Clients & Productivity

1 Simple Step to Keeping Client Projects on Time, on Budget (and Without Scope Creep)

by Qaid Jivan of Talent Marketplace

51% percent of projects are completed late. 16% are deemed a failure. Over 44% experience “scope creep” (where projects grow in size, but the amount you & your agency are paid does not). *

But why?

Our research and experience lead to one thing: Communication.

Just take it from NASA and Lockheed Martin, who lost a $125 million dollar probe because someone used imperial instead of metric measurements, and there were no appropriate check-ins to catch it.

On a smaller scale: back in the early days of TalentMarketplace (the company my partner and I founded to help connect companies & agencies with amazing project managers) – our customers wanted us to add a field for “eligible to work in Canada” when a candidate signed up through our site.

Due to sloppy ticket writing (likely on my part) the developer added this field for both candidate and employer users, something we didn’t catch until my next client demo the following week!

communication

Have you experienced blunders like this… where you and your team put tremendous effort into a part of a project – only to find out later it was all wrong according to the client?

Maybe it even happens in some form in every project.

Imagine how much time (and therefore money) have gone down the drain to this. And imagine how much you’d get back if you were able to plug this hole.

This blog post is all about a simple way to forever put an end to rough project and scope creep, while making projects go quicker and smoother.

How? It all comes down to weekly, carefully structured 30-minute check-in meetings with clients. (Later, I’ll give you the exact 30-minute structure we use with great success.)

These meetings have solved these problems for me and many others, whether you’re doing a simple website build for a client or trying to send a landing party to Mars.

It’s especially valuable when your team, clients, and partners are geographically separated. Although clients may at first push back on regular meetings, formal project management corresponds to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction.

This guide will help you understand why you should hold regular client meetings, and how you can execute short but valuable client meetings which will keep your projects on time and on budget.

First – why have regular client meetings?

1: It helps you agree on scope and minimize scope creep.

With over 44% of projects experiencing scope creep, managing scope helps projects to stay on schedule and prevent additional costs.

Expensive scope creep is typically the result of seemingly minor feature requests from clients. Assuming you have a written agreement in place which outlines the agreed scope, weekly client meetings are a great opportunity to reflect on this initial document and openly discuss any items which may be added to scope.

2: It keeps you on the same page.

To put it bluntly, regular check-ins help catch stupid and costly mistakes.

As for the example in the opening relating to my sloppy ticket writing, we now have the product owner review features before they’re pushed to production per our release schedule to make sure there wasn’t a communication gap.

3: Relationship building.

Regular points of contact with a client are essential when building a relationship for future work, and to build trust for when the project hits a bumpy patch.

It’s also a great weekly touch point to celebrate big milestones from the last week, highlight team members who deserve praise, and identify any risks or blockers, keeping the client informed and avoiding surprises.

For those who cry out: “meetings are terrible!”…

… I’d argue it’s because you haven’t experienced a meeting done right… which is the case with most meetings.

If you want to realize the benefits above, you’re going to need to become an agenda-making, action-taking, project-managing machine – which is what the next section is for!

By providing a standardized agenda in advance, taking action items, distributing them immediately, and doing as much work as possible in the meeting (relating to the topic), you’ll solve the majority of the issues people have with meetings going off-track, having no tangible outcomes, and simply being a place for people to hide from doing actual work.

How to run the best client meetings so they’re actually productive, and you actually enjoy them.

While I was still in university, I learned my first magical spell: an agenda.

Coming with an agenda in hand immediately allowed me to drive meetings, which ensured I got what my team needed out of each session.

As I became wiser in the ways of project management, I realized that a well-run meeting, planned in advance, makes meetings vastly more valuable… especially for you, the meeting owner.  

Here are some tangible steps to firing up a regular client meeting that will help you keep your project on track while keeping your client happy.

