Managing Change on the Creative Project
Change. Scope creep. Change orders. All necessary things to manage. All things your project client hates to be approached about. We (hopefully) have great relationships with our clients. However, every once in a while we have that creative client that thinks he is always right and everything that he wants is within scope.
Since we are programmed to do our best to keep our clients happy, it is very hard to say no. It's even harder to argue with the client or try to unearth previous communications to back up your position in a previous email or documented requirement that all key players had access to and formally agreed upon but that they had just forgotten about or failed to raise a flag over .
So, what do you do when project change happens? Sometimes it's obviously necessary on one of your creative projects with a difficult client who seems to think whatever they want is what you should provide - at no additional cost. How do you handle it? How do you present change orders or say, “stop, that's going to cost you!”?
It's never easy, but you can professionally soften the blow with a thoughtful approach and delivery. Casual, but professional. And certainly as non-abrasive as possible. You need to act like the client is always right as you approach them – even if you know that to not be the case. Here is my suggested three-step approach:
Go to the team first, not the client. Your creative project team is your right hand. Discuss the situation with them first and get the best picture that you can. Is it truly out of scope? 100% out of scope? Maybe just 50%? Are there other close options that are less costly? Yes, you want to add revenue and possible profit to the creative project wherever and whenever you can, but not at the potential expense of losing the project and the client. Never. So be careful, be accurate and be thoughtful. First try to come up with alternatives that are free or less costly.
Put together a change order. You don't want to have to go to the client twice on this. Why spend more time in the fire than you absolutely have to? So have the change order ready, but don't present it without a thoughtful discussion. Think of it like a gadget you found on eBay that you really want. You don't just show the posting to your wife and ask her to hit “buy now.” You tell her how awesome it is and why you need it, not want it. So with the creative project, you present the backstory first... the supporting discussion or the documentation that says this is something necessary and here is why it is out of the agreed upon scope for this project – referring, of course, to the documented requirements. You may find that you can come to an agreement on either not proceeding with the change or going down a different path. You never have to scare the heck out of your stubborn client with a $50,000 change order that might make them pack up the project on the spot and go to your mortal enemy down the street.
Contact the client. With armor on, go to this d creative client and present your best solution possible. Remember, this may be the first time that they are hearing a dollar figure attached to their latest need. So be gentle and thoughtful in the delivery. If the need is real and the change order is a must to make this all go forward, be ready for this to take more than one discussion.
Summary / call for input
It's never easy to go to any client asking for money. I don't like to bug my clients when they are 10 days late paying an invoice, but sometimes I have to. It's money they know they owe. Here we are talking about asking for money for work they want you to perform for free... and on top of that, they are irritable. This is a tough situation and hopefully most of our project clients are not like this. I've only had a couple and thankfully none in the past bunch of years. But don't sit back, relax and ignore, because you'll eventually have one if you haven't already.
If you've ever had do deal with this type of client, how have you handled their change orders? If you haven't had to yet, have you given thought to how you would strategize for success on this type of presentation? In actuality, change orders and the change order process should be a topic you discuss at kickoff time and again as you are getting requirements documented and signed off. You want your client to know that there are situations where they will have to cough up some money if they want to get certain things done which aren't within the original scope of the project.