Do easy projects really exist?
Has anyone ever tried to lure you into doing a project by telling you that it will be “easy”? Or, have you looked over the requirements of a potential project and decided that it’s going to be “simple” and “straightforward”? Over the years I’ve heard or thought those things more times than I’d like to admit. So much so that the road I’ve travelled is littered with projects that were supposed to be a slam dunk. It all makes me wonder if easy projects really exist at all. Could someone out there really setup a website with ease (and get paid in a timely fashion for it)? Perhaps this is just part of some web designer mythology.
Part of the problem is that easy means different things to different people. A client who’s not technically-inclined may see the design and development of a website as something very simple. To them, your job is to do whatever it is that you do all day. So of course it’s easy! For example, let’s say you’re setting up an ecommerce site for a client who tells you:
- “We only have about a dozen products.”
- “Each product will be a simple picture with a text description.”
- “There are no variable products – there will be just one version of each product.”
Sounds very reasonable, right? This should take no time at all. After it’s done you’ll get a check that might pay for the family trip to the beach this year. So, you pick your favorite ecommerce solution (we’ll say WooCommerce in this case) and get to work. You add in the products and you’re done! Only, something happens on your way to Easy Street. The client just has a few “minor” changes to the site. No biggie, right? As it turns out, they want to radically alter the way WooCommerce displays products. Oh, and now that they think about it, they’ll need a bunch of shipping zones set up. Perhaps we should use the payment gateway their bank recommends (for which there is no WooCommerce extension). And, does the shopping cart page really need to look like that? Rats. Guess you’ll be working through that holiday at the beach.
Clearly, the client is completely at fault for lying about the project! [pullquote]To them, what they are asking for is simple and straightforward[/pullquote] Well, maybe not. To them, what they are asking for is simple and straightforward. They figure that you’re an expert and so it must be easily within your abilities to fulfil their requests. Without knowing the technical details, what else would you expect? As web professionals, we know that sometimes performing the smallest change can quickly become a herculean task. When we change one little thing it can create a domino effect of several other things needing changed as well. Sometimes it’s even a matter of the client asking for software to do something it wasn’t really designed to do (while staying on the same shoestring budget). So, what can we do to avoid “easy project syndrome”? Two things come to mind:
1. Communicate with, and educate your clients
The first key is to not only listen to what your clients are saying, but to actively participate in the discussion as well. Personally, it took me a few years to figure out that I wasn’t simply there to listen and nod in agreement. Ask probing questions about what the goal of the project is and how your client would like it done. That will not only give you a sense of what they want, but also why they want a particular feature. If possible, ask them to show you examples. Without this information, you could be setting yourself up for a difficult and frustrating experience. Now that you know a bit more about what you’re getting in to, you can also help to educate your clients on the pros and cons of it all. You don’t have to get highly technical in your explanations, but you can at least let them know how different features could affect the project’s timeline and budget. This will help to make you better prepared (and not feeling duped) by the client’s definition of what’s easy. That leads to the second key…
2. Temper your expectations and maintain focus
When you hear or feel that a project is going to be easy, it’s not necessarily best for your brain to focus on that particular aspect. You may find that you get this expectation in your head that things really will be easy. That can lead to a real bummer when things don’t go as you hoped they would. In sports analogies, it’s a bit like a first-place team preparing to play a last-place team. The top team may feel (subconsciously, at least) like they can win without giving their best effort. Sometimes that can result in a rude awakening. [pullquote]Learn to expect hidden challenges so that you’ll not be caught off guard when they arise[/pullquote] So the best strategy is to simply forget about any possibility of this project being a piece of cake. Learn to expect hidden challenges so that you’ll not be caught off guard when they arise. This way of thinking can be applied not only to the actual work you’ll be doing, but for pricing of the project as well. Build some extra padding into your proposal because you know there will be something unexpected to deal with. Because you had the foresight to do this, you won’t feel cheated when you have to put in some extra time to do the job right.
Let’s call it ‘less difficult’
Expectations can lead to emotions that really mess with your mind. They can make you paranoid while waiting for a problem to pop up. They might also lead you to put your brain on autopilot, thinking that everything will go exactly as planned. Learning to take your emotions (and those of the client) out of the equation will help you see things more clearly. I propose that the next time any of us hears the (now dirty) word “easy” in reference to a project, we take it with a grain of salt. If it turns out that there are really no complications that arise, then we can be happy that it turned out to be less difficult than we thought.