Come on…we manage these projects day in and day out. Most are normal project requests with normal clients. You create your schedule, you kick the project off, you create a solution or a campaign or a design, or a website, or whatever. You test it, your client tests it, you roll it out to them, then you wave goodbye. Done. Pretty straightforward. I realize I’m way oversimplifying it for the masses…a whole lot goes into delivering that project. A lot of headaches, a lot of design work, at lot of marketing strategy, a lot of creative thinking and re-thinking and re-work. But many projects are – for the most part – overall about the same from a process standpoint.
But some clients are different. I want you to think real hard – go back as far as you can. Tell us…what is the strangest request that a client has ever made of you on a project. Keep it ‘G-rated’ please. I’m in Las Vegas and I can say that as a consultant working with various organizations in project management roles for one-off projects, I’ve witnessed some strange requests (a couple were illegal, I think) made of the organizations I was consulting for but thankfully not of me. But I have had strange requests made of me. I’m a project manager and I was asked to basically not manage the project on one engagement. The budget was limited and they thought project managers were useless overhead…so I complied and stayed in the shadows charging little to no time to the project while still overseeing my lead developers work on the effort (believe me…he needed the oversight). By doing that I won the client over.
So, we know strange clients exist…it’s a creative world we work in. But what do we do – what can we do – to minimize the special effort that would need to be put in so as to accommodate these requests? What can we do to “standardize” these clients and projects from the beginning? The answer is sometimes, “very little.” At the very least the answer will always be, “not enough.” Why? Because you don’t know what is going to arise in terms of client requests and client needs over the course of a 6 or 12-month project. But we can do a few things to help minimize these types of needs or requests from the outset of a creative project…and for me it really comes down to these three...
Set expectations at kickoff. I can’t stress this one enough…always have a “formal” project kickoff, run through any type of statement of work (SOW) you might have – even if it’s only written on a bar napkin – and go into this meeting with a draft project schedule where you discuss milestones and timeframes. The goal is to come out of the kickoff meeting with expectations set, methodology defined, roles planned out and discussed (at least to some degree that may change a bit over time), and what next steps are. The better your client understands how important the structured “process” is the better they will understand that strange requests can throw that off.
Ensure requirements are well defined. Requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Poorly defined requirements – whether that’s the client doing a poor job of giving you the real picture or if that’s your team doing an inadequate job of really listening, understanding and documenting – can lead to much conflict, timeline issues and budget issues. Well-defined requirements mean that any strange requests from your client will be obvious change requests and it will be up to them to decide if they really want to pay for that strange request. You only have to go through that process once or twice with that type of client before they realize that they are being their own worst enemy in terms of budget management.
Educate the client on the change order process. Finally, educate the client on how change orders and change requests work. Things that are outside the scope cost money. Period. If they understand that because you covered that well in the kickoff meeting – and yes it is a very good idea to do that right then and there – then they are more likely to filter those strange requests before they even make it to your ears.
You’re always going to have strange client requests. I remember one individual who interviewed with me for a position on my staff and he discussed how he once managed a venue where rock bands would often perform and had certain contract requests. One band’s request was to have only green M&M’s backstage so he had to pick all the other colors out by hand and have bowls full of green M&M’s ready for them.
What about you? What strange requests have you had to handle for your clients? Or at least listen to and reject or draw up a change order for? Think about it – and share your strangest one if you dare….could be a fun discussion.