Managing Projects with Unclear Details

Creative Consultation and Project Development is Challenging but When the Product or Service Specs are Invisible Real Trouble Can Happen

It seems that most marketing , design agencies or general consultants have all come across the incredibly enthusiastic client with an concept they are wild over and cannot wait to present it to their potential customers. They come to us for ideas and direction to bring their new baby to market and begin the selling process. As a service provider we are in the business of delivering ideas. These ideas take many forms depending on the project but the concept of presenting new ideas and new material is our job.



It’s easy to be caught up with our client’s excitement and want to take on a project and begin working to help them find success. That said, as consultants and creative services providers we have to walk a fine line between helping a client realize their vision for a product or service and ensuring the client is a full participant in the process and not just pushing the vision off to someone else so that they can begin selling.


Over the course projects that a consultant works on they may occasionally get a client that is in need of a project, but as multiple conversations take place, it can become clear that the client has not thought through this specific product or service and is asking us to visualize the end result for them.


manageclientproject2This is all well and good up front because who doesn’t like to take control of a project, make it their own and bring a product or service to life. The issue then becomes as we begin to present material and the client reviews it, they then begin to solidify their own vision of the product or service. The consulting service provider is sent back to the drawing board again and again to refine the vision. For the most part there is nothing all that wrong with this process, except when a project is quoted up front as a standard price and then as the job unfolds. What began as somewhat standard has turned into a lengthy slog of trying to extract a client’s thoughts and approval after much work has already been completed.


So in everyone’s enthusiasm a lot of work time (and in theory money) has been wasted to get to the end result and the consultant is stuck with a price they quoted up front based on what their idea was of the project and never realizing how it could get out of hand like it did. Clients typically respond that they did not have the budget to handle the new price you are billing and its here that all that enthusiasm up front feels a little stale. At the least let’s hope the final project is excellent so that all everyone is faced with is how to settle up.


As a service provider or consultancy it is up to us to manage our clients and the project and foresee these potentials for trouble. It’s a learning curve that one might imagine many service providers go through that involve the creative thinking process. So, what can we do to prevent such a scenario so that both the service provider and the client are happy with the results?


1- If you are marketing a product; get a sample of the product. If there are no samples then get a sketch of the product design and specifications. If none of these exist, then a red flag should go up that this new idea is still in the works and proceed cautiously.

2-If you are marketing a service. Get as many details of the service in an outline form. If the client prefers phone calls then by all means confirm what you have discussed on the phone in an email and get them to reconfirm the email.

3-Spend a few minutes and outline the project process to the client. This clarifies to both him and you what the procedure will be. It’s not essential to follow your process to the letter, but it becomes a good road map to ensure you and the client are on the same page when it comes to the process.

4-Review examples of other similar projects with the client and get them to confirm this is similar to what they want. The types of projects in the consulting and creative field are endless. Reports can be as little as 2 pages and as long as 100 pages. Make sure that the service provide and the client are on the same page by either 1) reviewing things you have done like this in the past so they can see what you can/will deliver or 2) find a sample of what someone else has done and get them to buy into that. Just make sure you can do the work in a similar fashion to the sample you provide.

5-Be weary of generalities. A good product manager knows the business they are in and knows what they need to be competitive. If a client is vague up front and says we can work out the details in the midst of the project then consider that a red flag (that the process is going to take more time than one where you get a nice bit of detail up front). We can all agree that most any job has a certain amount of adjustments to reach the final result, but when it becomes an overhaul then it’s going to be a losing proposition for the service provider.

6-Tell the client you have concerns. If you’ve done enough consulting work then y ou know when you’re working with someone who knows what they’re doing and one that doesn’t. If you’re concerned you have the latter then in a polite business-like fashion make them aware that the project will run better if they have more detail than they have provided thus far.

7-Don’t be afraid to walk away from a job. Especially if it’s a new client. New clients that begin a project with urgency and lack of detail are a red flag that this is their normal method of operation. Or… if it looks like a project will be an unorthodox process then tell the client up front and either quote a price range or quote hourly (and keep them informed).


In the end, having a client that is just as well prepared as you are is the best way to provide a worthwhile consulting or creative service. Of course finding those types of clients is the real challenge. Once you do… do all you can to keep them happy.