1: Standardize the agenda:

Regular client meetings should have standard items in the agenda. Here are some example items, time allotted (assuming a 30 minute max meeting), and some notes for you as to why each portion is key to either good communication, or good meeting management:

Agenda ItemTimeNotes
Review and approve agenda5 minGives everyone an opportunity to add to the agenda
Status report5 minKeeps the client informed on progress and upcoming work
Recap of actions from outstanding5 minHolds people accountable for delivery
Other items15 minThis is the room you have to add ad-hoc items relating to important actions, highlights from the status report, or items you want a decision on.

2: Create clear agenda items:

I used to make my agenda items fairly simple, like “UI Discussion.”

I worked really closely with a fantastic CTO who was very particular about wording…and it worked!

He was never afraid to post long agenda items, and would change “UI Discussion” to something more tangible like “Discuss 2 UI options for basic search and select one”.

This minor change made the point of the item clear, and drove action – I’ve been using it ever since.

3: Take and distribute actions:

Knowing that these actions will be reviewed weekly does wonders for getting things done.

That said, if you don’t distribute these in advance, it can become an excuse to not doing work.

An important caveat here: if there’s a minor action which can be completed in a meeting (like, sending an email or document) – it’s your job to make sure the owner gets it done then and there, in the meeting.

4: Send the agenda and previous actions in advance:

No one likes to be surprised about their actions, and giving folks an opportunity to add to an agenda is a great way to increase their ownership and involvement in the meeting.

For a weekly status meeting, ensure that the agenda is sent at least 24 hours in advance, and that actions are sent at a maximum of 24 hours after a meeting.

A true meeting wizard will send these actions in bulleted form, with clear action owners, minutes after the meeting ends.

5: Keep other relevant documentation in the meeting invite:

This is especially good at maintaining scope.

By including the initial agreement (or project charter, SOW, etc.) in the meeting invite, you have a fast and easy reference point if a client starts suggesting features and changes which are out of scope.

I’ve used this approach to pull me out of some project issues, initiated relationships on the right foot, and drove my projects forward faster than simply attending meetings and having ad-hoc conversations with stakeholders.

What are your thoughts? Have questions about adding this tool to your line-up? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Good project management gets projects done, and strong communication is a big contributing factor in any project’s success. If you think I’ve missed anything here, or have any questions or suggestions, let me know!

* All statistics from Project Management Institute’s media and publications


Qaid Jivan is a former Sr. Project Analyst in IT PMOs (the team that manages project managers). He’s now the VP of Membership with the Project Management Institute’s Canadian West Coast Chapter, and founder of TalentMarketplace.ca: a pre-screened talent pipeline of great project managers, analysts, and coordinators.

Discussion

  1. Paul Latino says:

    May 9, 2017

    Thank you for these insights, Qaid. I look forward to implementing short and structured meetings with my clients and colleagues.

    Peace,
    Paul Latino

    1. Qaid Jivan says:

      May 9, 2017

      Thanks Paul! I’m a big fan of a daily scrum/standup when it comes to my internal teams (if you haven’t already used this method).

      No more than 5 minutes for a small team, have each member say 1) What they completed yesterday 2) What they’re working on today and 3) What’s blocking them from finishing their tasks.

  2. Sharon McElwee says:

    May 9, 2017

    Thanks for this, Qaid! This is right on time, as I am getting ready to tackle a large project for a regular blog post client and want to find a way to keep everyone informed without hours of useless (and non-billable) meetings! Sharing it with my network!

    1. Qaid Jivan says:

      May 9, 2017

      No problemo Sharon! Quick, structured check-ins are a life saver in project land.

      If you run into any challenges (such as people not showing up, resistance, disappearing attendees) – let me know and I’ll dig up some old tricks for you 🙂

  3. Ndellie Massey says:

    May 15, 2017

    Thanks for this great reminder Qaid! My experience has been that as a project progresses, the discipline to keep things simple and to the point sort of gets lost in the quest to resolve issues in flight. Going back to basics is a great reminder!

    1. Qaid Jivan says:

      June 8, 2017

      Thanks Ndellie! It’s so easy to lose sight of the basics!

      I glazed over it in this article, but in addition to regular check-ins having a formal project kickoff and business plan or charter (even if it’s short) is a great way to create a mutual understanding for what “the basics” actually are. Too often I see the SOW used as a replacement for a plan…

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