, a lack of clear decision making, or a lack of communication of expectations. Furthermore, it would be poorly written specifications. Some clients don't know what they want until something has been built for them to review. Other clients need way more hand-holding than they will ever admit. So what do you do? Bids and timelines should account for unknowns, which ultimately are risks. No one wants the stress of participating on a project that is tight on hours, budget, or timeline that doesn't account for even a small to moderate level of risk management.
So, what happens when projects go sideways? Contracts bend (sometimes a lot). Clients get spiteful and start grasping at everything they believe would guilt you into delivering their product with enhanced scope or under different less-than-ideal conditions. Social vampirism is becoming a more popular tactic for clients when working with service vendors. It's not personal, it's just merely a tactic to get more from less. A client may question your team's integrity or competence to do the job. They may kick and scream, swear, or freak out beyond all rationality. They may issue threats about revoking contracts or losing jobs or providing excruciatingly bad feedback about your efforts. But again, keep in mind, all they really want is to know they will be successful and they want to know reasonably what it will take to get from their current state to a point of success.
The two-way street
For a number of occasions, I have had the good fortune of driving through the older districts of Washington DC. For those not familiar with this experience, it can be one of your worst nightmares. One well-documented flaw is the city's use of one-way streets. I can't tell you how many times I have screwed up while driving around that town. It is always problematic, frustrating, and unexplainable.
The same analogy can apply to a client and a vendor. You can view the client on one one-way street and the vendor on another. Too much progress down one specific one-way can offset the balance needed for a project. In essence, the two need to offset. Both parties should freely admit gaps in communication or expectations or breakdowns in any process. That's just ethically right.
But, social vampirism is a true lack of real and honest communication. It has far more to do with a complete lack of someone acknowledging truth. They are offloading their stresses or frustrations onto you. Some obvious examples involve expectations. The more clearly the requirements are defined, the easier the expectations are to set. That's not without considering some level of risk, but risk minimizes with more known requirements than less. User stories are also a great way to set expectations, due to the fact that someone spent the time to think about who should do what within the project being developed. This type of communication is no guarantee for success, but it certainly would help to understand where any known gaps are (and potentially additional requirements).
Typically when social vampirism tactics are in play, there was obviously a mistake made somewhere by someone. If someone is losing their mind, it's not the best time to tell that person what he or she did wrong. It is way more tactful and appropriate to assess the situation at hand, work to understand what the current gaps are, and press on full-steam to making the client successful. The words may be hurtful, especially if your blood sweat and tears are being openly criticized. But, keep in mind, the client may not have been clear on their expectations. You should always strive to do the best you can do and make good decisions on the client's behalf.
I've never seen a situation end well where one side or one person does not try to diffuse the situation. Someone needs to advocate for a level of calm to temper the situation. And, it's not healthy to second guess yourself in the process. Press on with a level head, take the criticism in stride, and get to that finish line as soon as possible. Just be certain that the finish line is clearly defined and expectations are laid out so you are not facing the same situation later on.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Regardless of any background, many clients will pull out all stops to ensure they get what they want, even if it's different than what they signed up for. My best advice is to stay calm and work toward an amenable solution as fast as possible. More often than not, even with bumps in the road, you'll be remembered longer-term based on the quality of what you have done, your professionalism while delivering it, and your interest in helping a client succeed. The rest will come out in the wash.