14 November 2006

The client isn't always right, you know

Sometimes a client undertakes the wrong kind of support. They engage you to help them with a particular problem, but once you start working with them, the nature of the relationship has to change because they have misunderstood the problem that they have.

It's important to use the initial phase of a relationship as a diagnostic opportunity to learn about how the client does business, the symptoms they see in their business and the skills of their team. If you don't invest enough in diagnosis during this phase, you run the risk of being surprised on two counts:
  • investing time in the wrong problem
  • being slow to detect the right problem
Switching objective in mid-project is a subtle project management problem and one that requires a significant level of management of expectations. That isn't impossible, but it may require you to develop a communications plan to hit the organisation at a number of different levels within a relatively short period of time if you are to get your message across quickly. The key issue though is that very often the client is part of a larger group so that the cost of doing it wrong heavily outweighs the opportunity cost of doing it right. On a fully costed basis, your revised project may not be as profitable as you might wish, but if it retains a relationship with a major account, that reduction in profitability is an allowable investment in your cost of sale.

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