Life is a series of contracts

Life is a series of contracts. You follow them or you break them. One of the best contracts I’ve ever seen is one that states: I pay you this amount for the next hour of you doing that work, and the hour after that we’ll see.

Unfortunately we don’t tend to work like that. Work gets more complex and so do the contracts. The very first customer I worked for was presented with a three page contract. For simplicity’s sake let’s assume for now that page one was about: what needs to be done, page two: when and how is it going to be paid for, and page three: was about warranties.

Cleverly my first customer didn’t want to sign up for any contract that spanned across anything more than just one page. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to re-work the whole contract to this effect but have dropped two out of three sections instead. Lessons learned, throughout the work I did for that client, with the sections I dropped I lost all the rights stipulated in those two sections, and didn’t get paid until I’ve done whatever other party demanded.

This basically meant that my going rate got heavily diluted. In other words, I gave my customer a huge discount by dropping two out of three sections of our contract by leaving those for further negotiations. Same story prevails through professional life of many people: people work overtime, people get paid later, and people give away a lot of extras — even if they didn’t wanted to. Customers always wants more than just what’s in the contract, and the provider always wants just to get paid.

But it’s not always as simple as black-on-white paper contract. Last time similar situation has happened to me, was when I got back to Poland and set up one of the teams in here Poland. Our working contract was monthly payment for the SCRUM process. When the shove came to shovel however, none of the SCRUM principles were followed. Imaginary deadline approached and the business pressed for cutting the corners, all the sudden they wanted their priorities their way, not the SCRUM way.

The entire team almost finished packing their belongings to this effect but luckily the project manager representing the business left the company sooner than we had. Again, I was the only one silly to bend to the new rules, not complaining. By the time our contract was heavily violated we did a lot of unpaid overtime just to keep the business and the developers reasonably happy. Project was perceived as getting heavily late and developers were working lot of overtime.

None of that was necessary because again we all have signed up for a contract we didn’t want. The business never understood or wanted the SCRUM to be the way of developing software, although they pretended otherwise. The developers never wanted to work horrific hours just to keep the impossible deadline for all the possible features we could put into the product, although we pretended otherwise.

Sometimes it works the other way round: we buy a lot of stuff. Only this month however we had to take a provider to court, just to learn they took some of the points of our contract as merely guidelines. This meant they didn’t get the work done, didn’t get paid and worst still — they got sued for violating the terms of our agreement. Turns out the points they’ve violated were not important to them in the first place and they ended up arguing with them in front of the judge.

Truth is, if you leave the contract unspecified or simply don’t understand it then it always ends up either someone feeling shortchanged, violated – either getting angry or pretending. None of us had to pretend, bend the rules or feel shortchanged, if the contract was right to begin with and if we all understood it fully.