Sometimes I have clients that from start gives you huge flow of words about "how task should be done in details", like "you must use SQL Server here", "should do this in do-while-loop", "should make two functions like that, and they should run in parallel", etc..

But they never-ever give you any word about "what is this task about?" and "why it's needed?". Even if you ask them about this questions directly, they only can say "I don't know, but this work should be done".

Doing this jobs is realty hard and despairing, because you don't understand project as part of some system - there is no system yet, and maybe never be.

Is there any way that can help deal with this kind of clients?

  • You may also wish to look at Vision vs Requirements vs Design vs Specification on ProjectManagement.SE.
    – user40980
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 4:18
  • 1
    Before canceling the project, you could try to ask "if you don't know, who in your company knows"? If they cannot answer even this, the communication structure on your client's side is too broken for doing a successful project, so follow John Strom' advice.
    – Doc Brown
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 9:56

3 Answers 3


Fire them. Refer them to your worst enemy. You don't need the headaches. If they don't know what they want, neither will you, and the amount of trouble you will go through, finding out what is needed, IS NOT WORTH whatever they're planning on paying you.

Many years ago, a drinking buddy of mine gave me a piece of wisdom. When considering undertaking any project, ask three questions:

  1. What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  2. What are the deliverables?
  3. How will I know I am finished?

If the potential client cannot give clear, cogent, complete answers to ALL THREE questions, neither he nor you are ready to start work on the project. ANY work you put into it at this point must be directed at answering those three questions, AND NO MORE.

  • Voted down because "fire them" isn't exactly a helpful answer.
    – Rocklan
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 5:08
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    +1. In my experience, after you "just do what they say", and it doesn't work, such clients will blame you rather than themselves. If you are really just being paid to "do what they say", the client needs to understand that you do not guarantee that anything will actually work.
    – Alex D
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 8:38
  • 4
    @LachlanB, the term "fire them" means "cease taking work from them". You presumably have heard the term "fire your manager", which means "change jobs". Same concept. Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 9:11
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    @LachlanB: it is the only honest answer. And if you cancel the business relations with an unstructured client, you have more time for structured ones.
    – Doc Brown
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 9:59
  • 2
    @LachlanB, if you are so foolish as to enslave yourself to one (1) and only one (1) customer, you deserve what you get. In that sorry state of affairs, your ONLY option is to explain to them that the only work you can do for them will be to discuss those three questions, and it will have to be compensated on a straight-up "time and expenses" basis. Meanwhile, you should start cultivating other customers, PRONTO. Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 2:03

Even if you ask them about this questions directly, they only can say "I don't know, but this work should be done".

Your job is now to explain to them why you need that information. As far as s/he is concerned, you don't need to know, you just need to do what they say.

You need to explain that if you know why all of this needs to get done, you will be able to come up with the solution better and faster. Everyone will be happy :)

Remember though that the person may not know the answer... in that case there is some weird politics going on!

  • 2
    "some weird politics going on!" - Incompetence?
    – Gusdor
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 9:33

Ask them

  • How will we know when the work is finished?
  • How will you decide whether to pay me?
  • this reads more like a comment, see How to Answer
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 10:24

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