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Let's say, I have a project with well fixed deadlines, and a pretty good specification. Every specification needs additional discussion, with taking in consideration the client's requirements (I mean, this additional specifications won't be essential, but anyhow useful and necessary). But the client is too busy to answer to the mails, phone calls.

The project is ordered by the client, but its success depends on the development team, because it is made for an event with fixed date.

What is the best solution in this case?

  • Take decisions without the client's agreement: advantage: the project can be delivered in time; disadvantage: double development time, if the client wants other solution, or
  • Wait until the client answers: it can throw the finish time after the deadline, which isn't a good "advertisement" for the developer company?
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5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Assuming that the decisions that you want made are valid (i.e. you aren't overwhelming your customer with details that are really your responsibility to decide on), the problem seems to be that your customer, or maybe just your point of contact, is not engaged with the project. You need to address this root cause or you will spend a lot more time and effort keeping your project on track than you need to.

The "on-time" issue from your perspective is probably a red herring. If there are deadlines in your contract with the customer you almost certainly have any number of caveats in them preventing penalties for late delivery if fault lies with the customer.

If you can't get hold of your point of contact then you may have to escalate the issue. Use this tool with caution, it is a blunt instrument that should be avoided if possible, but don't be afraid to use it if necessary. If escalation doesn't work then it becomes a business decision to just kill the project and release the resources to others.

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+1 on root cause! –  David Espina Dec 3 '12 at 18:10
    
Killing the project and releasing it to others won't be a too bad marketing point for the company? –  meszar.imola Dec 4 '12 at 8:25
    
@meszar.imola - That is why it is a business decision when weighing disbenefits like public perception vs benefits like having resources to capitalize on other opportunities. You likely won't cut loose your biggest client, but you are more likely to if you are an IBM and the client is a two-man startup that may have problems paying the bills. –  Doug B Dec 4 '12 at 13:45
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I agree with Doug (+1) that's on customer to decide how important the project is to himself. If he doesn't dedicate enough time to the project, he may not consider it as important as you may think the project is.

It doesn't mean, however, that your team will stand still waiting for them to discuss the open points.

As you mentioned, I'd go for the first approach, slightly changing it:

Review the open points you have, write down your proposals to solve them plus how your team is intended to implement them and then go back to the client for their signoff.

This way, you'll:

  • keep the project moving
  • doing the extra-mile (wow, they not only did their job, they did my job too! amazing!) and
  • still have your bases covered (wow, wait! They assumed it wrongly! But... We signed off the requirements doc, so it's our fault!)

Bottomline: Put everything on paper and properly signed off. If they aren't giving you proper feedback, make sure you state it clearly when going to them with your assumptions.

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I was basically writing up the same and saw your answer show up. One small difference I'd make is that in addition to proposing the way forward, I'd give them a date for when we will go forward with our proposed solution (if they don't get back to us by that date). –  Kyle Dec 3 '12 at 18:20
    
That's a good spot, @Kyle ! Defining deadlines for sure will add another layer of safeness to this risky situation. –  Tiago Cardoso Dec 3 '12 at 19:00
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There are major points in most projects where you must have customer verification and validation before moving on. It is an unreasonable risk for both parties to bypass these points. And as Doug suggested, you should have in your contract where those points are such that, if the client does not do his/her part, you are held 100% harmless on delays sequel to that.

For other areas, where there is less risk, you can certainly make those decisions to move on based on your risk analysis, e.g., what decision will the customer most likely make. Yes, there is risk that you could choose wrong and you would have rework; however, if you are in touch with the project and its requirements, I think this is less costly overall--even with a few mistakes--then sitting idly while waiting for a decision.

I really like Doug's first paragraph that talks about this being a symptom of the client not really being engaged. This is something you need to simulteaneously investigate as this WILL cause you more grief down the line. Get these guys to the table and have a no kidding discussion of how each of you will play in the sandbox moving forward. Get agreement and, if you can't, get out of the box and find somewhere else to play.

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As an act of desperation you can officially write them about the open questions and say for each question what answer you will assume if they do not answer before a certain deadline. Inform them that to avoid endangering the projects deadline you regrettably cannot change that decision afterwards in the current release. If they do not like your assumption, they are of course invited to issue a change request for the next release, and pay for that extra. You will need to carry out that threat on at least some items.

But it is better if you can talk to them and find the root cause why they care so little. That might be something beyond your control, though.

You can also set up a tracking system for the open questions that both you and the customer can see, so that their behaviour becomes clearly visible for them and their bosses.

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Another plan for dealing with the "root cause" here: how are you in contact with this person(s)? Do you contact them on an ad hoc basis or do you have scheduled times during the week when you talk/review progress?

If you are only contacting them on an ad hoc basis at present, move that up to at least one, but possibly two, regularly scheduled meetings per week with all parties required to make decisions on the things you need. By getting this regular meeting, it will obviate the need for you to continually escalate things. You may need to escalate once to get the regular meetings, but after that you should have enough contact to make good progress.

You have to do your part in coming to these meetings prepared with everything that you need decisions on and with enough information so that the deciders can decide.

Another option might be to create an email list with a few deciders on it. 1) There is nothing like a little competition to get people engaged. 2) You can announce to a number of people that you are going with Option A if you don't hear back from someone by X. 3) If you can get the "root cause's" boss on the list, then after a few times of you saying to the list "Remember this thing I asked you for 3 days ago..." you'll have some clear evidence of a problem and a need to do something about it.

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