How to Work with Developers: Avoiding Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome

Stockholm syndrome

Have you experienced “Stockholm syndrome” in working with a developer? That’s the psychological condition where a victim becomes loyal to a powerful abuser, to the point of defending them despite obvious danger. It seems crazy to say an entrepreneur might act like that after hiring someone to do programming or web design, but I’ve seen it, and I think it’s more common than you might think.

What are the tell-tale signs and what can go wrong? Read on.

Entrepreneurs develop “Stockholm syndrome” because they come to rely for assessment of risk on the people who are the most likely to lead them into danger. It’s your development team (software programmers or web designers) who are most likely to be the cause of your project’s failure. Yet few entrepreneurs have the experience needed to assess the accuracy of the reports they are receiving from the technical team. And even fewer entrepreneurs have the technical knowledge to evaluate the quality of the technical team’s work. When the project starts to go sour, an entrepreneur will often cling to whatever promises the technical team offers, and may even commit more resources with the same team, hoping to salvage any losses.

Aidan Fitzpatrick mentions “developer Stockholm syndrome” this week. He’s a consulting CTO in the UK and I always look forward to reading his blog. This week he’s got a great article on “Problems with Development Consultancies”, which could easily be titled, “What Can Go Wrong When You Hire a Development Firm?”

The article describes six areas of failure. Here are dangers he mentions:

  • Compliance & security: If you outsource to Pakistan, will your confidential data be secure?
  • Quality: As an entrepreneur, can you tell if your developer is delivering quality code?
  • Specification & contract control: Have evolving project requirements sabotaged your fixed-cost project?
  • Cost and cost management: Is saving money going to cost you money?
  • Intellectual property: Are your developers building a project using someone else’s proprietary code?
  • Disengagement: Are you throwing good money after bad?

He’s got eight tips to avoid danger, which I’ll suggest you read yourself. His best advice can be summarized as this: “Get help from people who have started web businesses before.” That means reading blogs (like his or mine), finding other web startup entrepreneurs, and hiring experts (like a consulting CTO) who can help you contain costs. If you get into danger and the only person who can help you is the person who got you into danger, you could be setting yourself for “developer Stockholm syndrome.” That’s why Aidan Fitzpatrick says, “get an independent third party to vet or manage” your development team. I’ve got more advice about “When to Use a Consulting CTO” in another article.

Have you seen the symptoms of “developer Stockholm syndrome” on a project? What do you do to manage risk? Leave a comment and I’ll add an update to this article.

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