I have this client that pays me very well for working on a project that is clearly doomed. I tried to communicate my concerns in the most positive way I could, but he is unable to see the writing on the wall. I can't do more without sounding like a Negative Nancy.

He is filthy rich and is more than capable of paying for any failure, but yet I feel bad about the money he is wasting on me. Sometimes I consider leaving the project, but I'm unsure about the benefits: client will just hire another guy and I would lose 150k/year income.

I reached a point in my career where I'm cynical enough to not be burned out, but my moral compass is tingling. Any advice?

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    The customer is not always right. The customer is always the one with the money. After a certain point, you have to decide whether you'd rather be right or paid. In this case I'd suggest checking his goals, discussing whether there are better ways to work toward those goals ("doomed" isn't useful, "can be improved by..." is), and then either doing the best he permits you to do or saying "I really don't see a way to make that work that way" and letting him decide whether he wants you to try anyway. Who knows, maybe he's seeing something you aren't....
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:34
  • Thanks, @keshlam. My client is a good soul, but he has the strongest "reality distortion field" I ever met. Because of this, he is misreading all feedback and is designing a product no one will use even if you point a gun to their heads. Of course I may be wrong, I will update the post in a few months. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 22:41
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    Well, he's hired you to produce the product he wants. Your choices are to produce it, and let him prove there's a market for it you didn't expect (or not), or to walk away. Pick one. I don't think there's anything morally wrong with designing the best darned egg polisher you can, if the customer is determined to go into the egg-polisher business.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:31
  • 150k/year on the one hand, morals on the other -- which one are you going to take?
    – Thomas
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 9:28
  • I wonder if he's paying out of his pocket or if this is just an excuse to launder some money. Are you his main expense or does the project have other big glaring holes in the budget that some Tax Office might at some point want to investigate. If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, maybe it's not a chicken.
    – BoboDarph
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 11:49

3 Answers 3


Be honest. Tell your filthy-rich client why you think the project is going to fail, and have a (or some) courses of action to suggest, to keep the project from failing. Then, depending on how your client responds, you can decide what to do next.

You might also think about asking your client how they define 'success' for this project. That will help you understand a bit more of what's going on, and how to make suggestions to contribute toward the project's success.

(Your client could be defining "success" for this project in very different terms than you - or most people. He could be using this as a tax writeoff. Or the front in a money-laundering scheme. Or a financial distraction from smuggling war-refugee children to safety. Or 'success' could just be 'this is a hobby of mine, I personally don't care if it's financially successful, this lets me plan things on a large scale and I'm having a great time doing that.')

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    +1 for defining success. The client may have never even thought about that before.
    – KatieK
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:19
  • Budget: ~40,000,000 USD. Product is in a crowded space, has an odd business model and unbearable user experience. Client refuses to do small scale tests and are going for a launch like we used to do in the 90s before the first internet bubble. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 22:44
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    @PauloScardine - Yo need to find out what the client's goals are. At this point all you know is that his vision for the project might not be reached, but what about his goals, they might not be what you think they are. There is a great deal of things that money can't purchase, but with a budget of 40 million dollars, you can disturb even a giant's like Google product space. There is a reason in a CEO often will define a vision statement and a mission statement ( i.e. goals ). Yes; They are often linked and perhaps in this case they are.
    – Donald
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 11:19

Summarize your concerns in writing to the client. Having done that, your filthy rich client is entitled to make the same mistakes and to be as hell bent as anyone else and you are not his nanny.

I'd probably feel better that the client's projects be in your hands than in the hands of someone far less scrupulous than you are. Perhaps, as the project moves along, you'll be able to convince Mr. Filthy Rich that the project can be modified into a version that is at least doable. Whereas someone less scrupulous than you are would just collect the money.

  • 4
    Also a very good point: one of the reasons your employer may value you, is that they sense that you will speak up and warn them when they're tapdancing too close to the lip of the volcano...and then let them decide whether to back off, change course, or continue. (Putting your concerns in writing also gives you time to see if you've laid everything out clearly, and gives your employer time to read over, think about, and come back to you with questions if they so desire.)
    – user22432
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:53
  • Write out your concerns very clearly. Point out that you would consider the project's failure a personal failure, and are very concerned. Send it home with him over the weekend. He'll want to talk on Monday.
    – System 360
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 5:47
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    @System360 "Point out that you would consider the project's failure a personal failure" Hell no. Listing the concerns is totally justified. Putting on a Cassandra act just grates on the client (and not least, myself). There will be opportunities to change the client's mind into something more doable as the pet concepts the client collide with the real world. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:59

To add to the other excellent answers here:

Keep the longer term in mind. If you have been working on this exclusively for three years, then this project is your number one reference for later clients. Suppose this project fails in a grandiose manner, as you seem to be sure it will.

"What have you been working on recently?"

"Product X."

"Oh. That's the one that blew up so spectacularly everyone in the field will be using it for years as an example what not to do? Thanks. Don't call us, we'll call you."

So I would suggest that if you decide to continue working on this project, make sure you can point to a specific contribution of yours that stands out in a positive way, so you can answer instead:

"I was responsible for major functionalities Y and Z (in product X)."

Alternatively, think about possibly reducing your time spent on this project so you can take on alternative projects in parallel, as better springboards into the future.

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