So, you’ve agreed on what you’ll deliver and signed the contract, but then a stakeholder asks for one more thing. And one more thing. Change is bound to happen when you’re shipping software — how do you keep your project on track? In part three of the Catalyst Live! event series, Paul and Rich share tips on managing change from the get-go and explain when it’s okay to say no. As always, they top it all off by answering listener questions.
Rich Ziade Dates with I think walnuts stuffed in them and wrapped in bacon.
Paul Ford Okay, we’ve alienated 20% of the audience. But the other 80% probably would like lunch.
RZ I searched for dates in stock photography. And this is what I came up with. This is also, by the way, maybe an example of culinary scope creep.
[music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
PF Hey! It’s a webinar!
RZ It is a webinar.
PF Oh, yeah.
RZ Thank you all for joining us on this beautiful Thursday in New York. We are actually in the office in New York City.
PF We are in the office, we have people helping us, it is just magical.
RZ You are all attending Steadfast Against Scope Creep. [Paul makes horn sound] This is a live webinar Postfight Podcast, we’ll get to what all that means.
PF I’m ready.
RZ You’re ready Paul?
RZ Here we go. We are recording this event. It’ll end up on YouTube. As we go, if you’ve got questions, type them into that Zoom chat window. If there are questions that are worth answering. We will answer them.
PF Feel free to confront us a little bit. We’re fine with it.
RZ Who are you, Paul?
PF Oh, good question. So Rich, you and I are the co founders of Postlight.
RZ That’s right.
PF Now we used to have different roles. I used to be the CEO and you used to be the President.
RZ That’s right.
PF Last time we did one of those were our roles. But now we’re back to co-founders. There’s wonderful new leadership. And we’re free to just run our mouths all over the place again.
RZ Sort of.
PF Sort of.
RZ Postlight is a digital product studio. We’re based in New York City. But we are truly everywhere now. I think we have more people outside of New York than in New York.
PF I think that’s right.
RZ This is a photo from when we were all together—this is 2018.
PF You can actually see COVID being transmitted in that photo.
RZ In this photo. Exactly. We build really cool things, technology product, we have designers, engineers, product managers, lots of great case studies on the site.
PF And there’s 100 of us now there.
RZ There is 100 of us, Paul.
PF A lot of our work is, it used to be very focused on building the thing. As we’ve grown, there’s a lot more strategy, a lot more—
RZ More conversations. I’ll the help you decide what you should do next.
PF Prototyping and design exploration and yes, sort of all held together by product strategy. We make the big things.
RZ This is the array of big brand logos.
PF Ah, look at that! You know you can trust a company when they can put logos on the screen like that.
RZ This is part of a podcast, we’ve done 300 episodes.
PF Isn’t that wild?
RZ That is wild. That is wild. The podcast started in 1966.
PF Bob Dylan was one of the first guests and he came on and just he just yelled at us.
RZ You can find us on any podcast—
PF Podcast medium.
RZ Medium. Thank you, Paul.
PF Because we listen to a lot of podcasts, you can tell. [Rich laughs] Overbite is one I think.
RZ Check us out. It’s a really good podcast, Paul. Tell us about Catalyst.
PF Catalyst! It’s, you know, when you hit a certain point as an organization, that’s the time in your life when you have to write a whitepaper. And so we have done a few. This is our attempt to gather all the information that we have about how to ship software inside of big organizations, not for profits, for profits, governments, whatever, where they just don’t want to ship new software. How do you do it? Because we do a lot of it. And this particular conversation about scope creep actually comes out of this white paper. Notice at the bottom there’s a URL. What does that say to you?
RZ That you can go get it for free.
PF Oh, my god for free. You just threw that in there. I guess, what the hell, let’s take off that fantastic price tag. Give it away starting a year ago or today.
RZ This is the end of our shameless self promotion.
PF Is it? [Paul laughs]
RZ Well, no, it never really is.
PF Never ends.
RZ Alright, let’s get into it. Paul, do you know where this is?
