Skipping Shortcuts: Convincing Clients to Take the Better Path

Your clients may not understand why you follow certain practices as a project professional. They may encourage you to take shortcuts that they believe will save time, money, and difficulty. You know better, but how can you convince them?

Doing things the right way make sense, right?

It's like learning a new piece of software. We may hesitate to watch a YouTube video about a new, unfamiliar software product due to "time constraints." Or, we may avoid the product demo for the same reason or because we don’t want to get into a long question-and-answer session with a sales representative. Or, we may avoid reading software guides because we're smart and can "just figure it out"—sort of like not wanting to stop and ask for directions when you're lost.

Does any of this sound familiar? I have been guilty of all of these things (including not stopping to ask for directions) and, often, I realized only later that they were bad ideas. What seemed to be a shortcut wasn’t really a shortcut at all. It frustrated me, took more of my time than it should have, and left me less prepared and functional than I would have been had I taken the proper amount of time to learn up front. In some cases, the "shortcut" took so much time that I abandoned the new product altogether because I no longer had the time to figure it out.

If any of these situations applies to you as a project professional, then you probably understand where your project clients are coming from if they fail to see value in certain practices you're trying to implement on the projects you’re leading for them. They may not see the value in a detailed status report. They may not understand why it's important to spend three weeks (in their eyes, three expensive weeks) hammering out good, detailed requirements when they can tell you what they want in thirty minutes. They may not understand your urge to interview subject matter experts (SMEs) and end-users in their organization—again, all of which costs them time and money—when they’ve already come to you with the problem that they believe should tell you everything you need to know. And, the very mention of change requests may have them on the phone trying to contact another delivery organization because they think you’re out to get them. A simple weekly email can replace weekly status calls, right? Um … no.

But, how do you convince the stubborn (and potentially "cheap") project client that these are critical practices that will likely save them money, time, and heartache in the long run? You've been through this before, but maybe they haven't. What’s your approach?

Let's look at a few of these typical client push backs and discuss how to approach each in a way that will help your clients understand the importance of planning, thorough documentation, formal signoff, and frequent and thorough communication.

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