This story is called “The Price of Right,” not because it’s about the game show, but because it’s about that toll we pay when it is more important to be right than it is to exercise tact.
When I teach project management and I discuss scope creep, I usually tell a story about one of my first projects. I really wanted to get along with my customer. I wasn’t well versed in all of the project management bodies of knowledge. I probably didn’t know the term “scope creep.” If the customer asked for something extra, well, I would just ask the team to go right ahead. I thought this was great customer service.
So let’s jump ahead to the end of the project. We came in about three weeks late. I realize now that given the changes I had agreed to, this was a minor miracle.
In a wrap-up meeting, I was asked, “Why were you late” I replied that we had accommodated changes to the original requirements and that took more time. I knew my customer — my buddy and partner — would stand by me, right?
Wrong. He indicated that he didn’t know about any changes. As far as he was concerned, the product delivered was exactly per the original requirements. We were just late because the IT department is always late.
Boy, was I ticked! I wanted to scream out, “But he’s lying!” Something restrained me. I have no idea what. I can’t tell you that at that point in my life I was really that savvy about my working relationships.
If I had argued with him, I would have been right. He did ask for changes, he did know it changed our schedule, and he did agree to the new schedule. But I would have paid the “Price of Right.” It would have seriously damaged our working relationship. It would have damaged my reputation. After all it’s bad form to yell at a customer in front of the team. I would have damaged my career just to satisfy that one violent urge to be right.
While being right is satisfying, it benefits only one person: you! No one else cares if you’re right or not unless it impacts their wallet or seriously changes something important to them. In this case, the client’s pride would have been damaged, and he would have been embarrassed while surrounded by relative strangers. I would never have received more business from this person, and he would make very sure that everyone in his circle knew that I was unpleasant to work with and unreliable.
But you can bet that next time we had a change log and created change requests for each new or modified requirement. One of the most important words in projects is documentation. If a client decides he or she wants some changes made, a change log is your best friend. Decide how much time that change will take and the impact on other aspects of the project, then write out a memo to the client with these details. If you use email in order to save time, follow that up with a memo on paper that both you and the client can keep on file.
By documenting every change request you acceded to, you’re creating a paper trail that is impossible to argue with. You won’t have to pay the “price of right” ever again, because the “right” is sitting there for all to see-read, initialed, and filed away for future reference!
Documentation is also a great help when similar situations arise. You can refer back to the project records and see what problems arose from those requests or how it may have helped to move everything ahead faster than scheduled. However, if you work on a paperless basis, you’d be wise to make sure that every memo you send and every piece of correspondence with your client is backed up every day. A virtual paper trail means nothing if it’s corrupted or lost in a computer crash.