PF Somehow I have learned where this is. But I’m gonna just—from context clues, what I would assume is it’s close to a bridge somewhere. It’s called the Bridgeview Diner?
RZ It’s the Bridgeview Diner, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Paul.
PF Boy, that never comes up.
RZ You know what’s cooler than New York City diners, Paul?
PF Oh, god, look at that.
RZ Diner menus.
PF Look at that. Look at from the griddle. It’s like a hierarchy with bullet points and options. There’s like 20,000 potential griddle base breakfast in that rectangle.
RZ There’s a lot going on.
PF That’s what I like to see.
RZ I’m bringing this up because I want to tell you a story about someone I hired.
RZ Years ago. He wanted to be a product manager or project manager. And he said I want to do this and I think I can do a good job. And I said, look, I’m sorry, Jim. Jim’s not his real name, using a different name. You don’t have any experience. He’s like, well, I worked at a diner. Do you know how much change I have to deal with? I said, what do you mean? said nobody orders breakfast off the menu. Everybody’s got specific things they want—
PF 20,000 options, not enough. People still want—
RZ People still tweak it.
PF Light rye toast.
RZ And you got to be on your feet and you got to deal with change.
PF Can you swirl the eggs? I like a swirl egg.
RZ That’s right.
PF Yeah. How’d it go?
RZ I hired him!
RZ I just loved the pitch. And he’s had a very successful career as a project manager.
PF Okay, so just from from diner to product manager.
RZ Exactly. So before we get into how to deal with scope creep—
PF Did you tip him? Sorry, go ahead.
RZ You first have to scope.
PF What is scope, right? Scope, you see a person signing a document here above implied is that kind of menu, that outline of all the things that we promise we’re going to do for you.
RZ It’s the handshake. You’ve agreed to do a thing.
PF Well it’s the handshake written on paper signed, that you’re contractually obligated to deliver.
RZ Correct, yes. You’re going to get a certain thing for a certain amount of money. Or if it’s internal, it’s certain amount of budget. Sometimes you have to clear budget to get the thing.
PF All good. We just agreed, it’s done now! It’s done. We did it.
RZ Well, we have a common understanding of a goal.
RZ And then what happens?
PF Who is this?
RZ This is the stakeholder.
PF Okay, it looks like the stakeholders child, but it’s actually the stakeholder.
RZ It’s actually the stakeholder.
PF And someone shows up, you’ve written down this beautiful thing. You figured it all out. And you signed it, the ink is wet, but drying and now someone has a big idea.
RZ And that’s what this is, right? You all agreed on one thing. But now the stakeholder wants to add more to it or wants to change something. Sometimes they just want to change stuffs.
PF Damn, damn shame every time it happens.
RZ Oh, well, it’s not—we’re going to get to that.
RZ It’s worth noting, we are experts. And we are experts not but just because we’ve shipped many, many things over the years, we are experts because as an agency that you hire for money, that you can fire anytime you want, you can call anytime you want, and yell at them about how things need to be better. You are actually in an incredibly compromised position.
PF We’re vulnerable.
RZ Always! That’s the point. And we charge more for that, vulnerability.
PF Often people would like us to go home so they get us out of the room. So they could do the stuff themselves. In the beginning of relationships. We have to earn trust, build the relationship, lock in and deliver, or we would get sent home.
RZ That’s right.
PF So our entire existence is predicated around building a relationship.
RZ And there is nothing more terrifying than moving the goal line on an agency.
PF Oh boy, because you’re gonna have to come back and tell people here like, yeah, yeah.
RZ Paul, do you know what this is?
PF I do, because I like to ride my bike and walk around New York City. And you see these all over the place on construction sites. This means a new elevator is getting installed.
RZ New York City is constantly getting rebuilt.
PF It’s just under construction—it’s constantly falling apart.
RZ It’s costly falling apart, but it’s also constantly getting new restaurants, getting replaced by another restaurant, whatever it may be. And so there’s a few things you can do before you start the work that I think can help you fend off scope creep.
