Friday, September 2, 2011

Manage client expectations with a project scope document

The middle of delivering a service or project deliverable is too late to begin managing a client’s expectations. To be successful, you have to start managing expectations at the beginning of every client request. It would be nice to be able to take the quick and easy path of just discussing an issue or request with a client and then doing the work. The challenge is that people hear and interpret the same message in different ways. To protect your client and yourself, take the time to develop a detailed scope document on the front end of any project to manage both of your expectations.

What does a scope document achieve?
The essence of the scope document is always to state to your client, “This is what I heard you say, this is what I plan to do, and this is the cost of the effort.” Making this statement:
  • · Forces you to think through the elements of the project or request.
  • · Gives the client your interpretation.
  • · Verifies the project’s who, what, when, where, and how.
  • · Forces the client to validate your interpretation of the planned work.

The level of detail you put into a scope document will vary based on the project and your client. In some cases, I simply use a follow-up e-mail or short letter to clarify what I’m planning to do based on a conversation. But usually in my consulting role, it’s my standard practice to create some type of scope document before I do any work for a new or existing client.

Elements of a scope document
Here’s a brief look at what your project scope document should address.

The problem or need
Describe the problem or project request briefly. By doing this, you restate the issues as described by your client, helping confirm your interpretation. Define the project’s goals and objectives. This section doesn’t have to be lengthy, but you need to include enough detail to ensure the client’s needs and objectives are clearly outlined.

Describe all deliverables that will establish the successful completion of the project. If your work includes programming changes, include an application design or a summary of the software development effort that provides enough detail for the client to see and agree on the deliverable. For a Web site design, this might include a short written description as opposed to detailed Web page designs. Gauge the level of description you need based on your client’s need for detail and the complexity of the project.

The plan
Define the specifics of the work plan to a level of detail that helps the client understand what you plan to do in the project and how the process will work. Clarifying issues that will keep your client out of the dark makes it easier for your client to do business with you, reduces questions, and helps you achieve a positive experience with your client. The plan needs to include key milestones and estimated timeframes to the extent that you can define them.

Resource needs
Quantify the resources you’ll need from the client so he or she can plan for the effect your work will have on the organization.

Be as specific as you can with your cost estimates to prevent misunderstandings later. Consultants use many different cost models, such as billing time and material, giving a fixed project cost, and working on a monthly retainer fee. Clients have to justify your consulting expense and the better you can articulate your cost, what it’s for, and the deliverables the client will receive by spending the money, the more likely you are to be paid without issue. The bottom line is that there should not be any guesswork on the client’s part about how much a project will cost and what he or she gets for it.

Payment plan
Define when and how you should be paid for the project. Again, state this information up front to avoid creating confusion and building up an accounts receivable balance.

Project scope document
Use this sample as a guide to help you develop your next scope document.

Final thoughts
Creating a definitive scope document helps eliminate confusion with any project and presents you in a more professional light. Consultants that provide professionally delivered services often get called back or recommended to other companies.

Use the scope document as a means of managing your client’s expectations from the start. Too many client dissatisfaction issues occur because the client’s expectations aren’t managed up front. Start every project venture out on the right foot by stating the project’s scope clearly and you’ll reward yourself with fewer problems down the road. Once you get into the habit of developing a scope document at the beginning of new projects, it will become a quick process and one that saves you valuable time later.

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