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I have been working with a client for around 2 years now (UK Based), it was initially a 6 month contract but has been extended a number of times as the requirements have constantly grown over time. They have always been happy with my work and I get on great with the development manager and CEO of the company.

Recently the CEOs son has started working at the firm. He is constantly mailing the CEO saying he has found "Bugs" and "inconsistencies" when in fact he just has no understanding of the software or the processes it was built around. One at a time I need to debunk his claims and they are increasing. I figured he is trying to show his value by finding problems, even though so far he has not actually found any.

I received another long email tonight describing discussions he has had with CEO out of the office about another bunch of bugs he has found. They are not bugs. Some of the things he highlighted are features marked for other sprints, so not even developed yet and some were just a complete lack of knowledge about how the system works.

My problem is how to address this. I like this company, but this constant annoyance needs to stop. The problem with addressing it as I usually would is the personal relationship between the problem and the CEO. I can't ignore it as the constant talk of bugs, even though they are incorrect claims, makes me look bad.

I do not want to just end the contract and move on. This has been a great stable income and there is work left to be done. I do not want to burn the bridges.

Not really sure how to approach this one.

  • These emails, how do you know about them? Were they sent to the CEO with you CC'ed in? Were they sent to you with the CEO cc'd in? Were you told about them by a 3rd party? – Kaz Nov 1 '16 at 22:28
  • Have you talked to the CEO? Have they talked to you? Ditto for the development manager. – Kaz Nov 1 '16 at 22:29
  • They are sometimes emails to me, sometimes to me and development manager and tonight was to me and development manager with ceo cc'd in. – James Nov 1 '16 at 22:35
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Not really sure how to approach this one.

This isn't your fight.

Have a discussion with your boss (presumably the development manager). Talk about your concerns, and forward any emails with bug lists in them. Then let the development manager worry about the son, perhaps with the help of the QA manager.

Most development managers and QA managers have formal issue tracking systems, and could use that to put any purported bugs coming from the son-of-a-CEO through the same process as any others.

If the majority of these "bug reports" are rejected, then the development manager can have a chat with the son and explain how bug reporting is supposed to work, how you distinguish between real bugs and features which haven't yet been implemented. The development manager can also offer training materials so that the son can learn how the system is really supposed to work.

And while you might consider the software as "your baby", you need to avoid taking things personally. If you manager passes them on to you, just review the son's "bug reports" objectively as you would any other bug report. Don't make a bigger deal out of this than necessary.

  • I'll chat to manager in morning, being a small company I think it's awkward for us both to be honest! You're right it's not my fight, internal issue. But this software is my baby Haha. I've developed it solely for 2 years. – James Nov 1 '16 at 22:40
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    You hit the nail on the head. Get quantifiable, objective measurement. – newcoder Nov 2 '16 at 0:29
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You should have an official system that would be used to notify the company of bugs in their software. And there should be certain people who should be able to enter bug reports into that system, for example testers, developers, qualified users who use the software and can be trusted to create useful bug reports.

It's unlikely to be the CEO's son's business to look for bugs, but if the CEO wants to, he can allow his son to enter bug reports. Then your product manager (hopefully you have one) should prioritise these bugs, and then you look at them, and if they are unclear you send them back as unclear, if they are incorrect you send them back as "closed; as designed", if they are about work that you are doing anyway you send them back as "closed; duplicate" and so on, with an email to the CEO how much time was spent on each bug.

You have a process to handle bugs (or you should have one), and such a process is there for a reason, and the CEO's son's "bugs" need to go through that process.

  • This is a smallish company, 100 - 200 ish people and usually bugs are submitted via it helpdesk and often then just forwarded to me. So far all of these emails bypassed helpdesk. The main concern is perception. Even If I debunk every single one, the constant mails of 'bug found ' will have an effect. – James Nov 1 '16 at 22:37
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It can be a great disappointment when a new employee changes or attempts to change your relationship with what has been up to now a great customer. However you need to do (or already should have done) several things.

1. Have a reporting procedure

This can be as simple as a dedicated blog for that client, so any bugs simply get posted to that blog. In that way you can prove either how quickly you respond to bug reports or how silly some of them are, by pointing out they are based on a misunderstanding. Or you can prove no one has yet reported the 'bug' to you. Put this in place immediately for all your customers, so all bug reports are dated and visible and not reliant on email.

2. Get a thicker skin

Silly complaints, ill informed moans and blame culture focused on the outsider are all part and parcel of dealing with customers. Take it on the chin, be professional, do not reciprocate, respond in a timely and effective manner and they all pass with time. Do not take it personally because it is not a personal matter. Even if your work is below par, perhaps that is what was requested despite your protests, perhaps that was what the budget allowed, or the timescale, or the requirements at that time. Out of context anything can be complained about. My Ferrari could be a bit more powerful.

3. Never be the baddie.

Do not succumb to the level they are setting. Let them moan, let them complain, let them blame you for the ills of the world. As long as you remain professional and address each issue as it is formally raised to you, all it means is more work for you. 'It doesn't do this', 'We can do that if you want, that will cost X'. etc etc. Do not start bemoaning them or seeking rectification of wrong doing. If they want to be an arse, let them, but do not be one yourself. The chances are the moaner is moaning about everything and you are only hearing the half of it. When they get the sack and you are still there you can smile to yourself, safe in the knowledge you were the professional.

4. Never be reliant on one customer

If one customer is so big to you that if they went you would be in trouble, you are already in trouble. No single loss of a customer should throw you into jeopardy. If it does, or risks doing so, you should be spending far more time finding new customers than you are. Customers change, things change, environments change, needs change, technology changes, companies change, and your customers will change. No customer is for ever, no matter how much you like them, or get on with them. So just make sure you are not dependent on any one customer, because they will eventually leave you, and when they do it must not kill your business.

5. Love your enemy (or at least seem to)

The moaner you are complaining about, go to see him, explain the vision as it exists, take on board his comments, get his plan, buy into it, share it, tell him you are glad he is finally on board as now things can improve. Tell him how to log issues to be fixed, or ask for a new path, a new plan, a new direction, curtail to him, tell him he is right, even when he is wrong. What is more important to you, your income or your pride. Perhaps he has a point, see it from his point of view. If he truly is an arse, get him to see someone else as a target, and you as a compliant, subservient external service provider, which is after all, what you are. Bide your time. Either you will be replaced, or the other person will be sacked, or you will have to work with them. Either way, good relationships with customers are always worth fostering, even when you do not personally like them, respect their opinion or you think they are wrong. As long as they pay your bills, quite honestly, what do you care?

Yes it is a shame when a great customer relationship changes, but they always do in the end. Milk it, raise above it, and if needed, move on. What more can you possibly do?

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You deal with it like a professional, which it seems you have been doing, it's part of the job to handle issues and frustrations like that. As a contractor this has happened to me more than once.

You document everything as a matter of course, and answer any queries as they arise and don't allow yourself to be bothered. One good strategy is to treat them as unimportant and give short professional responses rather than long winded justifications.

You have been there two years you have built a trust relationship, don't assume it's going to break just because someone new has arrived. And don't take anything personally.

If the emails are not going through the correct channels as you say in a comment. Then you can just politely point that out.

'Thanks for the information concerning X, please send it through the tracking system and I'll have a closer look at it. Regards YYY.'

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