PF What was the search that you used to get this image?
RZ This is iStock photo, I typed in “dog in suit”, Paul.
PF Sure. Of course you did. Alright, well, here we go before you start.
RZ So take the time, sit down with the stakeholder and talk through what they expect.
PF Good advice, seems a little common sense to me.
RZ Write it all down. This is your scope, the more detail the less ambiguity, the less ambiguity, the less exposure.
PF You know, you use to practice law. This makes a lot of sense to me.
RZ Yes, there’s actually a clause that’s commonly put in contracts called the merger clause, which essentially means that whatever we agreed on is all entirely here and nowhere else.
PF So there’s no—even if I said that morning, we’re going to put a purple hat on all the dogs.
RZ It’s not in the paper. It’s not in the contract, you can’t come to me later and say, but we talked.
PF That’s the merger clause.
RZ That’s the merger clause. Now the thing is, there’s—I’m gonna put a red asterisk here.
PF Oof. There it is. Typical lawyer stuff.
RZ Exactly. Another beautiful piece of stock photography.
PF What was the search term for this?
RZ Baby shoes.
PF That’s a little unexciting. Sorry, everybody.
RZ Buy shoes one size bigger for your nine year old.
PF Yeah, you know it’s gonna be bigger than they need, right?
RZ Don’t be deceptive. But give yourself some wiggle room, there’s going to be things that are happening, this is going to come into—we’re going to get into this later on.
PF They’re gonna want analytics on the website, and they didn’t really have a special kind.
PF And just, there’s gonna be a week here and a week there and it’s gonna add up.
RZ That’s right. We’ve come to terms, we’ve signed on the dotted line. Here we go.
PF What was the search for this?
RZ I think sleezy sales guy?
PF This just looks like a guy who does summer stock who’s like trying to get a little money from stock photography.
RZ He is, actually. So then they come in with that change. Come in, and they ask for a thing. And this is going to happen. You’ve got some people who are pretty excited about the project.
PF Of course!
RZ Right. And a lot of times it’s a lousy idea. So I want to share—like this is someone that vacationed in—
PF Oh yeah.
PF The Germany, American suburban experience. That’s pretty exciting.
RZ This is a bad change.
PF Oof. What happened there? Is that a Rolls Royce?
RZ I’m gonna say concept car of some kind.
PF I hope so.
RZ It’s a bad scene. It’s not going—
PF We should tell people this was supposed to be a metaphor and while we were rehearsing my son came up behind us was like, that’s the coolest car I’ve ever seen.
RZ He was pretty blown away.
PF What am I even looking at?
RZ This is I’m gonna say a liquid cooled gaming PC that has lots of going. Is this good?
PF Kind of, yeah. Okay, you broke me on this one. I would absolutely play—
RZ Mini doughnuts, cheese curds and jalapenos with gravy.
PF Okay, I know that again. I know the case you’re trying to make. Have you ever been this drunk?
PF I’ve been this drunk. Yeah, absolutely. Not in eight years, now that I’m a responsible father.
RZ No, I understand, of course. Sometimes that extra thing is a really bad idea.
PF Look, people are going to show up and they’re going to have solutions. Software is exciting.
RZ It is exciting. And stakeholders are excited because their name’s behind it. They’ve been advocating for it, they got the money for it. Off we go.
PF They start to see the power that’s coming from it. Right? Like I gotta get in there.
RZ That’s right. So before we get into how to attack this particular situation, we should talk about where the idea originated from. So where is that idea coming from? We just talked about pretty much the stakeholder being—
PF Okay, so software is under development, and people are coming and asking me for new things. So stakeholders shows up. I want every single one of the avatars to wear a little hat. Okay. So what do you do now?
RZ We have different approaches, Paul. Listening, though, is key.
PF You have to actually hear them out. You can’t reactively say no.
