Managing clients who want free changes
It’s a common refrain: A project is progressing smoothly, and then a small change is implemented at the client’s request without charge. And then another. And then a larger one...
What are the typical reasons behind these changes? Our clients have reported many to us over the years:
- As a favour in order to keep an important client happy.
- As a sweetener because the project has certain problems.
- To deliver an obvious improvement which neither party had thought of originally.
- As a favour to a client representative who probably should have specified it up-front, to cover up for them.
- As a sweetener to help a client sell the project internally because it is not getting universal support in their company.
- As something that is ‘too small to bother wasting time even documenting’.
- As a pragmatic one-of-those-things event that ‘always happens in complex projects’.
Of course a project professional would counter each one of these arguments in turn. It's all very well to keep clients happy, but randomly nodding through changes isn't the way forward. Changes need to be documented, estimated, formally agreed and communicated, not least so that the client understands and values any concessions that are then made.
Example: Steven Clark, Financial & Commercial Manager of 40-strong Tayburn, told us this:
“Clients are cute, as every agency knows. They subtly ask for amendments here and there, which used to get nodded through for free. But the extra work really mounts up. Our (previous) system didn’t make it easy to track those changes, causing big problems.”
In the web and software development worlds it’s known as ‘Feature creep’ or ‘Scope creep.’ Even when you have a systematic Change Request Policy it’s still all too easy for people to try to circumvent it.
The problem is so pervasive that the internet is peppered with articles such as Tech Republic’s venerable Seven Steps for Avoiding Scope Creep, the seventh of which says:
"Expect that there will be scope creep. Implement Change Order forms early and educate the project drivers on your processes. A Change Order form will allow you to perform a cost-benefit analysis before scheduling (yes, I said scheduling) changes requested by the project drivers."
HBR (Harvard Business Review) calls scope creep... a hydra-headed monster that every project manager battles. They say this:
"Customers who ask for free work don’t set out to reduce your profitability. They just want to get the best possible result. So it’s up to you as the PM to decide whether to require a change order or complete the extra work for free. You’re often trapped at the junction of “Give away money” and “Make the customer mad.” It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
"An open-book approach to project management doesn’t eliminate the challenges of scope creep, but it can mitigate them. Through team huddles where you regularly review the financials, not just progress against goals and milestones, additional commitments of labour or materials will show up immediately... for everyone to see and discuss. People are less likely to fulfil customer wish lists for free. A system like this takes some of the pressure off the PM — the whole group “owns” the problem of scope creep.
"If your project tracking system allows uncompensated work to happen under the radar, change systems."
So how do you manage feature creep? You create a work culture where every proposed change is logged, so you and the team can manage, track and evaluate all the implications at a glance.
When asking for an online demonstration of Synergist, feel free to ask the online consultant to show how it is managed day to day by the system.
Steven Clark, Tayburn