Creating Successful Relationships Between Clients and Software Development Agencies: Part 1 Avoiding Poor Communication

Client and Software Development Agency Relationships

Design and development of any software application is difficult. When an entrepreneur/business is looking to create a new product or build an app for a specified purpose they must consider a variety of factors. In a previous blog, we discussed the types of product teams a business can work with to execute their vision. Depending on the business needs, a software development agency can be highly successful at executing a product owner’s vision. When it comes to working with an external team, it can be particularly difficult for clients and agencies to always stay aligned and not come to disagreements.

Where do Projects Go Wrong?

Lithios has completed work for over a hundred clients in the past 8 years since we were founded. Our sweet spot is working directly with entrepreneurs and product owners to better understand their vision and then to leverage our expertise and skills to execute on the design and development. Over the years we have grown in our internal tools, processes, and execution strategies with many lessons learned from both positive and negative engagements. Through these individual project interactions we are proud to share that the majority of our engagements are successful, productive, and we maintain strong relationships with our clients for years on end. In engagements that do not go as positively we have noticed some common themes. Ultimately, the majority of issues come down to:

  1. Poor Communication (from either the client or the agency)
  2. Poor Expectation Alignment (from either the client or the agency)
  3. In rare occasions, a toxic client or agency relationship
  4. A combination of factors above

Within this blog series our aim is to leverage our years of experience to highlight our top recommendations for cultivating a healthy relationship with clients, avoiding poor communication, creating aligned expectations, and avoiding toxic client/agency relationships. For our first blog we will cover Poor Communication.

Poor Communication

Ask any agency, the number one reason that engagements go south is due to poor communication. Poor communication can come about early in engagements during the business development process, during project engagement, or at the end of the engagement when the project is being wrapped up and delivered. Both clients and agencies are often guilty of poor communication. If there is a breakdown in communication between the client and the team working to build the application, the right features do not get built, there are delays, and, oftentimes, costs can balloon for all parties.

The most common forms of client miscommunication are:

1. During the scoping process.
If clients are non-technical or do not clearly communicate every feature/functionality they are seeking, an external agency cannot read the clients mind. Agencies have the skills to help the client unpack the entirety of their vision and to create a roadmap for design and development but if information is not shared it can lead to issues when it comes to executing on the full vision.

2. During the project execution phase.
If clients do not give the appropriate feedback, respond with pertinent answers to questions from the agency, or respond in a timely fashion, the agency will inevitably have delays and potential cost increases.

3. During the conclusion of the project.
If clients do not clearly articulate timelines for project completion (during the scoping phase of the project) or provide final wrap up information, projects can drag out unnecessarily, deployment timelines can be missed, and projects can go over budget.

The most common forms of agency miscommunication are:

1. During the scoping process.
If the agency does not deeply understand the client’s vision, scope, and other details it is critical that the agency ask follow up questions and attempt to bridge the technical understanding gap to get the answers they need to accurately scope the client and put together the proposal. If the agency does not leverage their expertise to bridge this gap, ultimately the product may be missing features or not serve its intended purpose.

2. During the project execution phase.
This is often the most critical period of communication from an agency. Because agencies should be iteratively building applications and project requirements can change weekly, staying on top of weekly check-ins, scope reviews, and feature clarifications requires sustained and proactive communication through the duration of the engagement.

3. During the conclusion and deployment.
As the project is coming to a close, it is critical that the agency understands from the client what successful completion looks like, asks any necessary wrap up questions, and successfully deploy or shares final deliverables in an organized and detailed manner.

Quality over Quantity Communication

In the context of a broader discussion about communication it is important to highlight the importance of quality over quantity communication.  Lithios has experience working with both technical and non-technical clients just as we have worked with product owners that have previous experience building software and those that have not. We have a depth of experience understanding, designing, and building products. This being said, the quality and clarity of information that we receive is the #1 determinant for success on a project. Steady communication is helpful in alleviating misunderstandings and ensuring that questions are answered in a timely manner, but more often what is most important is the thought, proactivity, and research that is put into the answers that we receive from our clients.  Effective agencies operate under the same principle as a lot of things, garbage information in > garbage product outcome. If we do not receive the right information from our visionary partners, this can often lead to products not reaching their full potential or cause delays further down the line when there are alterations that need to be made based on poor quality of communication.

Conclusion

Communication is the single largest determinant of success in a client to software development agency partnership. If both parties are able to successfully communicate quality information in a timely and detail-oriented fashion, project engagements have a high likelihood of being successful and avoiding unnecessary conflict and delays. As communication is one of several factors that impact the success of a given project, in the following weeks we will cover two other topic areas (aligning expectations and avoiding toxic partnerships) that impact successful agency and client relationships. 

If you are ever interested in discussing these areas in greater detail, drop us a line on our contact form here

Kyle Linton Image

Kyle Linton is the VP of Operations at Lithios. He focuses on reducing blockers and creating repeatable processes for the internal teams. In his free time, he partakes in interpretive dance.

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