I accept the terms in the license agreement… I think

If you’ve signed up for a website or installed commercial software sometime in the last 10 years there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve been asked to read through a document that would give War and Peace a run for its money before then agreeing to its content. There’s also a pretty good chance that you ignored the instructions and clicked “I agree” without calling your lawyer to discuss the contents of the document.

If this is you then give yourself a pat on the back for not wasting several hours of your life. Everyone does it because huge legal documents are barriers to entry that shouldn’t be forced upon a user just so they can upload videos of cats to the internets. This, of course, is not news. It’s the expected outcome of shoving a huge document under someone’s nose and forcing them to agree to to something that they don’t care about or understand.

So we all agree that sign-off without buy-in is a horrible concept, right? Great. I’m glad we settled that one. Now you can get back to writing that huge specification document that you intend on submitting to your client, who is a marketing executive by trade and not in any way technical, for sign-off so you can then hold them to it later on in the development cycle if anything goes wrong.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “I see what you did there.”. Indeed.

I hate signing large documents that I know have been created simply to cover someone else’s rear end, you hate doing it… We ALL hate doing it. So why does the software development community continue to push the same junk onto clients?

“Hold up, we’re agile/lean/etc. We don’t write buckets of project documentation”. That’s great, but if you work for any sizable software development company or consulting practice then I guarantee you that someone in the supply chain is giving the client documentation full of wiggle words and terms they can’t understand. It might be the project manager, the business analyst or even the contracts lawyer, but someone is doing it.

So next time you go to write a document that you expect your client to agree to and sign off on, remember how much you hate reading and agreeing to terms and conditions and ask yourself if it’s actually reasonable to get the client to agree to the contents of the document or if you’re just doing it as a CYA activity. If it’s the latter then maybe it’s worth sitting down with the client to discuss the risks and concerns that you’re trying to mitigate; enforcing a document that the client doesn’t understand will only end badly for everyone involved.

About Garry

I'm a Solution Architect living in Perth, Western Australia. I work primarily with Microsoft technologies, but I have an open mind and like to branch out into other areas in my spare time. I'm also a Microsoft Virtual Technology Solutions Professional (VTSP) in the Integration space and like to stay active in the local development community.

2 Responses to I accept the terms in the license agreement… I think

  1. Will Hughes October 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    There’s also a third situation where both sides will have lawyers going rounds to hammer down an agreement that eventually nobody is happy with, and has zero wiggle room on either side.

    The end result is that the client ends up with a (comparatively) crappier experience. The client is too worried about raising more change requests, and the developers are too scared of the breach of contract clauses to do anything not required by the signed off documents.

  2. Garry October 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Exactly, that’s why I wrote this. Fixed price contracts are evil and generally bring out the worst in people.

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