A “Marriage Contract” for Successful Projects

When a client engages the services of an agency on a major project – an intranet or major web site for instance – the important elements of the contract are not necessarily those written on the paper to which the signatures are added. Given the high level of mutual dependency, intense frequent contact and joint expectations, this relationship can often feel like a marriage.

If it is going to work, the relationship must be fair,  the “marriage contract” must allow for trust and understanding on both sides. The agency, for its part, must undertake to keep the client’s goals firmly in mind, offering a good level of flexibility and understanding, as well as a commitment to a high quality outcome without trying to pump the price up every time anything changes. On the other hand, the client must understand that not everything can be known in advance – there will be human, organisational and technological challenges that crop up along the way, delaying the project, or requiring more effort and resources. The client must also understand that the agency is a business, that work costs money and that changing decisions costs time. Most importantly, perhaps, they should be willing to listen to informed advice and accept that any agency worth its salt will have some useful insight into what works and what doesn’t work in their own particular medium.

Like all marriages, the one between agency and client must involve mutual empathy and respect – liking each other helps too. Working in an often very exposed position, dealing with the high and often conflicting expectations and desires of the many and varied project stakeholders, the client Project Lead needs the agency to understand the pressure to deliver, they need to be know that when their neck is on the line, the agency will pull out all the stops to make good on promises made. Similarly, on the agency side of the fence, the project manager knows the importance of regular praise and thanks for their team – designers and developers work best when they know that the pride they take in their work and the time they spend debating the minutiae of interface design is being appreciated by the users.

Let’s be honest, we all spend a vast amount of time at work. When we are working hard, when we are putting our all into a joint enterprise, we need to enjoy ourselves, to feel fulfilled, to receive encouragement and positive feedback when it is deserved, in the client and agency alike. When the relationship goes well, when everyone feels liked and fairly treated, when everyone is looking out for each other, that is when great things happen, when the ideas flow.  At the same time, just like in any other marriage, there will also inevitably be some habits that may annoy each from time to time – but such is life – sometimes we must all bite our tongues.

Now the project is over, just one question remains – who gets the bouquet?



About jonallenby
I'm the co-founder and Technical Director of a new media agency - Lime Media. I would describe myself as having a healthy scepticism about technology - new ways of doing things are always new, but they are not necessarily better. Best to cut through the hype and think about how technology will physically change people's lives, for better or worse. I am also struggling to finish a part-time PhD in language, metaphor and philosophy at Goldsmith's College, University of London. Apart from thinking and reading, I like playing with my children, cross-country running and White Crane Kung-Fu - though usually not all at once.

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