Bad Idea: Allowing a Sneak Peak of Work in Progress

Back when I was doing more website builds and deployments, I remember explaining to clients that there are going to be some really fun aspects to this project (discovery and brainstorming sessions, reviewing design comps and of course launch)… and there are going to be some not so fun parts of this project as well.

In particular there were two phases of any build project that I felt clients routinely did not anticipate or enjoy:

  1. The amount of content that they were actually going to have to create and provide.
  2. That agonizing span of time between the finalizing of design comps and the first review of the working website or web application.

This post is about the second issue.

Though my current focus is website maintenance, I still do some WordPress theme development for agency clients and custom application development on current websites – the situation is the same. The client has signed off on a new exciting project, the design comps or application plans are approved and we are all dying to see this great new thing up and working (flawlessly of course). However during this phase there is nothing see, click through or admire for some time… this is the development phase.

Everyone Hates to Wait

Sure I can assure the client that I am working on the project, I can even describe where in the development timeline the project is but nothing seems to quell that desire to see it, click through it and experience it. This is where the trouble starts. Despite the fact that we agreed that the first review of the application would be at a certain time, the client just wants a sneak peak.

Sneak Peak… BAD IDEA

Sure it could potentially prove that I have been hard at work on their behalf and that their project is well underway. The client would see where the project is and feel good about their investment… but here’s the thing, it’s not going to work like that.

No matter how ‘good’ of a client you may have or you may be, any review of an incomplete product is going to open the feedback cycle and it’s gong open it early. Critiques will be based off incomplete systems and data, stress levels will go up as non-technical clients fear the developer is failing to see their vision and the developer may feel increased anxiety knowing that their work is being reviewed.

Don’t Open The Feedback Cycle Too Early

Now if we open that feedback cycle up too early, we create a moving target in terms of project scope and timeline. We have moved the developer’s focus from working through the project from beginning to end to now being about squashing the latest bug found by the client (probably something that was incomplete anyway).

I have found myself explaining to clients that your stress over not seeing a work in progress, is only going to become greater if you actually see the work in progress (probably not a real confidence booster). I assure them they will get adequate review time and that ‘previews’ are bad idea for everyone especially when staying on schedule is key.

Some get it, others don’t and sometimes when I do not have direct access to the end client I don’t even have a choice. However I can tell you from experience that in-progress reviews are generally a bad idea.

Stick to Your Schedule with Clear and Defined Review Periods

Instead setup and stick to regular review periods based on project milestones, accept feedback at appropriate intervals and rest assured that a little anxiety during a development phase is normal but don’t succumb to the temptation to demand or give in-progress reviews – everyone will be happier for it.


photo by Jason Eppink / cc