I once had a customer named Steve. Steve was the CTO of the mobile apps arm of a large organization. He brought my startup in to provide OTT video services for his mobile platform. We had three months to go from zero to a full live+VOD experience including dynamic ad insertion, but that’s a story for another time.

As my team and I worked with Steve and his team under an immense time crunch, I got to observe people on my team interacting with Steve and his team with varying levels of success, and I came to realize that there were Three Rules to working successfully with Steve:

The Three Rules Of Steve

  1. Be correct and complete in what you tell Steve. Don’t speculate–know.
  2. Do what you say you’ll do, by when you say you’ll have it done. Don’t bullshit Steve.
  3. Once Steve decides you’re a bozo, you’re done–it’s impossible to escape that label.

Some people didn’t like working with Steve. I never understood it. Steve was easy to work with. Three simple rules, and he was the greatest customer you could ask for. No yelling and screaming. No pointlessly beating you up on calls just to impress his boss. No games. No bullshit.

As long as you followed The Three Rules of Steve.

Anyway, after awhile, it became obvious to us that one or two people on my team had messed up rules (1) and (2) enough that they had fallen afoul of rule (3). These were people who were experts in their field. They had decades of experience. They had proven track records on difficult projects. And now, they were Bozos, capital ‘B’, as far as Steve was concerned.

In one case, it was too many times of telling Steve, “It should work like this…”; but when Steve tried it, it worked differently.

In another, it was simply a matter of always promising things the next day, and then delivering next week.

Both of these things cost Steve money, and more importantly, time. Time debugging code that wasn’t broken. Time reverse-engineering API calls. Time Steve’s team spent sitting around waiting instead of building. Time that Steve didn’t have.

And you know what? Steve was right–they were bozos, in the end. We pulled them from the project, and replaced them with engineers that could follow The Three Rules of Steve, and the project was a success.

And really, The Three Rules of Steve should apply to everyone you work with–not just customers like Steve. In the end, it comes down to professionalism and integrity. And you only get so many chances before rule three kicks in–because who wants to work with bozos?