Some time ago, I had an independent consulting business where I used my expertise in multimedia to help a business client create a videography for her husband’s 50th birthday celebration. At first, I was hesitant to take on the project as this client had a range of ideas for the project, but nothing solid to create a clear picture of what she wanted. Believing in my creativity, I conceded to work with her and we came to a verbal agreement on how much the project would cost at a flat rate based upon certain conditions. I had two weeks to complete the project. To get started, she delivered to me a large shoebox of photos that depicted his life story from his teenage years through his late forties. The agreement was that I would scan the images and build a professional storyline with a sound track, transitions and titles. The final product would be rendered onto a DVD. In order to tell the story of this man I did not know, I needed to work with her to gain insight on the logical order the pictures needed to be organized after they were scanned into my computer. The scanning process of over 200 pictures of varying sizes took three days to complete. Our verbal agreement is that I would only work with the images she supplied to me and would be capped at 200. She agreed. I scheduled time to meet with her to determine the order for the images and a four hour meeting turned into two days. During our meeting on the first day, she felt compelled to tell me a story of varying lengths about every image we looked at. On the second day when she came back to complete the order of the images, she brought more images with her that she felt would add more understanding to the storyline, fill I some gaps, or represent a better quality image than some of the initial photos that were presented.
Working on various projects before this, I always have tried to determine the time it would take to complete a project and add a little extra time to accommodate instances where scope creep can occur. The exception to this project that initially had me apprehensive was the fact this this client was a member of my church and I figured that a bi-product of her satisfaction with my work could be used as advertising for future business. The flip side is that if she was not pleased with the outcome, it could jeopardize future opportunities. Being a professional believing that I could still deliver the product in the time allotted, I accepted 20 more images and made clear that I would not accept any further deviations from our original agreement that would affect my production timeline and my ability to deliver the project in the time she had specified. Also, no changes were considered to my fee for the project at that time. After we agreed on the amended stipulations and determined the order of the images, I scanned the remaining photos and began building the videography. After several days the images were placed in chronological order based upon our conversation. I took screen shots of the order the images were placed in to get her approval before I rendered the project into a video format. By this point, I am a week in before having to deliver the end product. It took her two days to give me feedback on the arrangement and of course there were changes. While I waited on the feedback, I worked on the soundtrack for the project. I made the changes she suggested and sent her the mixed soundtrack for approval. After she agreed on the soundtrack, I worked feverishly on building slides that would transition to each chapter in the storyline as I constructed the final pieces of the videography before rendering. So to recap, at this point before rendering the video, she has agreed on everything that I have created. I finished the project with two days to spare and I schedule a time to meet with her deliver the DVD and receive payment for my work. The following day, during lunch, I presented the disc. She watched it in silence filled with emotion. At the conclusion of the video, I was prepared to be paid and was ready to move on to the next project. Unfortunately, she has a few suggestions for how the video could be even better.
Looking back on the experience, there is so much about the various pieces to a project that I learned. The first, is never make a verbal agreement to preform work for a potential client that you have never worked with before. Get everything in writing so that everyone involved is clear about what is expected and what will need to happen if changes are required beyond the original agreement that will change the scope or any aspect of the project. Also, if someone is not clear about the project’s outcome or purpose, don’t make inferences about what you think they might want only to realize down the road it was not or what they wanted is actually much larger in scope than you assumed. Communication, milestones and signoffs are extremely important to the progress of a project so that you can better manage where you are in the process, what you can put behind you as a completion and that every stakeholder is properly informed at all times about deliverables to meet the project’s deadline.
I kept thinking the whole way through as I was reading this how unfortunate that this had always only been a verbal agreement. It is our human nature that we forget, change our mind, create new ideas/alternatives, change our expectation, make assumptions, and question why?! I was holding my breath until your client might have said, no that is not what I wanted or oops I forgot to tell you.. Yes I agree with you that things should be documented in writing as to avoid miscommunications or misunderstandings about the project. It sounds like the project might have caused a lot of stress for you but hopefully a sense of pride and accomplishment too for a job well done!
I feel your pain. I too have lived through some verbal agreement moments in my endeavors. That it why it is so important to have documents of process and protocol in place for every project of significance. What does that look like? Well, for the PM professional, the Gantt chart. For the novice, like the person who thinks HE is the ultimate DIY, Youtube.
You gave an excellent example of scope creep and how to avoid the pitfalls of it. It is difficult to express a negative answer to a member of your church. There are sometimes those unexpressed expectations. I appreciate your response about getting everything nailed down in writing, maintaining good communications without inferences, establishing milestones, and ensuring sign off on every detail, including the client’s desired changes makes a tremendous difference in making sure the project moves along.
Hi John–I’m following your blog for EIDT 6510. –Joan
Looking forward to sharing great things with you and the others!