Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sign-off: are you getting this right?

It is vital you agree who is to sign-off which stage of your project. Identifying the sign-off people is a MUST before the project begins or you will quickly be put in that equivalent of the never ending spiral of planes waiting for landing!

Actually, not getting a single point of sign-off causes so many risks that it may be the most important part to agree prior to start-up. The consequences of not having a sign-off include many people having their own opinions and wishes of what to change, delays to the project that quickly escalate at each sign-off point, the opportunity for the client to demand changes to the agreement/contract, and the higher probability of conflict between you and the client.

That doesn't paint a smooth project path. Does it?

Yes, the clients may well rile against having one sign-off at each stage. You need to counter their wish for debate and consensus, or, build this into the timescale. By explaining the consequences to them of having several sign-off people, or several rounds of agreement for each stage, you can educate them on the cost savings of a single sign-off; the time-scale savings, and the positives of getting the project out faster, gaining feedback from the true users and a second phase revamp-project based on true use rather than gut feeling. Now, I'm not against gut feeling when it is backed by experience in the market with digital media – that's informed opinion. And it is true that many clients have different perspectives on what suits their market and branding, but just like you managing your internal teams' expectations and specialisms, the client faces the same from their individuals. In the end, someone has to call the tune. So the faster you identify the person with the clout and budget responsibility the better for your project.

One way to incorporate some leeway for the client is to corral the timescale for a sign-off period. So you give the project to them and allow X days turn-around for a sign-off. Then it is up to them to reach consensus. But beware, this sounds a trite way out and has to be managed carefully. They may well get back to you with a list of change requests that they have co-ordinated between them. If you have your change-management agreement with them so that you re-evaluate the time and cost to achieve these changes, then you won't suffer unduly. They soon learn that the more changes they make the longer the project time-scale and the knock-on costs - then they learn the need to make compromises.

There are various template sign-off agreements that are available online so if you need a form to help you sign-off, Google "project sign-off form or template" and take your pick.

The UK government has various legal agreement forms for web design-support-maintenance-hosting on their Simply Docs site. It needs registration and a small payment but might be useful.

Richard Boardman's advice to lock everyone in a room until you have sign-off goes a bit far, but I have heard of worse! See: 18 ways to speed up a CRM Project 26.11.10 - in particular the speedup milestone signoffs section .

And lastly, an interesting dilemma that might get you thinking – and acting. See: Should you make clients sign-off on their bad decisions? Chip Camden, 26.11.10

Happy sign-offs and Happy Christmas

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