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How the stages of grief relate to software development

How the Stages of Grief Relate to the Software Development Process

We develop custom business software solutions. Our job is to turn a customer’s business needs into functional, organized and attractive software solutions that improve their business operations. At the end of the day, our job is to make our clients look good inside their organizations.

At the heart of every software product is change. Once projects start to take form, our clients begin to see different possibilities and their minds fill with creative enhancements that will make their software even more valuable. We like when clients get excited about new possibilities, but it can also be difficult in terms of managing expectations.

It occurred to me that the process developers go through when faced with very difficult development challenges is much like the well-known stages of grief that psychologists describe. So here we go on the mental journey of almost every technical person faced with almost insurmountable client challenges.


Generally, after a free consultation or a status call with a client who needs a custom solution for a unique business need, we wander around the office thinking of a creative way to address the need. Initially, we might be pessimistic about the project and begin to doubt our skills. We might mumble something along the lines of “there’s no way this can be done” or “it’s not technically possible.” Our technical chops have been challenged to an extreme. We may even feel a bit agitated.


Denial turns dark at this stage. The core of our very being is at risk. No developer enjoys saying it can’t be done, but certainly, the client's request may be beyond the capabilities of software, mankind in fact. This is when we begin to internalize the problem and feel like the lack of a solution is an unfair reflection on our skills and experience or lack thereof.


After we have a chance to vent a bit, we start the process of actually considering the client's request. Emotions are settling down. We focus on tasks that are easy to accomplish and identify where the challenges lie. Mentally we're figuring out what can be done and what adjustments might have to be made in order to fulfill the ultimate goal. Eventually, a plan begins to form that, well, just might make this work.


Here at The Support Group, we've found that two heads (maybe even three or four) work better than one. Developers might talk among themselves, with a manager or even to our VP of Technology in order to hash out the problems and find creative, strategic solutions. Then we explain any deficiencies of the proposed solution to the client and offer recommendations to help them make the most of their investment. We've found that taking the time to discuss our approach and rationalize our decisions with the client early on helps contribute to an open and collaborative working relationship throughout the duration of the project.


Hopefully, this stage never applies. We care about our clients and absolutely keep their best interests in mind at all times. We never want to let our clients down because doing so would mean that we've let ourselves down. If any of us ever reach this stage, it’s probably time for a career change!


After consulting with the team internally as well as with the client, we realize the project is not truly insurmountable. There is hope. We've found a way to not disappoint the client. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

So smiles will return to our faces and we begin to knock down the challenges one by one. Our confidence returns and we're completely optimistic. Certainly unexpected issues might crop up along the way, but we'll tackle them with renewed strength.


This is the final stage of the grief process for developers. It’s what we live for. We’ve done it. The major challenges are behind us. We got that cool code to work in ways that are beyond mere mortals. It’s a piece of art. We reign supreme again!

We all know when this happens at our office. We see dances in the development area that are NFL touchdown dance-worthy. High fives abound. And all the grief will have been for naught.

Here’s an interesting scientific tidbit: techies live for that “YES!” moment. It has been tied to a massive release of endorphins in the brain. We live for that release and are in constant pursuit of the next one. It’s nirvana for us.

It was fun writing this. I’ve been thinking about the concept for a while. And though I've taken some literary licenses along the way, there is a solid ring of truth to what happens behind the curtain. It comes with working with and managing a group of people who love technology and really want to please our customers.

In no way do I wish to mock the grief process that we all experience with life’s bumps and bruises. But I really do think there are some similarities when we approach software development projects with our clients. I see the same similarities when someone who is very knowledgeable in one area of technology has to learn something completely new. It may not be as severe as grief but it is every bit as emotional for many people.

Reach out if you ever need our help.

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