This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Brett Harned to discuss justifying costs, extracting info from clients and getting everybody moving in the same direction.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show. The podcast about user experience, digital strategy and a whole lot more. My name is Paul Boag and joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus.
Marcus: Hello Paul, that just felt weird.
Paul: What? The new introduction?
Marcus: Yes, the new introduction. I know I’ll get used to it but it just feels wrong and I am unsettled now.
Paul: Oh dear, I’m sorry for that. It’s Bob’s fault. Bob from the Boagworld slack channel. He pulled us up didn’t he on our intro.
Marcus: It’s not good UX. It wasn’t good UX in the fact that it didn’t describe what it was.
Paul: Yes, because we don’t have a lot the developers although I am looking to rectify that problem. I have a plan. A cunning plan. But anyway, before we get into that we need to welcome our other guest, which is Brett Harned. Hello, how are you?
Brett: Hey, I am doing great. How you?
Paul: Yes, good, good. You were just saying you’re about to go on holiday weekend?
Paul: So you’re going to the beach?
Marcus: I don’t even know where you are Brett.
Brett: I live in Philadelphia in the States and New Jersey Shore is about an hour from here, since about an hour’s drive to Ocean City New Jersey.
Paul: So I am actually staying there or doing a day trip?
Brett: Staying there. We have friends who live there so go down quite often.
Paul: Oh, I see. Making the most of other people.
Marcus: I was doing that last week.
Brett: I’m a project manager, that’s what we do.
Paul: That’s very true.
Marcus: I was in at a friend’s villa in Spain all last week. It is particularly nice, staying in someone else’s villa. Especially when they say, I just want you to be here to make it feel lived in.
Brett: Spain trumps the Jersey Shore.
Marcus: I was saying this to a couple of our American clients, your view of Spain is not the same as our view of Spain. It’s like our view of Mexico isn’t the same as your view of Mexico. We see Mexico as uber exotic and you guys don’t do you?
Brett: No, not really.
Marcus: So it’s the same thing.
Paul: The further away somewhere is, the more exotic it is.
Brett: That’s true.
Paul: I am sure it’s all to do with geography. I tell you what lesson I have learnt already on this show, which is that me and Sam last week were talking about how antisocial we are. You’ve just proved that having friends pays off because you get nice places to go and stay.
Marcus: Yes. Try harder Paul. Get out there.
Brett: Make friends and mooch off of them.
Paul: Yes. That’s a good attitude towards life there, Brett. So what are you up to these days Brett? What’s going on in your world? Because we both started doing our own thing at about the same time.
Brett: We did, yes.
Paul: But neither of us seem to be running back to work for someone else yet, so how’s it going with you?
Brett: No, not yet. I’m really doing well, I’m busy. As you know I am writing my first book for Rosenfeld media and it’s called Project Management for Humans. I’m about halfway through and it’s been a really good process so far and am excited about what I’ve written and can’t wait to share it. But then I also do consulting work so I work with agencies and internal teams in corporations and product companies to help them sort out things like, how to be better communicators, how to pick a process that works, identify what it means to be a project manager within an organisation because I think it varies from place to place. So yes, do a lot of that work and having a lot of fun with it and out of that comes some coaching work as well, so I’m working with some project managers to help them on a weekly or monthly basis to sort out some career goals, talk about some challenges and help them set off on the right path.
Paul: That basically boils down to being a therapist I reckon.
Brett: It does, yes.
Paul: In my head it’s just them moaning about the staff that they have to manage the whole time. Because that’s what project managers do isn’t it?
Brett: Sometimes is that, sometimes it’s a tricky client. Sometimes it’s helping them to just pick better ways to manage projects that will help them build better relationships and gain trust with the people that they are working with. Because unfortunately project managers start at the point where they are not trusted or people don’t know what they do. So I’m doing a lot to help turn that around for a lot of people, which I really enjoy.
Paul: Good. I enjoy the mentoring and coaching stuff, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a good thing to do. Is one of my favourite bits.
Brett: Me too, it makes you feel as though you are actually helping people and making an impact on a personal level.
Paul: Yes, I know what you mean. It’s more than just delivering a website; it’s actually helping someone’s day-to-day life which is always a good thing to do.
Brett: Exactly, yes. I don’t know Sam mentioned this to but related to that we are starting a training programme so he and I have been working really hard to pull that all together and we’re hoping to get started in earnest at the end of this year. So we will be doing in person training in the States and the UK.