RZ They’re excited. They’re excited about the thing. They’re excited about their idea. You have to hear him out. You have to listen. If it’s a bad idea, this is I think, where you and I diverged. I say the words I don’t think this is a good idea.
PF You do, you say that a lot. And it’s really been helpful in our relationship. It clarifies a lot. I am more of a diplomat.
RZ You like to work through it.
PF I like to run to the whiteboard.
RZ I’ve seen it.
PF But it’s not, it’s actually not performance. I fully internalize the idea, because I feel that it sort of deserves that. And then I try to make it work in the system. And then if it falls down, then I report back and I’m like, wow, boy, I’m sorry.
RZ Yeah. What if it is a genuinely good idea?
PF This is actually where it gets even trickier. Bad ideas are simple to triage. Good ideas require you to prioritize and communicate all kinds of subtle stuff about software. And they’re hard!
RZ Yes. And then we can get on dates.
PF That’s right. That’s the key thing. So that’s the stakeholder.
RZ Dates are one of your most powerful push back levers.
PF I mean, this is—if you spend time with Rich Ziade, and I have. I have assignments from you.
RZ People who got behind the thing probably committed to other people. There are commitments that have been made. And nobody likes to see dates slip. Nobody wants to look bad. It is a lever that you have.
PF It’s all schedule, ultimately.
RZ It’s all schedule, ultimately. So if you’re telling someone “This is going to affect the launch date.” They pause and they hear it out and then they start to sort of calm down, right?
PF That’s right.
RZ If the ask seems worthwhile, you can talk about bartering. Like maybe we can take something off. And maybe we can do less of this and more of that.
PF Again, depends on the partner, right? Like sometimes they’re going to freak out and other times they’re going to be like, okay, this helps me understand the prioritization. And then, you know, can I still have it after? You know, there’s getting to that relationship before the ask. That’s really important.
RZ I want to talk about another source of scope creep, I didn’t know what to put in for technologist. I had an array of logos like React and Angular.
PF We should just confess that you bought a gaming PC.
RZ I did. So I’m excited about the RIM. Let’s actually go back to the Duke Nukem story. What happened with Duke Nukem? Why did it go 15 years? What was happening at the time was—
PF So wait. Before that Duke Nukem 1 comes out. Huge success.
RZ Spectacular success.
PF Platformer game, 2D and suddenly the guy who made Duke Nukem now has unbelievable amounts of money.
RZ A lot of resources, a lot of money, a great team.
PF He’s gonna make the next version and it’s going to be an even bigger hit.
RZ Quake 2 comes out.
RZ He’s like, I gotta license this engine. He goes to ID software and licenses it. A year later, the Unreal Engine comes out. He’s like, oh, start again! We’re going to put it on a reel.
PF He just can’t stop. Because computers keep getting better and faster. And this one is going to be even better.
RZ He kept rebooting it. And kept rebooting it. And look, they’re all good ideas. They’re all good frameworks.
PF But it took 15 years to ship something that should have taken two or three years at most.
PF Oh, well, first of all, that is amazing. I want to see it and learn it and understand it. That is cool.
RZ Don’t patronize me.
PF Not patronizing you. I really do want to understand, but the thing is, is like what the platform that we’re currently using the way we architected it, I can guarantee that we’re going to hit that deal. And that’s so hard to do. And I know that that thing does that. But like, you know, what I’ll do is I’ll drill in on stuff, I’ll be like, what about string processing? What about like, you go in and try to find—
RZ This is your approach.
PF Where does it fall down? Because it always does. There’s 20% that isn’t done. And that’s the murder is 20% at the end, whereas it was something big like React. It’s all done. It’s done. We know we can ship.
RZ Shipping trumps refining and retooling.
PF Boy, does it?
RZ Yeah. I mean, we’re touching on something here, which is that a good product leader, a good advocate, is subtly saying no, a lot of the time. I mean, that’s what you’re doing. That’s part of the job, right? I want to talk about what I think is the most important source of scope creep, where you do need to stand down.
PF We had our technologists, we had our stakeholders, now you’ve got users.
RZ Yes. If a clear pattern emerges, after you’ve observed users using your tool, whether it’s through a prototype or feedback, or a survey, or maybe there’s an early version—
PF Notice this implies actually getting users to use the tool, even early.
RZ Even a small group. A key term here, a key word here is ‘pattern’. If one user is saying, look, I really need this to work with FileMaker, or something very specific to their needs. Shortly, you don’t hear that again, file it away. Don’t just go and implement the change, right? But if you’re seeing the same request over different places from different cohorts, then you need to take it seriously. I would argue that user feedback is the number one reason to impact the roadmap of a product.
PF I mean, you’re lucky when you get to this phase, right? Like getting to the users should always be the first goal.
RZ And that’s implicit here.
PF Yeah, but it isn’t always, that’s the problem with scope creep. Is the users get pushed out.
RZ That’s right.
PF This is a meta issue for the first two, which is it’s a wonderful framework, but will it get us to the users faster? For stakeholders, this is a great idea. But will it get us to the users?
RZ Yeah, that’s right. So now, Paul, I want to present the nightmare scenario.
PF Oh, God, this looks really scary.
RZ That’s what I was going for.
PF I don’t want to go through those woods.
RZ I want everything, Paul. Including the thing I just told you about last night.
PF We’re talking about software, right?
RZ I want it on the same date that you committed to.
PF I mean, this is complicated—
RZ Including the thing we talked about yesterday.
PF That was a really big thing.
RZ Samsung made a phone that folds on itself like a book.
PF But when you do that, nobody wants that.
RZ I need it to work on that phone.
PF Samsung shouldn’t have made that.
RZ And I don’t want to spend any more money.
PF Where do we even go here? What are we gonna do? Okay, so we’ve had—
RZ You’ve tried all your tricks. You’ve heard me out.
PF This person’s here. This person’s real. We’ve dealt with this person many times. You had this person has a boss.
RZ I did.
PF Where it just is their MO. They come to you and they’re like, I will now descend on you like 10,000 bats flapping your face asking you for everything. And if you say no, I will stare into a steely eyes and curse your soul.
RZ That’s right. And I’ve experienced it and you’ve had to handle it. We’re going to share a really dirty trick, Paul.
PF Okay, so you’re gonna hear them out, then what?
RZ If someone comes to you real excited about a thing on a Monday—
PF Ah, Monday. Oof.
RZ Tell them you’re gonna go talk to the team, and you need a couple of days. When you come back to them on Wednesday, they’re never as excited.
PF I’ll give you the example. Postlight, we pitch work, we send out proposals. I’ve sent out many proposals. The day you send out the proposal, that moment when you click, 100% chance you’re gonna get it. Can’t wait. This is gonna be incredibly exciting. You wake up the next morning, 50%. That attenuation rate of excitement is incredibly high.
RZ Two weeks of silence.
PF Down to zero. We actually have a rule in the firm which is silence is just silence because otherwise you interpret. Don’t interpret silence. Just keep living your life. This is real. You give an excited person two days. And that idea is less exciting. So this is beautiful friction.
RZ You’re not playing a game here. They’ve just come down, right? They just got a moment of inspiration and they just calm down. So we’re gonna keep talking.
PF This is the killer.
RZ Yeah, walk us through this.
PF Well, look, ask me for a feature.
RZ It has to work on flip phones.
PF No, ask me again.
RZ It has to export to CSV.
PF Can’t really do that for you.
RZ It has to import to Google Slides.
PF I can’t do that either. What happened in your brain on the third time enough?
PF Yeah. If I tell you no three times, by the fourth time, you’re going to say I’ve got someone who can help you. You’re going to parachute people into my world and destroy it.
RZ Or they start having conversations elsewhere. So you have to build some goodwill as you go.
PF So what you got to do is let them ask, you actually get wins early if you can, because then you bank them. You only get to say no once you’ve bagged some wins for them.
RZ That’s right. All right.
PF Sometimes you just can’t give them what they need. This seems like the simplest slide the world. This was years for me. You were born, you came out of the womb and you look to your mother, you said “I’m sorry, this is not possible.” [Rich & Paul laugh]
RZ That’s not true. But yeah. Look, I think what we’re getting here is you actually have a lot more power than you think. Especially if you’re far along.
PF We’re back to dates. We want it now.
RZ We want it. You’re at 70% of the way there.
PF I have some friends who are renoing their house. It burned three years ago. They’re moving in. Doesn’t matter if it’s done. I have a friend who is doing a reno and he moved in in a tent. And it got done two weeks later. It’s just that moving on.
RZ You want to finish it up, right. Alright. So Paul, guess what I’m going to show you next. Do you know who this person is?
PF You know, I’ve never seen this deck before, even actually been to this company before. So I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?
RZ This is M. Night Shyamalan.
PF Ohhhh, that’s a twist.
RZ This is a plot twist. This guy is known for making movies where you’re watching the movie—
PF And it gets really bad, then the movie becomes terrible.
RZ Well, it turns out everyone’s dead that you’ve been watching.
PF He did the one where it’s like they go to the beach, but you get old in one day.
RZ At the beach?
PF Yeah, that happened to me today. I’m actually 20. Anyway, keep moving.
RZ Alright, so here’s the plot twist, Paul.
PF Wait, you did a plot twist in a webinar?!
RZ I know.
PF My eyes. Okay. Change?
RZ In product development is not only normal, but good.
PF It’s a crazy—I’ve never heard anything like this before. No, wait, hold on. We have been saying all along how to say no. When to say yes. But ultimately, what we’ve been advising people to do is stick to the roadmap and stick to the contract.
RZ Defend the plan.
PF Absolutely. See, now you just told me something different. What twisted game are you playing?
RZ Software development is really, really hard dude. And to get it right, nobody’s working off an exact blueprint. I’m going to read a little legalese we put into every one of our agreements.
PF Oh, yeah! Okay.
RZ The below represents a high level description of the scope of work required by this agreement.
PF I love it.
RZ High Level description is very anti law, actually anti contract, because high level description means there’s ambiguity. There’s there’s a lack of clarity, that there’s still some things we’re going to figure out together.
PF The contract itself says this contract doesn’t actually have all the detail.
RZ It says there’s going to be more to figure out.
PF How do you fit that in with the merger clause? You just told me about the merger clause.
RZ Yeah, I agree. What we’re acknowledging here is that to make really good software, we have to be flexible.
PF It’s going to change.
RZ It’s going to change.
PF It’s going to change, and it’s going to change because you might find ways to do things faster. Or you might find that things that seemed absolutely obvious, are really difficult. I mean, the the classic examples, like, you know, internationalization, like the way that names operate, you need to use a Chinese script, things like that, which suddenly really add time.
RZ Here’s, I think, the rub. You would think that that would expose us and put us in a very vulnerable place. Because a client can always say, oh, high level description, the details aren’t there. But I can tell you, probably over 100 projects, six years, and many years before that, we’ve never had that meltdown, we’ve actually never been in that position where they wave the contract in our faces. Why? Because we’re all aligned. We’re all looking for the same thing. We’re all looking to ship.
PF That’s constant communication that gets you there too.
RZ Look, can you build it to a blueprint? Like I’ve seen specs that are essentially Excel sheets.
PF Well, this is where like, government gets in trouble, right? They get the blueprint, everyone signs off, and then the thing that ships doesn’t work.
RZ Or it’s just terrible. It’s not good, right. And so if you want to build great software, it’s hard—it’s impossible. I would argue it is impossible.
PF You know what you can do with this blueprint? You can like implement Salesforce. You can take something off the shelf, make a list. But if you need something, that’s an experience that’s like very connected to what you do—
RZ That resonates with users.
PF Yeah, you’re in this position.
