Don’t leave the tough questions for the end
Imagine you have a friend living in Belgrade. Hot summer days are getting longer, and the temperatures are getting higher. Concrete is melting down slowly. The place looks more like a ghost city. With each new day, it’s getting more and more boring. One morning, your friend decides that he has enough of it. He’s taking some days off and flying to one of the famous Greek islands. Only sea and sand — it couldn’t get any better.
He’s putting his backpack on, getting ready to leave, and then, just a moment before he walks out of the door, he’s typing ‘Budapest’ into Google maps.
- Wait, what?! How do you mean Budapest? Wouldn’t it make more sense to catch the flight to Athens or take the ride to the south? — You would ask.
- Yeah, it probably would. I know what you mean, but it’s too much hassle getting to Athens now. It’s the middle of the summer, man. Budapest is way closer. Only a few hours away by car.
- But it’s in the opposite direction from the Greek islands! And there’s no sea in Hungary.
- True. But it’s much easier to get there. And highways in Hungary are pretty good, so I won’t have any trouble getting there.
You shrug in disbelief and wish him a nice trip! Only a few hours later, you get a call from him. And hear him saying all puzzled:
- Hey bro, I’m just entering Budapest.
- Yeees, and?
- Well, it’s pretty cold, and I seem to be moving further away from the sea instead of getting closer to it.
- Oh, well, yes — that’s because you were heading towards Budapest.
- Yes, yes, I know. But I wanted to visit the Greek islands.
- But that’s what I’ve told you. That’s not the right way to Greece and its islands. How, in the world, you’re asking me now — how did I come here?
- No, no — you misunderstood completely. You’re my buddy, and you should have shown me the way. And instead, you’re just criticizing. Anyway, I’m not even sure if you were the right person to ask for the direction in the first place.
Sounds crazy, right? It may be.
But I had this kind of conversation more than once. Never with my friends, though. But with some of my clients. And no, it wasn’t about the direction of getting to the sea, but rather about the guidance of their digital product. And no, it wasn’t happening within a few hours, but rather within a few months.
If the client hires you to lighten his way, you must be wondering how something like this might happen at all?
Well, it’s probably one of the following reasons:
- The client didn’t define the goals
- He did, but he didn’t manage to communicate them clearly to you
- Or, the goals sucked
Nevertheless, since you’ll be the responsible one for the outcome, it’s better to clear those things up as soon as you get onboarded. Or even better, before you get hired. How to do that?
Ask the client about his goals upfront. How did he determine them? Is it one big, hairy goal, and if it is — could it be divided into several smaller ones?
Try to find out why he’s doing the project at all? What makes him think that’s the right thing to do? What is his motivation? Ask if he had similar previous experiences, or is this the first time he’s trying out? Ask him why he thinks you’re the right person for the job?
Help him understand that you’re not just a mechanical duck who will provide him the final screens at the end of the project. But rather the person who will guide him through the process until he accomplishes his goals.
Ask him the tough questions and be ready that he won’t have all the answers. And that’s fine.
But if you see that there are too many gaps, be prepared that there will be even more once you start working.
Perhaps, even then — you’ll still want to take the job. You might also decide it’ll be wiser if you step back and give it over to someone else. Either way, it’s your call.