Employee Post

How Project Managers Handle Client Curveballs

Your team is cruising through development on your latest project. Your lead developer has his team on lock. The site’s architecture is planned out and they’re slinging CMB left and right. Final designs? No final_v2 or homepage_rev3s in sight. You’ve got them all and your front end devs couldn’t ask for more. Then it happens…a call with your client takes you down a dark path which you never knew existed.

How could this have happened? You planned so well! And let’s be real: you’ve probably made the most perfect project plan you’ve ever constructed…at least since the last one. How could someone have such a disregard for this picture of perfection you’ve worked so hard to achieve?

I’m just going to come out and say it: This will happen (to some degree) with any project your team will embark on. The true test is how you roll with the punches. Here’s a few tried and true ways you can keep your team on track and pivot with the best of them!

Is it in scope?

The first thing you should do with any project your team is taking on is read the scope of work (SOW). What are you contracted to complete for the client? I highly recommend reviewing the scope of work at the start of any project with your account executive to ensure you and your team have a clear understanding what’s required. I also do this as part of any project kickoff call with the client to ensure all team members are on the same page. This review also serves to set expectations from the project onset. If you suspect there is a new feature request, confirm if its out of scope first.

Be upfront with your client

When you identify a new request coming through from a client, it’s critical that you let them know that it’s just that–a new request beyond the current scope of the project. It can be intimidating to utter the words “out of scope,” but remember, this is an ongoing conversation with your client that should be open and honest. Agreeing to “take a look at” a new request or that your team will “try and get it done” for the sake of avoiding potential confrontation will only end poorly. You will either end up with a project over budget with extended deadlines or will have to readdress the issue with the client to tell them that it is, in fact, out of scope. I can promise you, mentioning a feature is out of scope two weeks after you agree to “take a look at it” will not leave you with a happy client.

Gather all the details

The most important thing you can do for your team and client is to get a full grasp of what the client’s objective is with their new request. What are they hoping to achieve? A better user experience? An easier work flow? A more functional feature? For any goal there are multiple solutions. Collect all the details you can from the client on the goal, their expected workflow, and anything they’d like to avoid. You can then bring this information back to your team internally to discuss how you can better approach the new request.

Meet internally with your team

Time to face the firing squad. Its never easy to tell your team to throw the brakes on their otherwise unimpeded work flow. I can promise you, it will be infinitely easier if you’ve done your homework and come bearing the information your team will need to formulate an action plan. Schedule a meeting and start brainstorming solutions. Key questions to ask yourself and team for each proposed solution – How can we easily achieve the clients goal? How long would you estimate for completion? Who is able to be scheduled to complete the new feature? What are the trade offs for the solution, if any?

Make a recommendation

Once you’ve met with your team you should have a few options to meet said goal. Now’s the time to focus in on your team’s recommended approach to the new request. Presenting a client with all options can open the door to many more updates and revisions within the project that might further impact scope. Express to the client what your team thinks would be the best solution, whether its in or out of scope, and why it’s the best solution.

Most importantly, SELL. IT.

If you truly believe in your team’s solution, fight for it and do your best to explain to the client why it’s the best solution for them as well. You can’t always guarantee they will agree but you can give your team a fighting chance. If they are hesitant, explain the potential pitfalls of other solutions (i.e.will require more time to complete, will be more costly, creates a poor user experience – the list goes on and on). Just remember, the goal is to provide your client with an amazing website that aligns within scope and their needs!

Update your project plan

Once you and your client have landed on a solution, it’s time to get the team scheduled to develop the new feature. If your team’s already frustrated by having to switch gears, don’t double down on the hurt! Make sure you adjust your development timeline to accurately reflect the amount of time they need to complete the work. Accurately estimate your time, convey this to the client, and make them well aware that any update will take time. Always update your project plan and development timeline to reflect it, too.

I hope these tips will help you on your way to smoothing out those new feature request hurdles and taking client curveballs head on without fear.


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