Creating Successful Relationships Between Clients and Software Development Agencies: Part 2 Creating Aligned Expectations
Proper Communication and Expectation Management
This blog is a continuation of our blog series on How to Create Successful Relationships between Clients and Software Development Agencies. In part 2 of our 3 part series we will discuss another critical component of creating and maintaining successful business engagements: expectation management. In the first part of this series we discussed how poor communication can make or break a successful business engagement. Proper communication and expectation management go hand-in-hand when it comes to creating a successful engagement.
Defining Initial Expectations
When two organizations establish a working relationship, proper communication is paramount in ensuring that the correct information is shared in order to accomplish the project goal. When information is communicated effectively, both parties are aligning their goals so that both sides are aware of the parameters of success at all stages of the project. As two partner organizations come into engagements with different experiences, processes, and preferences, how can they work to better understand each other? In short, expectation alignment.
Expectations can be defined as budget, timeline, scope, communication cadence, or a variety of other factors. To properly communicate, defining these expectations up front and throughout the project is essential in maintaining success. To properly establish a clear set of expectations initially we ask companies to help define expectations of what they are looking for up front.
For example: ABC company has a budget of $80,000, needs to complete a project in 4 months, expects to have both an iOS and an Android application, and requires weekly review sessions between teams. Based on this information, Agency XYZ can clearly identify if the target budget is reasonable with their cost estimations, determine whether or not they have bandwidth to support a timely 4-month engagement, and evaluate whether or not they have the skill sets in house to execute on the project at hand. This preliminary expectation alignment is critical to build trust and establish a foundation for a long-term successful relationship. If one party does not align with the basic principles of the engagement then this sets the tone for future issues.
Discussing Consistent Expectation Alignment
As organizations progress in their working relationship, maintaining expectation alignment is critical even after the initial phases. When doing agile design and development work, projects can increase in scope, timelines can shift, and budgets can increase. Team members within either organization can get busy and it can be easy for two teams to fall out of alignment on the project.
For example: ABC company is 2 months into their engagement with Agency XYZ and has determined that they need to add 3 major features to their iOS and Android applications that need to be a part of their upcoming release. Agency XYZ has informed them that the extra features will require extra work so the timeline will be extended by 2 months and the cost will also increase.
In the example above, if both organizations do not come to clear expectation alignment about these scope changes then ultimately both sides will have different thoughts on the timeline, budget, and other details of the project. When these differences manifest themselves, one or both parties can be forced to deal with the consequences of these changes which ultimately can lead to trust between organizations being compromised and the project having issues.
Navigating Differences in Expectations
When two organizations have a difference in expectations there are two pathways to alleviate expectations being unaligned. The first pathway is for these organizations to schedule additional conversations to work towards alignment and mutual understanding. Oftentimes expectations being unaligned is simply due to a lack in communication. If one party is able to provide more information and background then the other party can work to better understand and align themselves.
For example: Let’s say ABC company wishes to work with Agency XYZ to do the UI/UX design for a mobile project that they present as having 1 user type and being “simple”. In the process of putting together a proposal, Agency XYZ determines that in reality, the application has 3 user types and will require both a mobile application and a web dashboard and thus the scope is more complex than initially presented.
In the example above, it is the job of Agency XYZ to schedule meeting/s with the client to articulate that the project is more complex than initially presented, to share details on why the project is more complex, and to represent how those complexities will inevitably lead to more time and budget being required. By having these discussions both parties can come to mutual agreement on general project expectations and avoid misalignment on the project.
In some situations, expectations between organizations cannot simply be overcome with better communication. The second pathway for organizations to consider when navigating expectations is to not work together or to end engagements early if alignment cannot be reached. As communication is the primary determinant of success on a project, if communication breaks down and expectations between organizations broaden, there are situations where it makes more sense for organizations to not work together or part ways in their business relationship.
For example: Let’s say ABC company wants to create a Cordova wrapped mobile application and they have a budget of $40,000 to complete a project in 3 months and they are not interested in doing UI/UX design before starting the development. On the other side, Agency XYZ prioritizes doing UI/UX design before doing any development, has limited bandwidth, and does not think that $40,000 will be an attainable budget for the project scope.
In the example above, these organizations are not aligned from the start. It is possible that based on the criteria established by the client, that Agency XYZ may not be a fit for the needs based on the proposed work to complete, the timeline, the budget range, or the technical stack chosen by the client. It is possible that the client needs to consider other agencies that may be a better fit for their needs. In any scenario like this, it is possible that the two organizations can find alignment by communicating, discussing goals, and working to find a middle ground. Yet in some situations, the differences between these organizations are too big to overcome and it can make more sense for both parties to recognize these differences and reconsider working together when the expectations better align.
When two organizations are considering working more closely together, it is imperative that they work to better understand each other’s goals, timeline, budget, and other expectations about the relationship before engaging or during the project execution phase. When there is poor communication, these expectations become unaligned and both businesses can be negatively impacted. At Lithios we do everything we can in our power to clearly communicate our expectations at every phase of a project. We think it is important for our clients to always understand the way that we are thinking about an engagement so we can avoid any misunderstandings and project issues. The nature of what we do is iterative and can be difficult, but by maintaining expectation alignment, we want to work together with our partners to create the best possible products.
In part 3 of this 3 part series we will discuss how to avoid toxic agency/client relationships which can often be a product of both poor communication and misaligned expectations.
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.