Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993

Managing Client Expectations

Tuesday 3rd September, 2013

Two events this week have brought home how important it is to manage client’s expectations.

For corporate management reasons, I’ve recently had to renegotiate contracts with a large client. The negotiations were protracted (the word corporate features in the explanation for that too), and as a result on-going work was divided into maintenance & specific projects. For maintenance, a per month day-limit was introduced, of 1 day a month. Needless to say, the limit has been exceeded in the first month (actually first two weeks), since any new request is by definition not in the specific projects list, and the only alternative is to classify the client need as ‘maintenance’.

The question is, as a small company, how do we deal with the client expectation that we will ‘be in to fix it sometime this week’? The renegotiation, insisted on by on high, has caused the accumulated goodwill on both sides to quietly evaporate; however a ‘work to rule’ policy seems overly draconian.

Another, smaller client, has a very small project which involves a large amount of mission creep. Features are subtly added, that must fit into a previously agreed fixed cost pricing structure. It’s a fine balancing act maintaining a friendly working relationship with a client, one which needs constant practice, and we’ve found, good metrics.

One trick is to set an internal absolute minimum hourly rate (below which you must not go), and to treat this as your own ‘corporate’ driver. “Sorry, but we really will have to draw the line at this point.” Any decent client will know, instinctively, when they’re chancing their arm. If you don’t ask, you don’t get - but if you have to ask, then ‘no’ is an acceptable response as well.

As developers we must balance our need to please and fix the problems given to us, with the realisation that we need to be able to afford to keep pleasing and fixing problems.