Paul: That sounds cool.
Brett: Yes, I’m excited to get started with that.
Paul: Sam has got a fancy new job. He hasn’t got time for this thing has he now he’s working for Marks and Spencers?
Brett: Well he’s going to make some time to do it because he’s excited about it too. So as little extra effort for both of us but I think it will be worth it in the long run.
Marcus: When is the new book going to be out do think?
Brett: That should be out in 2017. My goal is to wrap it up this summer. Actually just had a conversation with my editor and asked her to push me this summer to really just crank everything up and get it done.
Paul: I’ll race you then. Because I haven’t started mine yet, but I’ve set aside most of June and July to just blitz it. So we can see who can get their book out first.
Brett: Okay. I mean you’ve got much more experience than me, so.
Paul: That is true, but on the other hand yours will also be a better quality. I just churn out any old shit basically.
Marcus: That saved me saying it Paul.
Paul: Hey, do you know got some exciting news. It isn’t that exciting, but we finally know Marcus, how many episodes we’ve produced.
Marcus: I know, I saw this in the notes and this demonstrates my level of OCDness that I had to go and count them.
Paul: This is Clinton.
Marcus: I was doing to my head and I think it’s right.
Paul: Right, will he had a spreadsheet so he knew what he was talking about. This is Clinton from Twitter, who informs me that this episode that we are recording today is our 384th episode, which I think is probably a sign of some kind of mental illness on our part.
Marcus: We’ve got to keep note when 400 is. 300 passed without us even knowing or noticing.
Paul: Yeah, so we will definitely do something for 400 – I have decided.
Marcus: So that will be the next season won’t it?
Paul: The next season, yes. But I have all kinds of cunning plans which have not discussed in any way with you, Marcus. Not just for the 400th but bigger and better things for the Boagworld show.
Paul: So I’ll leave that to you later. I will just leave that hanging, or I can announce it on air as if it was just fait accompli, without even discussing it with you.
Marcus: I can’t have any say in it whatsoever.
Paul: No, that would be good. Anyway, let’s talk about this season before we talk about the future. So this is the second show in a new season and we are talking about, really because of Brett and because of Sam that we had last week, we are talking about project management stuff. But a little bit broader than that and it’s all born out of the fact that there is so much if you are a designer and so much stuff if you are a developer, there are huge amounts if you are a marketer but there really is very little in comparison for those of us that manage digital services. Whether that be in-house or whether that be working as a project manager in an agency or whether you are just managing a digital team. There are all kinds of issues around culture, around project management and around people that are huge issues which aren’t being particularly well addressed. That is what we are doing in the season. We are basically taking your questions and answering those questions and getting different people on the show to help us do that. Obviously this week it is Brett.
So we really need more questions from you, from you guys around the sort of subjects and you can submit a question by going to boag.world.com/questions and submit your questions in the comments on that post.
Okay, so Brett. Are you ready for this? Are you ready to give us amazing answers about the future of project stuff?
Brett: Yeah I hope so. I will do my best.
Paul: But before we do that let’s quickly talk about one of our sponsors and then we will dive into our question time. So our sponsor this week again is Invision, an amazing suite of productivity and design tools. Last week I talked about how easy it was to actually create those designs, those clickable prototypes just by uploading essentially your design comps and making them interactive and doing all kinds of cool stuff with them. But this week I also want to talk about how Invision is an amazing collaborative tool. It’s not just a tool you can test prototypes with, it’s a tool that you can discuss those prototypes with stakeholders. For example, stakeholders can go in and comment directly on the design itself.
Do you remember once Marcus, when we got a fax through one of our clients with annotations on? Do you remember that?
Marcus: I do but I can’t remember which client it was. Was it when we could mention?
Paul: No probably not.
Marcus: You never can, can you, the good ones?
Paul: Have you ever had that Brett? A client sent through design alterations as a fax?
Brett: Probably not since 1999.
Paul: I just love that. Make me laugh so much. But yes, essentially instead of doing all that kind of stuff and scribbling stuff and putting notes down and you misinterpreting notes, you can actually comment directly on the designs themselves. You can get an overview of all of the comments being made across all of your designs in one place or you can drill down into a specific object or specific people. See you can see comments just made directly to you. So that’s very, very useful for seeing where you are going with the design and collaborating over the design. I’m not just talking about clients here; I’m talking about any stakeholders. So for example, Mr designer, wouldn’t it be good if your developer could comment on a design before it was shown to a client and the client signs off on it and then you discover that the developer can’t build it for whatever reason? Or getting your content person to see it?
