Successful web development projects are a direct result of properly establishing internal and external stakeholder expectations. The art of properly setting and managing expectations is based on strong communication and a focus on collaboration.
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Project Scoping & Contracts Notes
In order to manage expectations you need to have a solid process in place that will guide you through an entire project, from the initial client contact to drafting a proposal, through doing the project work and even after the job is complete. Having a project scoping system in place will help you with big projects as well as small projects.
It’s a process you’ll need to constantly tweak and improve over time.
Why Create a Process?
In addition to making your work more efficient and profitable, a good process will bring clients back. Having a solid system in place will set you apart. Clients will notice and appreciate that, and they will come back.
Rebecca has seen a lot of clients come back and she notes that it’s mainly due to their process. “It’s not that we have exceptional design or coding skills—we’re solid,” she says, “But it’s because we have a good process.”
1. Successful Engagements
Start and finish a project with solid expectations management. This means including strong scoping and contracts.
“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” -Roy Williams
To really know what your client needs, you need to ask the right questions and have that dialogue. It’s your responsibility to lead the project scoping and the slower you take it the more you can force those questions and get the real answers. When we rush we tend to make assumptions and it can lead to disaster.
2. Set Expectations Early
Clearly defined expectations will prevent issues later and establish a path for success.
Rebecca has 20 different replies saved as signatures in Outlook to reply to inquiries. She admits this is a bit OCD, but it allows her to quickly send a detailed email back with the appropriate response. The emails allow her to gather more information, set expectations and control the conversation.
Some clients might be scared off by a response with lots of questions. That’s OK since those clients likely wouldn’t be a good fit.
3. What Type of Client Is It?
Define who you are selling to in the sales process and understand how this alters your implementation.
Figure out what type of client you’re dealing with so you can respond accordingly. Is it a simple project or a complex one? Will it entail financial risk or functional risk? Do they know their stuff or are they an amateur?
4. Identify Your Client’s Needs
Each client is unique. Understanding and adapting to their needs is critical.
You need to identify your client’s needs when you’re scoping the project and not be surprised in the middle of the project. Rebecca identifies client needs in her proposal and then matches them up with her solutions. It helps clients feel comfortable and know that she listens and understands their needs.
5. Select the Right Process
Define the project scope based on the type of client and type of project.
Your process should be flexible depending on the job. You might have several different processes depending on the type of project.
6. Use Proper Documentation
Select the right type of document to establish a baseline for expectations.
Rebecca uses a simple one-page contract that spells out the very basic details of the project and a few legal clauses. She refers to the project proposal for all the details, and that’s where she puts all the meat of the agreement.
7. Agree to and Document All Pertinent Items
The more you document at project start, the less you’ll debate about later.
And this is the meat. Rebecca includes a lengthy list of project scoping details, backed up with explanations:
- Deliverables – What are you giving the client at the end of the day? Be specific. Always document the quantity as well and what happens if there are overages. Rebecca got burned on an early project to migrate 700 pages that ended up being 5,000—but the exact quantity was never specified. Use language so it’s OK if a client goes over whatever the number is, but then you get to charge accordingly.
- Milestones & Schedule – What are the expectations along the way? Setting these now will help things go smoothly.
- Warranty – Define what your warranty is, how long it applies, what’s included and what happens after the warranty period is over.
- Client Delay – What happens when a client goes dark? Life happens and things get delayed, so have a solution. Recognize that a stalled project costs you money. Rebecca has projects shift to a monthly service fee until they start up again.
- Payment – Lay out all your payment terms, when payment is due and how overages are billed.
- Exclusions – What’s not included in your project? Sometimes it helps to spell out what you’re not doing. Often Rebecca will list things she discussed with a client but they agreed not to include, just so it’s clear.
- Maintenance – Spell out what ongoing maintenance is included in the project (if any) and list what those potential costs are. Often clients will realize they need it and want maintenance added to the project.
- Expenses – Who pays for travel expenses, stock images, plugin licenses, etc.? For local clients Rebecca will note that on-site meetings are not included (but if clients want those meetings, she’ll list the costs).
8. Contract Verbiage and Process Must Align
Verify your contract verbiage matches your development process and your team’s skillset.
It doesn’t work if you have all this detail in your proposal, but then your development process does something different. They need to match up.
Rebecca has a 90-point to-do list in Basecamp that breaks down milestones and responsibilities. It’s great for clients, but she’s run into problems when she changed her to-do list and forgot to make the corresponding changes in her proposal template. You need to keep your entire process consistent.
9. Signatures Before Work
Don’t start work until the contract is signed or a valid purchase order is in hand.
Your process can’t allow work to begin until the contract is signed and, depending on your system, the invoice sent and paid. Spell these details out up front and then insist on it.
10. Ongoing Communication Is Critical
Communication is proportionate to client happiness and overall project success.
“I’ve never had a client tell me we over-communicate, and we communicate a lot,” Rebecca says. Clients want to know you’re working on their project—it’s reassuring.
11. Scope Creep Isn’t All Bad
It’s great for revenue if you require clients to approve formal change orders (estimates that detail cost and timing changes work too).
Scope creep is an opportunity to keep your client happy and increase profitability. Tell them you’ll be happy to do it, but it will cost more. Don’t leave that money on the table.
12. Manage Client Delays
Continue to actively reach out to clients if they go dark. Document any communication so time doesn’t work against you.
Have a structured process in place so you continue to check in and follow up on these clients.
13. Lessons Learned=Higher Profit Margins
Learn from mistakes within your sales and scoping process. Those mistakes can become your best contract terms and conditions.
If you assume your client knows something and they don’t, it’s your fault. You’re supposed to be the expert guiding this project scoping process. So every time you make a mistake like that, learn from it and make it a part of your process.
Rebecca has three pages of terms and conditions—that’s seven years worth of mistakes and lessons learned. Every item she adds will make the process smoother and everybody happier.
Check out some of our recent blog posts on contracts: