How to deal with a client’s project changes

We’ve all been in this situation. The project is going well, you’re meeting the deadlines, and everything is in place. The waters are calm – so calm that it seems unreal – until the client calls and wants to change the specifics of the project and, of course, keep the original delivery date. What can you do when clients attack, and how should you deal with a client’s project changes?

1. Work on Avoiding Surprises

Do everything possible in your power from day 1 to avoid surprises.

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  • Plan ahead: At the beginning of the project, define the different stages of the project, the timelines, delivery dates, and methodologies. Do not leave anything up in the air.
  • Think of different scenarios: Think about some of the things that, according to your experience, could go wrong and work on preventing them from happening. Adjust the delivery dates consequently.
  • Set clear expectations: The minute you detect that the client is expecting something you cannot or are not willing to offer, you need to raise your hand and clarify that point.
  • Share everything you understand: Do it in writing to make sure both of you are on the same page and that expectations are clear on both ends.

The more you work on these points, the less chance you will have of sudden changes in the project. Clients will take you more seriously and will have a harder time coming to you with big variations.

2. Stuff Happens

A project doesn’t takes place in a vacuum, and priorities and requirements are going to shift even if you have set very clear expectations and documented exactly how the project should go.

3. Ask “Why?”

Asking your client the reasons behind their changing priorities will help you understand your client and bring you closer to him/her, and your contact person. Depending on the reasons, you will be able to better react to the following demands:

  • “My competitor started doing it like this”: It is extremely common for clients to see that their competition has come up with a new strategy, and the client immediately wants to do the same thing. In this case, help you client evaluate if it is a good idea to follow the competition and help him/her prioritize that decision. It is your duty as a professional to help your clients understand their priorities, especially if you are a freelancer or a contractor.
  • “Because we think it’s a good idea”: Sorry, that is not really a reason. Sometimes, clients have a hard time sticking to the agreed scope and need to be brought back in line by an external professional so that the project can be finished and afterwards analyzed. Help you clients find their path.
  • “It’s worth trying!”: Raise your eyebrows! This is suspicious! If the client seems to be making changes for no reason, maybe your services are too cheap and he/she thinks that it is worth trying different things because the price is so low. Raise your prices, and you will see how your clients request fewer changes! Knowing the reasons for the changes will give you information about your prices and the value that you are offering.
  • “Orders from above”: There is not much you can do in this case. When project specifics suddenly change, something has probably shifted in the priorities of the organization, and your client is only reacting to a situation he/she has no control upon. In this case, if you still want to be part of the project, you will need to adapt to the new priorities.

4. Adjust

When circumstances change, you need to be flexible enough to adjust without the project derailing.

Help your client, but remember that you don’t have to be punished for these changes; for example, too many extra hours or too much stressing without proper pay. At the same time, don’t punish your client either; it doesn’t mean that he/she is not considerate or doesn’t appreciate you, it is just that things have changed. It is not personal, so treat your client with care and professionalism even if he/she made you really upset. Understand and accept the new situation.

5. Explain the Consequences

When a client comes with changes, remind that person that if he/she wants more or different features or functionalities, the budget and timeline will need to change. Most clients are not fully aware of the impact of their changes because they are not familiar with your field of work, so explain the consequences and present a new budget and deadlines.

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No matter what happens and how hard clients attack, always present yourself like an ally, as somebody that helps them find solutions.



managing virtual teamsAnna Danés worked in the web sector before founding Ricaris in 2009, a successful services company providing distributed solutions for companies in the web sector. Managing Virtual Teams is a new consulting product bringing together all of the experience across the distributed teams of Ricaris, and putting it into bite-sized courses, virtual team activities, and consulting packages. Follow Anna @virtualteams