So much of what Invision offers is free forever but there are also all kinds of extra stuff that you can get if you sign up. Things like unlimited prototypes, mobile user testing, all kinds of different bits and pieces. You can get three months of that unlimited package for free by going to Invision and then entering the code INV-BOAG.
Discussion with Sam
Paul: So Brett, because any conferences coming before we get into the discussion? Because one of the things that I am really conscious of is that a lot of people really don’t know how many cool digital project management conferences are out there. There was this real need for there to be places that digital project managers can go and talk with one another and I wondered what you had coming up.
Brett: Currently planning the fourth annual Digital PM summit that will take place October 13 to the 15th in San Antonio, Texas. We are taking a little bit of a new approach this year, starting afresh with a brand-new speaker line-up which is probably why you haven’t heard from me. Just trying to mix it up since we’ve had a lot of repeat visits over the past few years and there are lot of ideas that have been submitted to us so we going to start announcing speakers next week but we’ve already sold a good number of tickets so I’m excited for that one. But also there are other events in the sphere that are popping up all over the place. We were just in Sweden a month or so ago for an event there called the DPO Forum the digital project managers. As you know, DPM UK is an event that happens every year and so it’s exciting. I think if you are not able to get out to one of the larger events, I think a lot of smaller meet up groups are cropping up in cities all over the UK and the US. Every time I do a workshop or a talk, someone comes up to me and says that they are interested in starting a new group. So I think it’s so cool and I think there was a long way to go as I think there are a lot of DPMs out there that don’t know a lot about everything is happening but I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger, which is exciting to be a part of it.
Paul: Is there much in the way for agency founders? Those kind of people that are managing teams but who would not necessarily call themselves a digital project manager?
Brett: The Bureau of Digital which is an organisation I work with hosts that PM summit, has hosted an event called Owner Camp and that is basically 3 to 4 day retreat event for owners of agencies of 10 employees and up. It’s essentially a couple of days of roundtable discussion about anything that you might have concerns over want to get ideas about or discuss with other agency owners. Anything from billing and contracts to legal and human resources. All kinds of really great topics, and I will say that I’ve been to a few of those events as a fly on the wall, helping out and I’ve learned a ton from that as well. To see this amazing sense of community built over a few days that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from other people who might view themselves as competitors in other ways. But it’s really cool and they really like to keep the conversation going through avenues that the Bureau offers through avenues such as slack. That’s been really great to see it and be a part of it too.
Paul: I went to something called the Founders Assembly which is something over here in the UK that is run by Clear Left something very similar to the Owners Camp. That was absolutely wonderful. I found it one of the best conferences I think I’ve ever been to. Just being able to spend time with other owners, discussing the challenges and problems that they face. There is one group that I don’t feel is particularly well represented with events and stuff is those that run in-house digital teams. I can’t think of anything dedicated to them, can you?
Brett: Not really but I’ve noticed in the states the bigger events like An Event Apart or Converge, you’ll find a lot of those people on in-house teams are going to those events. I think for a while we were really more web industry agency specific. I think there was little shift in that now and we do at the DPM summit see a good amount of in-house project managers are people who are managing teams, because the content is still relevant. It’s just sometimes it’s a little bit more difficult for people to troll the connection of work when it comes to clients vs stakeholders. I think sometimes difference might be within an agency setting, having a specific budget for a project whereas on an in-house team it’s more about you have limited resources and a limited timeline rather than a budget to track against. But still the core of what we talk about is the same.
Paul: It’s quite interesting there was one digital project management summit I was at at one event somewhere, where that issue of not having budget does actually change the experience quite a lot. Because you can’t say, sure we’ll do that but it’s could cost you more. It’s harder to turn away things and say no to stuff because you can’t use money as a gentle way of saying go away.
Brett: And that person tends to be your boss to somebody’s boss that the organisation that makes it a little bit more difficult as well.
Paul: Anyway should we do some of the questions that we’ve got? The first one is from Bruno and he says, as a digital service goes, the pressure pulling it in different directions increases as more stakeholders get involved. Is there a process or a structure that can mitigate that and almost a third of scope creep, more like stakeholder creep – more people getting involved in the project? Is quite an interesting question that one and I just wondered what your thoughts were on it Brett?
Brett: Yes that’s an interesting one. I think the first point is that people complicate everything, right? People will make your projects complicated no matter what. But the more you add to them the more trickier it gets. I don’t know if there is a specific process for handling that or defending a project from people coming in and being part of it but I do think the best processes you can put in place are around communications. Maybe first identifying who the project stakeholders are and then who the decision-makers are going to be. I think is really important place to start because then you start to understand who the most important voices are. Of course that doesn’t prevent you having new people join the team but I think if you come up with ways to engage new people and on boarding them to the project, that can be hugely helpful.
I managed to project once with an organisation who said that they were flat, no hierarchy and everyone had equal decision making power.
Paul: Oh no.
Brett: Exactly. So I called bullshit on that right away because I knew is going to be problematic for us to get a project done within a timeline without knowing who everyone was and what their role was going to be on the project. So I created a simple exercise to basically be in a room, in a conference room with the core project team and I listed on the whiteboard primary stakeholders, secondary stakeholders, management, executive and board. These are all categories that people might fit into. And it set up this construct for how we might see people in the organisation providing input at different levels without the course of the project. For a flat organisation like that it might be tough for them but right away they started coming up with names and we started filling the names out under each of the sections. When it came to the higher level people, that’s where it got a little more difficult because people tend to be scared of those people. They can identify them but they are not sure that they want to identify them because they are not sure when and how they want to actually engage them in the project. So I was able to force that conversation because I can picture in that situation, five or six steps down a project with things are settled, having a high level stakeholder like a Dean at University or a board member in a corporation saying, why didn’t you show me any of this work before? I’m not happy with what you have. And that puts you back to square one.
So part of that exercise is talking through the scenarios and helping them to understand what you’ve seen and getting on board with what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen on your project.
I think too on a communications thing, setting up daily, weekly or biweekly stat as updates can be really helpful if you think about it in terms of what your stakeholders want to know when they should expect those communications. Just setting up a simple report that tells them what happened last week, what’s happening now and what’s coming up, basically the things they need to know at a very high level in bullet points. And then may be a quick update on where you are percentage complete for your projects and where the budget is with that if that’s relevant. And then talking to any risks. What are the things that are happening now that are blockers for the next steps, what the things that are coming up that you are a little bit concerned about? I think being really, really clear about that helps to generate buy in. What I was saying earlier about trust, being really opening and honest about what’s happening can generate trust and interest in the project. So I think that stuff really helps.
I think to on really large projects, probably like what Bruno is talking about with is a revolving door of stakeholders, I would a point where I just kept on boarding new people and started creating an ongoing document about what had happened on the project in terms of a deliverable view. It documented things like the conversations that we had, the conflicts that have come along with it, those conversations and who wasn’t in agreement, who was the final decision maker and what happens if this new stakeholder comes in and wants to change that decision, what the impact will be on the project. I have a couple of resources on my blog which is at Brett Harned under the workshop resources article there are some things that could be helpful for Bruno and people who are in situations like that, so definitely check that out.
Paul: I approach this with my background as a user experience person, but one of the ways that I’ve often found you can limit stakeholder creep is by bringing it back to the use of the whole time. Instead of everything being decided by, oh we ought to get so and so’s opinion on this, does so and so’s opinion really matter or is it the user’s opinion that really matters here? Is using that as a basis I find makes a big difference.
The other little trick I used was often downplaying the project as well, especially at the early days of it. Let’s say you were rolling out, let’s take a typical web design project where you are redesigning the corporate website. So all and sundry want to express an opinion on it. Everybody cares about the website and everybody wants a say on it. The way that I tend to start projects like that is talk about building a prototype. Would just build a prototype for now we just experimenting. You get some project momentum behind it because people don’t care quite so much about the prototype and you don’t need to worry about whether it’s exactly in line with the corporate branding or whether it’s going to integrate into every back-end system, you can just concentrate on creating user experience and getting some data to backup the decisions that you’ve made before you then start rolling stakeholders into the mix to let them express their opinions and get involved as well. I often find that once you’ve got a working prototype in place and you got some data from user testing, a lot of people tend to go quite quiet because they can see an alternative and something tangible the definitely works.
The danger is where you get stakeholders talking about a project in the abstract because we all have slightly different mental pictures of what that abstract is, if that makes sense.
Paul: Oh and the other thing that I like, did I mention this last week on the show Marcus? The idea that government Digital service won’t let you be a stakeholder on a project and this you’ve sat in on usability testing in the last six weeks?
Marcus: No you didn’t mention that.
Paul: That’s a great thing that they’ve got to make sure that all the people that want comments actually a) committed to the project and b) at least have got a user’s perspective on it. They say if you haven’t been involved in user testing or interacting with the user over the last six weeks then you don’t get to comment on the project. That gets rid of all people who can’t be arsed but who want to express an opinion and also ensures that those who are bothered at least have the user’s perspective on it, which I like that plan.
Brett: Interesting, I like that too.
Paul: Okay, let’s do another question. This one is from Darryl Snow. How the heck do we really work out how to charge your work and justify our costs? Oh the number of times I’ve heard that question and conversation happen. You guessed don’t you? Is that not how it happens? How much you can get away with?
Brett: Is not an easy question right? What you would charge for your services is different from what I would charge from mine for a number of reasons. To me it’s a really personal thing that an individual or an organisation needs to explore their own and essentially starting with a really firm understanding of what you do and why you do it will help you get to that number in that answer. I also think it’s a lot about educating your clients or prospective clients about what you do, what your story is and how you think about your work and how its valuable to your clients. I think once you are able to tell that story and make a positive impact or how you might make a positive impact with them through the work that you do together, money matters a little bit less.
Paul: See you are slightly hinting there at the idea of value-based pricing. What you think about that idea of instead of charging based on the number of hours you do, the amount of value that the project brings to the organisation?
Brett: I don’t have a ton of experience with value-based pricing but has a project manager who has had to manage budgets against timelines scope documents I probably would find it a little bit difficult. The one thing that I always like when it comes to estimating is using a tool called a work breakdown structure, which is a pretty traditional project management tool and is something like the project management institute would teach. Basically they idea of it is you take a task and you break it up into subtasks and by doing that, by breaking it down and understanding all the steps you are able to apply a value to those things, whether that be a dollar amount, hours, minutes, weeks however you want to estimate. I really like the idea of having a pretty solid understanding of the effort that something will take, whereas with value-based pricing you are basing it on the value of the customer. So for me I think what I was getting at was that once you get to that value, you can place a value on maybe what your rate is or how much you charge for one thing and you can track against. But I am open to the value-based pricing conversation I just haven’t had much experience with it.
Paul: Marcus, from a sales perspective, I don’t think we’ve ever talked on the show about your attitudes to value-based pricing. How do you see it?
Marcus: I can remember talking with someone who was a major proponent of it.
Paul: Oh Jonathan Stark?
Marcus: Yes. And I remember that I’m thinking that it doesn’t really work for me, to the point of that I can’t really remember how it works.
Paul: It’s like anything mind, it’s vaguely open to interpretation in terms of how you apply it. But I think the purist view of value-based pricing says, let’s take an easy example of an e-commerce site. You been asked to improve the checkout process and you estimate that by improving the checkout process you can increase sales by 2%. Therefore you can calculate how much that is worth in revenue and take essentially a percentage of that.
Marcus: That’s right, and for that particular example great. That’s currently the ad agency model isn’t it? The ad agency goes into big corporations and say if you work for us, we will sell you 1 million more cars than you are currently selling, therefore we are going to take ex-percentage of that and everybody wins. Which does work but if you are redesigning a logo, that’s a little bit harder to measure what it’s worth. I think that’s why I thought I wasn’t so sure. Also be doing this pages and as Brett just said, my mind is in the, we charge for the effort we put in.
The way to find what the right rate for you is, there are many, many documents that list rates for different types of designers, developers, print designers, creative directors, all those kind of things and you can find them on the Internet within two minutes. We’ve done that over the years and we’ve even looked at some American ones and you think, do our rates fit within expectations, do they fit with what a London web design is currently charging? We are a little bit below that I think so therefore we are just writers we are a little bit outside of London. That is where I would start, going back to the original question, seeing what the average as they are normally displayed from lowest to highest and just see where you are, what your experiences and where you think you should fit between those lowest and highest rates and have a go. If you find that you are managing to make profit on that then you have probably got it about right.
Brett: I also think there is a need to be said for having a strong network of people that you can lean on. So we talked about the Owner Camp situation and the event that you went to Paul, I think once you meet people who are on your level and you are comfortable sharing its really easy to have conversations about benchmarking and what you do and what your services are and what you charge for it. Once you are comfortable in that situation I think conversations like that can be so helpful.
Paul: I’m still slightly, although I don’t think value-based pricing in the way that I’ve described it would work in most situations, there is another part of me that really doesn’t like having an hourly rate. That doesn’t feel that works. So for example, in my situation what people are now hiring for is my years of experience and my knowledge and expertise in a particular area. So it’s perfectly feasible for me to have a half an hour conversation with somebody that gives them a huge amount of value because it’s a particular problem and I can give them a solution or an approach to that problem which they would never have thought about themselves. And that’s only taken me half an hour. Yet I could spend a day producing a document or a report or something like that that may not give them actually is much value in terms of insights is that 30 minute conversation is. So although maybe value-based pricing is about how much value I bring to the conversation, I tend not to charge or have a daily rate. If you look at one of my proposals you won’t see a breakdown of daily rates, you’ll see a breakdown of tasks and the price associated to that. Yes, I do have in my head, I can calculate how long it’s going to take me and I have a rough rate around how much I charge for that but that’s a flexible number depending on what value I think it brings.
Marcus: You charge a high rate, as you shoot because you’re highly experienced. That’s how it works and that’s why creative directors are charged out more highly than a junior designer, although I can’t bear all this junior, mid-level and senior stuff. That’s the way to combat that and you just said you do still work it out in your head. All right that half an hour piece of gold that you’ve given somebody, be thankful that you can give it to them.
Paul: But for the work that you do, do you have a charge out rate? Because we are in very similar situations really. We are both doing consultancy work, we have both got significant experience behind us and I’m just interested in about how much you personally charge.
Brett: I had literally similarly to you Paul, I think on some things there might be more than an hourly rate, particularly if I’m actually going to manage a project with somebody, there is typically a budget for that and I have an hourly rate that I would charge for that work. And typically I would work within the budget that they have in a reasonable way, and then for some of the other more consulting work I do think there is a value applied to that but then there is a target for me if I’m going to be taken out of work for whole day and if I’m travelling somewhere, there are a lot of things like would consider. But I also know that I have to be open to discussion about those things because I feel I am so new to it that I wouldn’t want out price myself for someone especially if it’s a project I’m really interested in doing. So I typically like to have conversations with prospective clients about what their budgets are and what their goals are so that I can try to price it in a way that I think is reasonable for both of us.
Paul: I don’t try to the beginning of this about making it up, but to some extent you are. You do have to feel your way over these things as there are all kinds of factors. Marcus mentioned looking at your competitors and other people in the industry, you got to take in geographic location that makes difference, things like the value that you bring makes difference, the amount of time is spent and where you are spending that. Where are spending it? Are you working remotely from home you having to commute into somewhere? Things like, as you’ve just said Brett, how much you want to do the project. If this is a project I really want to do then I may well discount it while another project or you not sure if I want to do my get charged extra. You can lie about those kinds of things and say that there is some specific formula that you use but I think in truth it is all a bit of give-and-take and a bit of discussion on backwards and forwards over it.
I found one particular word that disturbs me in Darryl’s question which is how do we justify our costs. That word justify I don’t feel a need to. Either someone can choose to hire me or they can choose not to. I don’t need to justify that cost.
Marcus: Your justification is in the story when you’re talking to them on the phone or in your proposal. You’re not actually justifying this is why we charge what we charge, but you are saying we are the right people to do the job for you. That story you are telling is the justification of your price and as you say Paul, if they don’t like the price than they can go elsewhere.
Brett: That’s exactly what I was say Marcus. This all within how you are educating your clients and explain the value of your work to them. I think the place where people might have a harder time and a need to justify costs is if a client asks for some kind of new out of scope request or a new project they just want to understand why you need to charge them so much more money to build something new or something extra. In that case that’s when I use that work breakdown structure, just to say, okay so you really want to know why things cost so much? These are all of the things that we have to do based on the simple request that you just given us. A lot of the times our clients don’t know the details. If you can break it down in really simple terms and explain the level of effort of something, that justifies the cost.
Paul: Yes educating the client about the process is a big part of justifying costs and explaining costs because you are right, a lot of the time why should they understand what goes into it?
Okay that brings us on to our third question which is from Glenn. Glenn says, and the wording in these questions is so telling, how can I drag the right information out of clients and set the correct goals for projects in the initial discovery phase. Glenn, the word drag says so much. And yes, I feel for you. Brett, this is your bread and butter and you must have to deal with the was kind of stuff all the time?
Brett: Absolutely. I think it all gets back to getting to know your clients and your stakeholders because once you do that you start to get information so much more easily and they tend to just bring things to you because they trust you and they know you and they know what you need from them. So I think it starts with yourselves. If you going to do a discovery phase you need to talk to them early on about what they are going to do and what their role in the project is going to be and what information you are going to need for them. Because sometimes it just takes time. Getting back to the last question we talked about educating clients. They don’t know what you need unless you tell them and if you make the right case for something they are going to be on your side and get you whatever you need. Is going to take time because clients are typically, their job is many projects and yours may just be one of the really small ones.
I often think conducting a first meeting with your point of contact once you’ve won the project that explores what the discovery phase is, may be reiterating some of those things you discussed in the sales process and reiterating what you may need can be really important setup plan for how you will get the information you need. Explaining what you are doing, why you are doing it, why you need the info and then talking to them about what could happen if you don’t get the info you need. That can definitely light a fire with people who may feel a little lazier or reticent to give you the information you need.
I think in addition to that, mostly everyone now does stakeholder interviews and now, right? I’m a really big fan of project managers specifically being a part of those interviews, whether or not you are in there taking notes and listening for things related to project goals, potential risks or maybe some internal politics within your client organisation. Hearing all of those things in a conversation can help you to move a project forward because the more you can absorb the better you’ll do.
I also like to add some questions to stakeholder interviews scripts because they tend to be specifically about the users of the product or projects and directions about marketing and maybe specifics about IT. But I think it’s really important to uncover people’s opinions about the goals of the project, talking to people about how they may have run similar projects and what kind of challenges they may have had with those projects so that you can get ahead of them. Talking about potential risks and being really open about, these are the things that I could see that could possibly hold us up what you think about them? I think all those things are really important and help you to drag that information out of your clients. But it’s all just about opening up a dialogue and just talking about the project is a partnership and as soon as you build that partnership and that relationship, things seem to come a lot easier.
Marcus: I think from personal experience, you need to speak to as senior people as you possibly can. That’s really important. You will often find with very senior people that you will get cancelled at the last minute and then he will get cancelled again and things will be delayed. Just make sure that those meetings with senior people do happen even if it is just over the phone. If you don’t do that and you avoid that the be missing the right information. That’s my personal opinion.
Paul: As well, I think sometimes it’s how we present our initial discovery phase is. Even the term, discovery phase, it’s got this implication in it that it’s for us. With the outside people coming in and we need to learn about all of this stuff before we are capable of delivering the project. The implication there is that it doesn’t have any real value for the client, because it’s about us learning rather than the client getting something from it. As a result, clients are going to be a little bit reticent to put a lot of work into it really. This is your problem. So I’m always careful when I create proposals to make sure that the discovery phase has deliverables of its own that bring some tangible value to the client. For example, if I do stakeholder interviews, I make sure that there is a very light report that goes alongside that that flags certain key issues that the client isn’t necessarily aware of and doesn’t need to know is going on. If we do use the surveys I make sure that that information gets back to the client and provides value to the client, just so that they are more engaged with the process as it can provide tangible benefits to them.
Brett: Absolutely. I like the idea, and I don’t know if you guys have done this but a lot of agencies will sign clients for just an initial discovery phase. And in selling that it can really explain why you need to do it and the information that you need to build the goals to talk about how you’ll get the project done together, I think is really important. I’ve also been in that situation where from the agency perspective, there were enough red flags for us to say, sorry I think we’re going to have to walk away from this project. But here is the work that came out of it and with it is a brief and what we think you need and a potential plan for how it will get done and you can go to someone else and try to execute that.
Paul: Which is great because that’s great for the client as well because the client can equally go, thank you very much for the plan that you’ve given us and all the information but we don’t feel you are right. So it’s putting the relationship at a low risk because they haven’t signed up for a massively big project.
Brett: As a project manager I love that approach because there is nothing worse than getting stuck in a nine-month project with someone you can’t stand and someone who de motivates the team and you know that things are going to be held up.
