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Ask the Programmer: Why can’t I change my mind?

question-mark_resized Ask the programmer is feature designed to answer questions from non-geeks about hiring and working with programmers. If you have a question, please email me at

Question: We hired a contract programmer to build a new application for our organization. Everything started out well, but now the project is late and shows no signs of getting done. He says it is because we changed our mind on some of the requirements. But how could we know it wasn’t what we wanted until we saw something? And several of these changes weren’t that big a deal. 

Answer: This kind of problem is very typical with software projects. Users often have a difficult time envisioning the software before it is in front of them. And it can sometimes be difficult to see what is missing until you actually see it.

When developing new software, I recommend that programmers use wireframes or prototypes – anything that allows the customer to see some of what they will be getting. That will help users to better envision what the software will look like and how it will work. It is important when reviewing wireframes or prototypes (or paper designs) to look at them carefully, and to tell the programmer as soon as possible when you see problems or areas that need additional work. And it is okay to ask for something like this if the programmer doesn’t suggest it.

However, you shouldn’t make assumptions about how easy or difficult any particular change is. Most programmers try to create their software with some amount of flexibility in mind, but it would be fairly difficult (and expensive) to design for unlimited flexibility for easy change in all situations.

Also, it can be de-motivating for a programmer (or anyone really) to change things over and over and over again. And it always adds time and effort to the project, regardless of how “simple” it is. So do your best to carefully review things the first time, and give a complete list of all the required changes. If there is a second round of changes, there should be very few if you’ve done your part and caught most everything the first time.

Finally, before a project starts you might want to set aside a change order budget. If you plan for some change up front in your project, you won’t be as frustrated when things need to be redone. The change order budget should take into account both time (i.e. the schedule) and money (whether the project is time and materials or fixed bid.)

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Avonelle is an incredibly talented software developer. She works fast, is economical, and offers great insights into the project at hand. She is also not afraid to speak up when she has concerns about a decision or approach. We’ve utilized her talents on many of our software development projects over the years.

Carrie Rocha, Chief Operating Officer @ HousingLink