RZ That’s right. So be open to those good changes. We haven’t talked about them emanating from the product manager, the product advocate. There’s that too.
PF No, I mean, look, we’re talking about something really hard, which is that actually you have to get in there at the beginning of the relationship to define this flexibility. Like this, it’s hard if you just get plucked out of a room and say, can you go do that?
RZ That’s right.
PF So like, I realize how tough this is because you can’t always manage the relationship from beginning to end. But the closer you can get to this, the more likely it is that you’re going to ship something people want to use.
RZ That’s right. Look, there’s still bad changes, still defend against them. Ship sooner, even if it’s a great idea, if it’s going to blow out the date, punt it, we’ll get to it, it’s a really good idea. We’ll get to it later.
PF Well, nothing beats live code in the world. We’re talking about all these different contracts and relationships and understandings and what always slips and what you always have to remember is that it’s actually a social contract between you and between you and the user. The user is going to come in and say, oh, you’ve given me a tool. I’m going to learn how to use it. And I hope it really works. And the minute that starts to slip, that’s your sign that that’s a bad change.
RZ Agreed. So it sounds like we’re giving some jumbled up signals here. But we’re really not.
PF This is actually—it’s consistent. And it’s not easy. I think I want to say that. Like, this is not easy to manage that relationship. From the very beginning to have this flexibility, it requires a lot of trust. But it does mean you can ship lots of good software way more quickly than the like let’s write a 500 page spec document.
RZ What did you think of my plot twist? Do you know what the plot twist is? The real plot twist? we’re both dead. No, no, we’re here. That’s actually wrong.
PF You didn’t do that in rehearsal. Oh my god. Where are we gonna take this?
RZ Didn’t mean to throw you off there. Alright.
PF Improv comedy.
RZ We want to open it up to questions, please just drop them into the chat. If you maybe haven’t already,
PF Rich spent a lot of time trying to find the right clip of Duke Nukem because it’s so offensive.
RZ What’s the most common indicators of scope creep?
PF Early indicators.
RZ That’s a good question, this is from June. I think it’s worth noting, earlier requests are cheaper. It’s way cheaper to make a change on grid paper than it is to make the change when you’ve poured cement and put upstairs.
PF One of the Maxim’s in the firm is that there’s no bad news 90 days out. You can say like, hey, we’re seeing a problem. If it’s three months ahead, everybody’s like, okay. If it’s three days ahead, everyone’s like you’ve broken your promise.
RZ That’s right.
PF Look, I think that, you know, to that end, right—here’s the really complicated situation, let’s play it out. When you’re getting the specifications together, you tend to kind of run around the offices and ends up like a ransom note. So the hard part there is to not just give everybody their own section, but actually to bring all those things together into one coherent piece, and then prioritize all of them together. Because what happens with requirements and specifications is a lot of times all the different stakeholders get their own little, little territory. And actually, that will suffocate the software, it can’t survive being that for all those different people. So that’s one of the best ways that you can kind of cut those requirements. It means you need to go away with the Google doc and sort of synthesize for a while.
RZ Yes. Another question. This is from Erin. And it’s a good question. They’re learning that the scope that’s currently in hand isn’t a direct hit. They’re not, you know, they should be 10 degrees to the left, right?
PF Nobody knows how to save a file.
RZ Ultimately, everybody is trying to look good here. Right. And so if you need to go have a hard conversation, say, look, it turns out, we need it to be 10 degrees to the left, and it’s just some change. And we’re going to move quickly on it. If you have that conversation, most stakeholders will be like, of course, we want to make this good. They’re not going to say no, stick to the plan. No, I want it a certain way. You got to back it up. You got to have real information that can speak to that, right?
PF It just all comes down to more communication more often, right? This is the classic agency model is like, I want to wait for a month and I’m gonna show you my genius. And then it doesn’t work. Yep. And now there’s nothing. So it’s got to be these like, that’s why the users have—software just can’t work that way. You have to get the users in earlier. And you have to kind of like—
RZ Do not disappear for too long.
