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Compromise. Balancing Project Needs with Internal Ideals.

02-26-16 Rob Harr

True success is when you meet client goals and internal needs. Rob shares how we try to keep them in check.

When I have thought about project goals in the past, the idea of adding value to our clients’ businesses has always been at the forefront of my mind. Afterall, we are in the business of serving our customers. If you don’t believe that, then you probably will not have customers very long. Thinking back to some of the most successful relationships I have had with clients, with almost every single one of them we’ve been respected consultants who were trusted to test the waters of the ever-growing web. We not only met the client’s business needs, but we also met our own.  

Adding Value for Clients

I believe our customers pay us to add value to their business via some web deliverable. To add value, we focus on our clients’ goals throughout projects. When we work with clients, our expectation is that they can clearly communicate their goals or what they are trying to achieve. Having detailed conversations about goals at the beginning of (and throughout) a project is paramount. Both the client team and the internal team need alignment on how decisions should be made and where the budget should be spent.

The critical nature of having the right goals to act on was made even more apparent during some recent projects where we acted on the wrong goals. We have had a few projects where I believe that clients were reluctant to admit their ultimate goal, which was to have an awesome looking site. It seemed like they believed that it should be to convert better or to explain their value proposition, but that wasn’t where they truly saw us adding value. Every time we showed them a design, we always got the same response: “I like it, but could you push it a little further.” Based on the goals they told us, this made no sense. After a few rounds like this and deeper conversations, the clients finally told us they wanted an awesome design. Once we had the goals aligned, the next round went much better.

Knowing the right goals to add the best value matters. Get this step wrong, and you’ll find yourself in a loop with no progress—or worse—get to the end and have a site your client hates.

Being Intentional Internally

While at a conference a few weeks ago, I heard the following about web design and development studios and their customers:

“You’re not in the service biz; the customer isn’t always right. You’re in the expertise biz; the customer is usually wrong.”

Blair Enns (paraphrased by Dan Mall)

At first this struck me as completely wrong. But after chewing on this idea for a bit, I realized that while I’ve been almost singularly focused on client needs, I’ve been forgetting the balance of what my team and company need. We are experts who want (and do) counsel our clients on good decisions. We have people who want to be proud of their work. We want to be able to show the work we do in our portfolio. These needs can’t be ignored either. In addition to these needs, we also believe there is a right way to build a website. And in order to continue to be experts, we have to intentionally experiment on existing projects.

Innovating Value

Our team likes to experiment all the time with how we do work. With new web things being created all the time, you’d quickly be out of touch and wear a team out if you didn’t. However, on projects where we try to innovate with everything, we can quickly chew through budget with not enough to show. Recently, we have been having conversations about which parts of a project we will innovate on.

This is a conversation that includes the entire project team. During this decision-making process, we consider where we should intentionally invest by experimenting. This allows everyone to line up on where we will push and where we will stick with known solid solutions. This is a huge part of delivering value to all our current and future clients. When we can line up the goals of the project with where we innovate something, amazing happens. In short, innovating in the right places that add the most value to the project often results in the best work for the client. We are working on a project right now where the client goal is to set the standard for their area. They want the project to be super engaging and to help excite people. The challenge is that what they want to get people excited about doesn’t tend to excite and engage by itself. It was an easy decision on that project to innovate around finding creative ways to make something that could come across as boring feel exciting—to be able to show tables of data in a way that speak to the end user. (We are excited to share this project once it goes live.)


How we achieve balance between clients’ needs and project ideals is by focusing on value and being intentional. Each and every decision needs to be wrestled in order to make sure that relationship is mutually edifying. To me, that is what makes a lasting client partnership while keeping the team motivated.

This post is part of The Shift: a writing project designed to help us produce and consume unique perspectives on topics relevant to the Web industry. Follow along with #startYourShift.

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