Marcus: As a salesman I love that as well because if we are going from discovery right the way through to delivery of some new site, the chances are that I’m guessing about what it’s going to cost further down the line. Whereas if you can do discovery phase first, you are going to have a much better idea of actual cost.
Paul: So there we go. We’ve answered that one. You want to do your discovery phase as a separate project upfront and you’ll be sorted.
All right will wrap up at that point, there are hundreds of questions that we can keep going with and no doubt we will have Brett back on the show to answer some more questions later on in the season if he’s up for it.
Right now I just want to talk about our second sponsor of the day which is Qwilr. So last week we talked about how Qwilr allows you to create great looking proposals and it really is a superb tool that I have to say I’ve switched to it relatively recently and I swear that my conversion rate has gone up, although I actually haven’t got enough hard data to be able to judge. But it feels like things are going really well so that’s great and to a large extent it’s just because the proposals look great and compelling.
But it’s got some powerful functionality in it beyond just making your proposals look great but I did want to focus on. One is the fact that you can have optional items, so you can have a pricing grid of all the different things like stakeholder interviews, usability testing etc. you can breakdown your proposal and have costs against each one. But you can also say that some of those items are optional so they can go through if they want and say no I don’t want you doing user survey but are definitely want you doing stakeholder interviews. You go even further and say, okay, we recommend doing six stakeholder interviews but if they want to go for more they can go in and increase the number and you can set a minimum and a maximum so you don’t kill yourself and it will increment the price accordingly. So this means that they can play around with the proposal. Of course this is great for getting around some of the issues that you have about going in and pitching a number that may be wildly too high or wildly to low. This allows them to tailor the proposal for themselves. And even better, they can then go in once they have set it up the way they want and sign off there and then online to it. So they can go through and do an e-signature, so it’s got a full audit tracking and it’s as good as signing a contract and you can include your terms and conditions and everything else all straight on the proposal. In fact, if you have a situation, this obviously wouldn’t apply to the kind of work that any Marcus, Brett on myself to you but maybe if you do smaller websites, they can even go in and at that point and pay the deposit online there and then. So you can do all kinds of great things and behind-the-scenes you’ve got great analytics, notifications when people have viewed your proposal, all kinds of goodies.
You can get a free trial for all of that and give it a go, play with it yourself and see what you think by going to boag.world/proposal but you can also get 50% off for three months if you use the promo code BOAG.
So that about wraps it up for this week, remember to send in some more questions. We are excited to see what great questions you’ve got the season as I think is going to be a good one.
Marcus, do you have a joke cross?
Marcus: Yes, more from Nick Johnson-Hill, which are all nice quick ones which I’m sure you’ll be very glad to hear.
‘What’s the difference between a well-dressed man on a unicycle and a poorly dressed man on a bike?’
Paul: Okay, go on.
Paul: Oh for crying out loud. Nick has really found your level.
Marcus: It’s exactly the type of joke I like and you are just going to have to put up with it for a few more weeks and then I’ll go and find more.
Paul: That’s fine. No, we can keep going. There was something I was just wanted to mention two people before we go which is that I’m really trying to push the podcast a little bit more at the moment so I’d really appreciate it if people would take the time to pop along to iTunes or wherever and right as a review as to what you think of it, presuming is a nice review. If it’s not a nice review then don’t bother, just leave it. But if you think you can say nice things about the show it will be really appreciated.
Okay that’s it for this week. Next week we’re going to be joined by someone from Clear Left – one of their project managers. They’ve got to project managers and they can’t make up their mind between them which one wants to come on the show first. Will probably get both of them eventually.
Marcus: Get both of them!
Paul: Yes, but only really want one of them at a time.
Marcus: We can shine the spotlight on them and find out their innermost secrets.
Brett: Does that mean they can to pick their favourite first?
Paul: I don’t know. I think it’s just going to be who is not on holiday or who is not too busy. The reason why I said one of them Marcus was because I was thinking of you and having to sync all those different audio files together.
Marcus: I was hoping they would be in the same room, but yes, you are right. Thank you Paul.
Paul: See? I consider you.
Paul: All right, that’s it for this week. Huge thanks to Brett the coming on the show and giving some great answers to these questions and hopefully will have you back on soon.
Brett: I would love to. Thank you so much.
Paul: And thank you everybody for listening as well, much appreciated. See you next week, goodbye.