Beware the inadvertent commitment

By David Reinhardt. November 19th, 2010. Posted in On assignment 2 Comments »

We’ve all been there – the client starts a sentence with “While you’re working on the widget design, please could you also…” and at clocking out time you’re working on a widget supplier brief while everyone else is catching up on Eastenders.

As consultants, its natural to want to be agreeable to client requests. Happy clients are much better at paying invoices than unhappy clients. But saying “yes” to every request is ultimately a recipe for your own failure and not delivering on your contracted commitments is a quick way to turn happy clients into unhappy clients.

The risk is quite straightforward. As you load yourself, or your team, with extra deliverables, your available time to deliver what you’ve committed becomes less. You could work some extra hours, but that’s a very limited pool of resource available and will soon result in running out of extra hours and a likely case of burnout. This puts delivery of both your contractual commitments and your extra commitments at risk resulting in a worse situation than just being honest upfront.

Creating a baseline for a tough conversation

Be sure to have an agreed scope for your engagement. In a PRINCE2 world, this would take the form of product descriptions which clearly detail exactly what deliverables are expected and what they will contain. In an environment where there is less rigorous governance, it is important to be sure that you are confident that you have an unambiguous understanding of what is expected of you.

With an agreed scope, you have a context for a conversation around how a client’s request is not what you’re contractually committed to deliver. Be mindful that, even with an agreed scope, a hardline “no” is not the way to win your client’s confidence. You should be looking to re-frame a client’s request in the context of your commercial position and the broader strategic objectives of whatever change initiative you’re supporting.

Re-framing your client’s request

If you’re committed to deliver A and, a few weeks into your engagement, your client asks for B, rather than simply saying “yes” or “no”, engage a conversation on whether A or B are more important to the client and what is achievable with the hours you have remaining. At worst, your client will recognise that you are focused on the strategic objectives of the change rather than merely getting whatever document you’ve been working on completed. At best, you’ll create an opportunity to bring colleagues into the picture and increase the size of the engagement.

There’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule

Never say never though. There may be times when you take a strategic decision to take on a little bit extra. In the interests of impressing a new client, improving a relationship which may be strained or establishing your credibility as a delivery partner rather than just a supplier, you may choose to take on some extra commitments.

Key takeaways for you

  1. Be mindful of whether a client is asking for something you’ve already committed to or not
  2. Ensure that you establish an agreed scope for your engagement as part of the initiation of the engagement
  3. Be open to a conversation around additional deliverables and frame the request in the context of the strategic objectives of the change
  4. Sometimes it’s okay to take on a bit of extra work, as long you are sure you can be successful and you know why you’ve chosen to do it

This article was written by: David Reinhardt

David is a London based technologist working for BSG (Africa)'s UK operation. He likes to think about how people and organisations get the most out of emerging technologies, and writes on this topic for the The Next Web. He has ten years consulting experience, typically working on design and delivery of complex, IT enabled change programmes.

David Reinhardt's website

Comments (2)

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You raise a good point here, and this is something many a consultant will probably come up against, particularly if they are on top of their work and clearly delivering a lot of value for the client. As you state always saying yes may keep your client very happy, but without adequate planning or necessary critique one may become overburdened.

As a consultant, it is difficult to ‘push back’ on clients, but that’s a skill that will need to be acquired. When communicated properly the client may actually value the fact that a balanced view can be provided on important questions.

To be clear, pushing back doesn’t mean saying ‘no’ to your client but rather providing a well thought out, pragmatic answer to the requests your client has made. For example, if the request means a big scope change, or a great increase to your workload – which will impact your current deliverable, you will need to ensure your client is aware of this and can make a call on the area to focus on.


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