The problem of hiring people you don’t know

Commissioning work is notoriously hard, because of something called “information assymetry”. The people or company you’re hiring invariably know more about their own work than you do. That’s to be expected. It’s usually why you’re looking to hire them: to help you with things you know little about or need help with.

It may seem like information assymetry is only a problem for those commissioning work, but the lack of trust that information assymetry causes also creates credibility problems for those looking to be hired.

This problem is just as relevant in the world of software development as any other industry.

The solution we at bluespot have found is to be totally transparent and open about what we do. What does that mean in practice? Here’s our guide

Our guide to building trust

Adopt a humble attitude

If you’ve worked hard to become highly skilled professionals it’s easy to become arrogant about your abilities, but in the words of the great Dalai Lama:

Your sh#t still smells like everyone else’s 1.

1. I’m pretty sure it was the Dalai Lama who said that. I may be wrong.

Accept praise when it’s offered, but don’t seek it. Accept praise only when deserved, and correct misinterpretations even when those misinterpretations are favourable to you.

Raise issues early

If things aren’t going as well as they could be, don’t just wait for the client to raise their concerns before reluctantly admitting problems. At bluespot, we actively raise issues in the presence of the client, and try to do so before the client feels the need to say anything.

When a client feels they don’t have to say anything (or even be present) for issues to be recognised and addressed, then your relationship is heading in the right direction.

Respond to criticism with action

Criticism can be hard to take even when justified, but it can be even harder to take when you feel that criticism to be unjustified.

Always remember that, when a client tells you they are concerned about something, they are always telling you at least one important thing. They are telling you, firstly, about a problem, and, secondly, they are telling you they are concerned about that problem.

It’s all too easy to become preoccupied with addressing the first part, qualifying or denying the problem in the belief that you will alleviate the client’s worries (the second part). However, this approach can seem to clients as though their views aren’t being taken seriously, and therefore, this is merely a recipe for silencing client concerns, not a recipe for addressing them.

Instead, the key to responding well to client criticism is to recognise that clients don’t say things for the sake of it: Clients are always telling you something. Don’t merely deny or explain away the issue. Always address client concerns with action. Ask yourself what can we do to address the concern?.

If the issue is real, and therefore the criticism or viewpoint justified, then action needs to be taken to address that issue. If you think the issue is not actually an issue, then you must still take action to make that evident to the client. You should not just rely on clients accepting your say so. That would be merely assuming trust without actually building it.

Build transparency into your work routine

It can help enormously when you build activities to promote transparency into your project/work routine. One type of activity we employ here at bluespot is a standup.

Every day, each project team holds a quick meeting, called a Standup 2., usually lasting about 15 minutes.

2. Standups are called standups because we literally stand up. Standing up in meetings helps to keep them short and sweet.

Ideally, the meeting is held in the morning, as it sets the context for the day’s work. Each member of the team answers the following questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • Is there anything impeding your work?

Issues raised at standups are taken offline to be dealt with immediately after the standup. During the meeting you only need to agree who is the best person(s) to deal with the issue.

Standups are a great way to disseminate information. Where their availability allows, we encourage clients to attend our daily standup meetings, either in person or by dialling in. When clients attend standups, they are made aware of issues and can see the care and attention dedicated to addressing any problems.

Schedule in time to gather feedback

At bluespot we find retrospectives 3 are a great way to create a time and place to freely discuss concerns in an open and frank (but still positive) manner.

3. For those in the know, yes, retrospective is a Scrum term.

Retrospectives are meetings where the team discusses the most recently completed period of work 4..

4. In Scrum terms, a period of work is called a “sprint”.

A key goal of a retrospective is to determine what could be changed to make future work more productive. It’s a collaborative process involving the entire team, including the client.

The questions up for discussion are:

  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What could we do to improve?

Even on the rare occasion that no improvements are identified, the retrospective is still a useful mechanism for enhancing communication and openness in the team (client included).


The key takeaways:

  • Adopt a humble attitude
  • Raise issues early
  • Respond to criticism with action
  • Build transparency into your work routine (e.g. standups)
  • Schedule in time to gather feedback (e.g. retrospectives)

That’s the bluespot way. Why not make it your way too?