By Nicholas Mann, MD of Interdirect, a marketing agency that specialises in digital marketing.
In Interdirect’s 15-year history and in spite our best efforts, some of our projects have not been the greatest of successes. In fact, some have been complete disasters!
Fortunately, this happens very rarely, but when it does, it is easy for one to torture oneself in pursuit of the reasons as to why and to indulge in bouts of self-mortification.
If this process results in the successful identification of procedural problems, then lessons can be learned and procedures upgraded to reduce the chances of repetition.
However, it is also worth noting, that in my opinion at least, some projects are destined to failure, no matter what precautions one takes. When this happens, and no fault can be identified, one has no option other than to be philosophical and move on without letting it affect one’s confidence.
There are, of course, many reasons for projects to fail and many lessons that one must be learnt in order to minimise bad outcomes.
One of the shortest routes to ensuring that a web based project is an unmitigated disaster is to not discuss it in full detail with the client at the start of the project.
Failure to thrash out every facet of a project with the client from aesthetics and functionality to project timings, costs and deliverables, will create opportunities for misunderstandings and assumptions; which will almost certainly lead to, at best, client disappointment, and at worst, open disagreement and conflict.
Therefore, at every stage of the project process, it is essential to speak with clients about their vision for the outcome of the project. Critically it is also important to record these outcomes and report them back to the client for their sign-off.
At Interdirect, we have learned these lessons the hard way. As a result, today we have a very well defined project delivery methodology that we have refined and honed over the years, and which, when followed precisely, helps us to minimise the risk of client conflict and project failure.
It starts right from the very first contact with a new prospective client. We will try to find out and examine as much information as possible about the client and their project in preparation for our first meeting.
This enables us to more quickly and easily understand the project and have a meaningful discussion with them at our first meeting.
At this meeting, we also take a “New Client / Project Questionnaire” which not only helps to impress upon the client that we are well organised and know what we are doing, but it also helps us to ensure that we capture all of the information that we need in order to write a account-winning proposal.
Upon winning the project we convene a “Discovery Meeting”. Typically, this is the most important meeting of the entire project, as during it we go over all that was mentioned in the proposal, but in much greater detail.
We ensure that we have all our lead project team members in attendance, thereby ensuring that the whole team is well apprised of the project’s remit and starts to build a relationship with the client.
It is also important, where possible, to get all of the project’s client-side decision makers to attend the discovery meeting too, otherwise you run the risk of not getting the whole story. This is a classic scenario; and one that is all too easy to be trapped by.
Failure to get all project “stakeholders” at a discovery meeting can mean any work that you undertake is doomed to rejection when it is presented to stakeholders that were not present.
One of the primary outputs of a discovery meeting is the creation of a functional specification, which typically is written by one of Interdirect’s project managers. The functional specification is a detailed “blueprint” for the whole project.
Not only does it disclose the features and deliverables of a project, but also it states the expected timeline, costs, terms & conditions and the roles and responsibilities of all parties, including the client.
This is crucial, as it is important that the client knows and understands their part in the successful and timely delivery of a project, and the consequences, if they fail to perform.
Once written, the functional specification is submitted to the client for formal sign-off, you might be forgiven for thinking that you have made all reasonable efforts to discover and confirm with the client the bounds of the project.
In theory, you probably have; however in reality you are far from home! Very often, clients will not read a functional specification and will just assume that it contains their vision of the project! So, even after you have a signed functional specification, it is essential that each aspect of a project is discussed with the client.
Regular client communication is always a good idea anyway, as the next biggest threat to the successful completion of a project is the failure to update the client of progress. If clients don’t get regular updates, then they often start to think that no progress has been made at all, even if you have all been tirelessly slaving away like frenzied elves on Christmas Eve.
We find that it is advisable to present work for client approval as soon as something meaningful has been completed.
However, extreme care must be taken explain to the client that certain areas of the project might not be completed or might not be working yet. This is another area where a judgement needs to be made. Showing clients work that is too incomplete or too riddled with bugs can be as damaging as not showing them anything at all!
A miffed client will always be harder work than one that is kept consistently happy. Over the years, we have come to identify this phenomenon, and we’ve given it a name: “And Another Thing Syndrome”.
This occurs when clients get annoyed and lose faith in you. This lack of confidence means that they will go looking for every single tiny problem, that they probably wouldn’t have noticed, if they had have been kept happy.
So the lesson here is to make you life easy by ensuring the client is always happy. It might sound cynical, but it is also true!
In summary, avoiding client catastrophes can be very difficult. Whilst it is true that commonsense is a key component of successful project management, it is also true that there are many hidden traps that only research and experience will help you to recognise and avoid. Good Luck!
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