This is a re-post with a bit of a re-write of an article I wrote a few year back for another website. That project no longer exists but the message from the article is still relevant.
On Twitter (do you follow me on there, if not why? Follow me now!) one of the people I follow is another web designer called Paul Boag. Paul is big in the world of the web and he does great podcasts, blogs, tweets etc. He asked for suggestions for titles for his next blog. I (rather cheekily I thought) sent him this title “The client says ‘oh it can’t be that tricky’ – How often is this true?”
Imagine my surprise (and big smiley face) when he replied back with “Love it. Will you write it?” I was a bit taken back but I put fingers to keyboard and I was pretty pleased with the finished article which I will share with you below.
Now don’t say “oh it’s not for me, I don’t do web design” – because you’d be wrong. It’s all about managing client expectations, project management and communication. What ever sort of business you run, I’m sure there are aspects of it that you will be able to apply to your own life.
Just remember when you read this to mentally make the changes that make the examples relevant for your business
“The client says ‘oh it can’t be that tricky’ – How often is this true?”
“Can we do X? And can we also do Y? It can’t be that tricky!” Do these words fill you with dread? Would you be a rich person if you had a £/$ for every time you’ve heard them? And do they make you want to slap the client around the head with a wet kipper and say “We? WE? I’ll be the poor sod slaving away at the keyboard<insert where you spend a lot time for your business!> What exactly will you be doing?”
It seems to me that the less someone actually knows specifically about technology but often about other professions, the easier they actually think it is. Of course if it was as easy as they think, then they would be the ones who see lines of code as they close their eyes some nights, so maybe the actual truth of the matter that even if they know that they know diddly squat about the subject they assume that because you are the expert that you a) know everything and b) can indeed produce the moon on the end of W3C compliant stick. (Apologies to my non-technical readers for the bit of jargon I’ve used!)
Sometimes, of course, the X and the Y that the client wants are easy and so trivial that you can smile and say “of course I can” (Note the I, because the unless the client has suddenly acquired skills in some of sort of Matrix download-skills fashion, the client will of course be swanning off while you spend some quality time with your keyboard.)
But then there are the requests that are tricky, very tricky and downright impossible.
We’ve all had them and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has contemplated making a voodoo doll of at least one client. But before you get arrested for the assault with a USB stick, ask yourself why? Why is the client asking for this?
If you’re well into the project and this request for a feature suddenly lands on your desk then first of all go back to your design brief and project proposal and see if there is anything there that would suggest that the client wanted this. If there isn’t then you’re into the world of project creep. (Queue scary music)
If you’re at the start of the project, then things are a little easier. And in actually fact the same solution works for both situations. Just scream and shout “I’m an artist, don’t you realize how difficult this is!?” Oh not the answer you were looking for? OK I’ll try again.
Stage 1: Smile politely and ask why they want it? Did you just not understand them when you agreed on the project (and they did not realize it wasn’t there when they signed off the project proposal?) Has some aspect of their business changed and they really need it? Have they seen it somewhere else and think it look really cool?
Stage 2: Establish do they really need it. I mean, I want an Aston Martin but I’d have a hard job making the case I actually need one.
Stage 3: If what they want is completely and totally impossible tell them. But nicely (grit your teeth if you have to). But like a magician, you should have a trick up your sleeve if you have successfully completed stages 1 and 2.
I once worked with a very small start up business and their web budget was tiny. Smaller than tiny really. Of course that didn’t stop the owner wanting big budget features. Having established very early on in the process what the budget was, I was able to explain that many of the requests were simply beyond their means. But the request to be able to easily and instantaneously put a message on their site to saying where they were going to be out and about displaying their product, well that I can do for them, even though the budget wouldn’t stretch to a fully fledged content management system. A simple twitter feed into their site means they can tell the world where to find them that week. I’m pretty certain that this solution was why I got the job. It’s not the world’s biggest contract and the site won’t have all the bells and whistles they wanted at the start of the consultation, but the one feature they really wanted was achievable with a bit of thinking.
Now I’m not saying that even with the perfect design brief and project plan that you won’t have your clients suddenly asking for something that predict the future in a Minority Report type fashion and that can also zoom in in crystal clear fashion on the keyboard of their rival’s CEO’s laptop as he sits in his garden by hacking into utilizing satellite images that you will legitimately acquire for them. (I must do a Top Ten of film IT that drive IT people mad?)
At the end of the day, there will be always be one (at least) client who wants it all and wants is done straight away. But an essential skill of being a web designer (and one that doesn’t always get the coverage it needs as we all get bogged down in the techie stuff ) is that of being a good communicator – you have to find out what the client wants, why they want it, do they need it and can they afford it. And then you have to learn to say No when what they want is out of the question – if you’ve got children you should be good at that!