How I deal with a customer’s critical comments with my development team


We are programmed to think criticism means failure

I’ve been running with teams of creative people all my life. As a games dude I have done some really cool things in my career . Making digital stuff is brilliant and getting paid to do it is even better.

But it’s not all been sweetness and light. There have of course been bad days too. Moments when my customer vents badly. He doesn’t like what he has been delivered and he is not afraid to say it.

You’d have thought that was bad enough… But this situation gets worse. Back to the office a debrief of the expectant developers can quickly turn toxic. Wow that’s when the bitching really starts!

Recognise this? Let me tell you how I go about defusing the debriefing.

Everyone has an opinion

In my career in video games I’ve had the pleasure to work with heaps of producers. Granted I’ve had a few that weren’t completely on the same page, but on the whole they were all “experts” in their field i.e. they had an opinion based on their experiences as a consumer.

Back at the rock-face my teams have also just as much experience. When working with a tight group it seems that human nature grants that it is OK to criticize team mate’s work. It seems that there is an unwritten rule that working directly on a product gives the developer a right to be able to comment on it.  

What seems odd however, is when a third party engages it is some how seen as wrong and emotions can quickly run high.

Telling the truth can be hard

While delivering a critique is a skill not all producers have, product based opinions from any third party are valid. In fact I would say they are more valid than the folks working at the rock face. Working so close sometimes you can become “issue blind”. It takes nerves of steel to face down a group of adamant and opinionated devs I can tell you.

My defusion is to reference our mutual upbringing and our fears of failing.

I think that this particular fear of failing is one that has been bred from school. At school when negative feedback was given the assumption was you have FAILED.

Now I know school wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Its rules and regulations obviously rankled some. I think that this occurs because schools are set up to get the students to think not for themselves but to replicate how the teacher thinks. The teacher is a actually PAID (indirectly) by the student to point out what they have done wrong. In other words the student is there to acquire what they are doing wrong at their cost.

However when the student enters the world of innovative development people think that the tables are turned. It’s assumed that as a developer you are now the ones being PAID to teach and the customers there to learn. In other words the presumption that teacher-student relationship is considered to be reversed.

However, in actual fact it is NOT reversed… as developers of innovative stuff we are all still learning, the difference is that we are being PAID to do so.

As developers of cool stuff we need to process feedback as an opportunity to see the perceptions of our innovative products in the real world. In short we should learn a little bit from each failure.

Never complain when someone gives you their opinion, ditch the emotion and suck it up!

PintofBeerWe then take go out for a pint down the pub because we all know that its not clever works that solve an issue, it’s a drink with your mates.




I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Innovation Muscle. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas. Using these processes you will be able to create ideas that punch above their weight.

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Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.



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