When talking about negotiation on software teams, often we are referring to how to handle ‘change requests.’ Let’s look at a few strategies you could consider using when a client is asking to add a feature to a website or an app which was not in the original project scope.
In the video below, Derek talks about these three strategies on how to approach work-related negotiations:
As the strategies discussed in the video (on YouTube) are related to generic situations anyone could face, below the video, I will share some examples of how to apply these tips specifically to discussions with clients who request changes to their deliverables.
Tip for strategy #1:
Take the perspective of the person/people you are talking to
Typically, there is always a reason a client is asking for something to be added or changed. Though our initial internal reaction may be to cringe and say no (it’s not in the original scope!), it may be wise to take a step back and find out why the client is asking for this. Typically, clients (or anyone, for that matter) have good reasons for asking for changes. Before they spoke with you, they have gone through some kind of thought process and they are hoping for some outcome with this addition or change that possibly hasn’t been considered before or discussed with you previously. Let’s look at two ways you can take the perspective of the client that can build business relations while helping everyone to save face:
Understanding the Technical Know-How of the Client
When exploring their reason behind the change, keep in mind the technical expertise of the client. I have consulted with client-facing developers on software teams who have applied these techniques only to find out in the exploration conversation that the addition the client wants is actually already a feature to be added to the website, but the client did not really realize it because it was different or did not look as they have seen it on other websites, etc. Or, in other cases, they were able to talk with the client to adjust features already in the scope of the project to the enhanced requirements the client requested. In cases where the client lacks the technical expertise or doesn’t know technical jargon, it’s going to be critical that when describing these details to the client, that you as the developer have the verbal agility to describe technical concepts in everyday English (this is something we help you to achieve). Remember clients come to you for your technical expertise, so use your consulting skills to your advantage!
Understand the Client’s Business and Outcomes
While it’s critical to understand the technical aspects of any project, it’s equally important to understand the client’s business and related outcomes they expect from this project. What is the outcome they are looking to achieve by adding this feature? Will their customers be able to buy products on their site with more ease or security? Will their customers find what they are looking for quicker? Will the new feature reduce page loading time? Will the feature work flawlessly on various screens? If you can talk to them in their business language, the client will relate to you easier and realize you are taking the time to understand their deeper needs that extend beyond then technical solution. When you are able to do this, this may lead to more projects from the same client, secure support contracts with the same client or could bring additional business from new clients from client referrals.
Listen to a case study of how we helped an India based team effectively negotiate the deadline change with their US client.
Build a Personal Connection
Now that you’ve established your technical expertise and an understanding of the client’s business domain, don’t forget to get to know who your client is as a person. I also always advocate for building a ‘personal relationship’ outside of the business relationship through the use of small talk. Making small talk with your clients can help you to understand their mood, temperament and reactions in a way pure business talk does not. Read more about how small talk can improve client relations on global projects.
Tip for strategy #2:
Always ask for more than you want
When hearing this tip, client facing developers may think this doesn’t apply to them as this seems to apply to the sales or contracting team. While it is true that this does happen during initial contract negotiations, this strategy can come in handy during projects as well when negotiating timelines, resource management, change requests and more.
In some cases, the client will ask for more than they want, need or can practically get from the scope of the project. However, when your team negotiates with them, using some of the above tips, it’s always handy to keep in mind that a change request not only means a change to the output or final product, but how your team manages their time and resources. It is wise, if and when needed, to ask for time to assess how your team can apply a change request and the additional time or resources that may be needed to make it happen.
Tip for strategy #3:
Never take blame for the ‘no’ or push back.
In some cases, you may be able to blame your project manager or contract for the no. Depending on your team dynamics, it may be that the Project Manager has the final say for any and all changes, in addition to any formal change request forms or written requests that may be needed.
Additionally, depending on the technical scope of the project, sometimes a no can be blamed on the technical parameters of the project. In such cases, the client would be looking to your expertise and knowledge as a leverage to back up these claims. In such cases, it may be wise to not only explain the technical limitations, but suggestions for alternatives that could work in it’s place, and the pros and cons of these alternatives. Again, it is advised not only to back up your claims with technical case studies, but a knowledge of how the alternatives fit into their business case or user profile.
How coaching helps:
Jennifer Kumar, author of this post is a trained business coach that provides clients with roadmaps to success when working on virtual teams with foreign clients. Learn more about our coaching process and outcomes or contact Jennifer for more information today.
Original post: Sept. 2013, Updated: April 2019