PF You can’t disappear for too long. That is actually the number one way to kind of prevent this situation. And then you have your user group that is always kind of nearby, and you’re gathering that feedback. Ideally, you’re paranoid and you’re seeing it sooner than everybody else. But yeah, sometimes I mean, things launch and they go, it does happen. You know, so have a plan for that, too.
RZ Yeah. All right. We’ve got another question. How do you decide when to do an additional client ask for free? If ever?
PF That’s one of our clients is asking that, I’m sure.
RZ I’m sure it’s one of our clients, we gotta find out who that is.
PF Well, first of all, we should talk about this. So the way that we do pricing is not time and materials based. It’s project based.
RZ I like to use the word, it’s value based, meaning getting you the thing is valuable. And if you’re thinking about this in a long game, in the context of a relationship, not just the project. Doing something for quote unquote “free”, right, that could solidify your relationship with that partner, that could actually build even more goodwill. We’ve said it before we’ve signed, it’s like, look, we want this to be great. If this takes an extra two, three weeks, we’re going to do it and we’re not going to send a change order over.
PF This depends on the kind of work. Okay, so some—we don’t have a lot of clients at this stage in the growth of the firm, where they’re looking to squeeze periodic labor out of you to get something. So it’s like, they’re not saying, well, can you give me that one more module? Just one more? You’re not getting that you’re getting instead, like, the requirements changed for how we’re going to do the newsletters. And I don’t know how you guys want to fit that in. Very often the client is like, I don’t know how you want to do this. And we’re like, we’re just gonna do it. We’re just gonna do it, because it’s so much easier then like, if something like that is structured, and you can see, and you’re like, this will be like three days a week, and it’s gonna be annoying. It’s actually easier to just do it than to scope it, have a conversation and move things around.
RZ It’s worth mentioning what we don’t do. A lot of firms weaponize change orders, they make more money, they actually get in by underpricing, they get you on the hook.
PF They beat us on the proposal, right? Because they’ll come in and like a quarter of what we cost, but they know they’re going to make it up.
RZ Death by 1000 cuts. Right? That’s not our—
PF It’s a grizzly relationship.
RZ Well, it’s also not better product.
PF People quit those agencies. They’re just like, eh, all I do is tell people, they can’t have something.
RZ That’s right. That’s right. I’m gonna read this out loud. What do you do if a client—they keep asking to negotiate the contract to include more details about scope of work, define each party’s role.
PF The truth is, you go pretty far, like you budge.
RZ Yeah, I mean, if a contract gets signed, you’re done negotiating, it is the final distillation of discussions. That’s the point of a contract. If they keep going back to the contract and seeking to revise the contract—look, a lot of agencies are like, yeah, let’s do it. Here are addendums and you have an extra x million dollars.
PF If people ask for more detail, fine. Although, okay, so the first thing you do is you commit to the high level, and you do actually flag that, like, all a lot of this is subject to discussion. But barring other things, we’re gonna deliver this. The other thing is that if somebody keeps going back to the contract right as you’re about to sign, we have spiked those.
RZ That’s a bad scene. You’re already getting a sense of being more cynical partner.
PF How is that going to change? Their behavior that you see at the beginning of the relationship is going to continue. The way they negotiate, if there’s no—if they keep sort of being like, hey, you know, you can just do a little bit more here. I’d like a little bit more. There’s a certain point, if you’re a young agency, and you’re under stress, you might keep going. But at this point, we’re like, well, that’s a breaking point, we’ll take a step back.
RZ How do you manage customers in large bureaucratic organizations who are forced to apply security or technology standards that expand the scope even when it breaks the social contract?
PF It’s horrible. It’s really hard. And you have to do it, and you have to deal with it. I’ll tell you what, the only thing with that, and this is where like, the value based idea is really good. You just know. So two things, big organizations will hire you again, you’re in the system. So going a little further tends to be okay, because they like to hire vendors. But second of all, you just got to eat it, it sucks, but you’re gonna—