Hello, frog design
How to Mitigate Major Project Errors, Pt. 2 of 3

How to Mitigate Major Project Errors, Pt. 1 of 3

Crass Style Sheet

Refreshed by your first eight hours of sleep in what feels like a decade, you stroll into your office, only to be stopped cold by the message light blinking on your voicemail.

It's your client, with a three-minute description of how their new shopping cart system—which you'd been slaving over for months, and finally deployed late last night—has been balking while trying to process credit card purchases. For hours. To the tune of many thousands of dollars lost in sales.

How will you resolve this issue, and how are you going to communicate a plan of action to your client?

Where we most often fail in the client management process is when, after all that work, errors still slip through—and we can't formally explain to our clients how we'll resolve them to their benefit.

Depending on the scale of your client's business, an error in project implementation could have a major fiscal impact—not to mention the drag on your long-term customer experience. Errors like the ones I noted above happen more often than we would care to admit. Most web designers understand the value of testing protocols, debugging code, and stabilizing a build in order to deploy a website or web app. But it's how we manage the errors that slip through while testing, printing, or fulfilling your design work that forges project success. Dealing with project errors in a professional manner is what defines the longevity of designer-client relationships.

Here's a quick primer on how to maintain your professionalism and protect the integrity of your client relationships when resolving these kinds of major project errors.


A Project Error in Right Field

I hate sports metaphors, but this one seems apropos.

You're watching a Mariners baseball game. Two outfielders collide while both reaching for a long fly ball in center field, thereby yielding two runs and a horde of pissed fans. That's a major error that could cost the team the game. It gets put up on the scoreboard, for all to see.

In client relationships, small errors can be smoothed over, especially if you are in a review cycle. In my mind, a major error is one that will go up on the project scoreboard for your clients and customers to see. In these situations, your relationship is in jeopardy if you don't follow a formal protocol in how you manage the error's effect.

The following is a six-step process for working through a major mistake and resolving it with your client:

  1. Determine your role in the error's genesis.
  2. Gauge the impact of the error to your client and to your project team.
  3. Write a plan describing how the error will be mitigated.
  4. Share the plan with your client, ensuring that all conversation around the error is unerringly constructive.
  5. Execute on the plan as swiftly as you can.
  6. Record the error in a public manner that helps you assess future risk and educate your peers.

In my next posts, I'll describe in depth how you can work through each of these steps to mitigate a major error.

Go on to Part 2.




I am using that color Right. Now.


Let me ask you this: In your opinion, is Step "-1," prepare client for inevitability of boo-boos? I'm thinking about this issue lately. We do casually talk about things that have happened, hahaha we're all laughing together, and how we made it right in the past, but I'm wondering if we do it too little.

I mean, we may not enjoy that collision out in center field, but nobody's shocked that baseball is an imperfect game and stuff happens. Do you think a "stuff happens" conversation is an important part of preparing for inevitable errors?



David Sherwin

Hi Kelly--

Preparing clients for possible errors is critical on any large-scale project, especially if you have a big team or it's software-scale interactive work.

I usually fill out a risk assessment document with all the things that can potentially go wrong—even black-swan type problems, that have a very rare probability of happening—and talk it through with the client, teasing out any other contingencies that may exist. That way, if problems do come up, there's already a rough action plan in place to mitigate it.

If it's a really, really major error, no one expected it, and it's already happened, often both parties already know about it and the "it's coming" step is moot. Step "-1" would be you having a discussion with the client that's something like this...

Client: Did you know that [x] problem is happening? WTF happened?!?!?!

You: We're aware of [x] problem and we're looking into it right now. Within [x] hours/days we will have assessed the impact of the problem and will have an action plan in place that we can share with you. Until then, I'd like to ask for your patience—and we'll be working nonstop on your behalf until we have solution to your problem.

That way, they know to expect that in [x] amount of time, you'll respond.


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