Consultant Thursdays: Working With Clients That Don’t Understand The Finish Line

On one of the mailing lists I read, this post came across:

I would like to hear experience and suggestions on how to work with non-creative management and/or clients, and how to design without requirement document, and how to work with someone who don’t know or don’t want to follow creative process due to time and budget restraint or lack of understanding of the importance of ¬†following the process.

Good question. Usually, I say “run”. One of the readers referred to this post, which is really good.

They list questions you should ask as such:

  1. Will I or my team be allowed to bring our best work to the final result?
  2. Is the client prepared to engage in the project appropriately?
  3. Is the client prepared to begin this project?
  4. Is the client prepared to invest trust in my or my team's ideas?
  5. Am I or is my team prepared to fulfill or exceed the project requirements?

If you can’t get to those five with the client, it’s not going to be a fun project.

Usually the clients like this fall into two camps:

  • Clients with money
  • Clients without a lot of money, or don’t want to spend money

The clients with money track is easier, because at least you can educate them and get paid for your time. I’ve worked in environments where the client just wanted to build something, anything, and didn’t really have a concrete idea of what they were building.

It’s difficult because at some point there has to be an established finish line, but that doesn’t happen overnight. But if they are willing to pay for it, you can eventually narrow down the requirements to where all parties are happy if the client allows themselves to be managed.

The reality? In this situation, a bad client is sometimes better than a good client for the pocketbook, because the project is guaranteed to go over budget because the requirements aren’t defined well or in a buildable fashion, or the project isn’t scoped correctly. The other reality is that working with that client will damage all relationships, and that client will never be a good reference.

The clients without money? Don’t even bother. Those clients are more difficult, because they don’t want to pay for anything — requirements, wireframes, design. They usually figure the developer should be able to do all those roles, and whatever doesn’t fall under development should be a pre-sales exercise in their mind.