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Revision hell – troubleshooting for digital projects

There will be a lot of situations in one’s Digital Project Management (DPM) career where it is not really clear what to do to solve a sticky situation. I sure know I made some mistakes and wish I handled things differently. I would’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble and time, haha. But nevertheless, I’m glad I can share this wisdom with you today!

In this series we will walk through some scenarios and how to solve them as a DPM. I encourage you to think about your own approach before continuing to the ways you can handle the situation. Enjoy Troubleshooting for digital projects: “Revision hell”.

Revision Hell

A real classic. In this case, the client won’t stop giving feedback and you are in revision round #101. Things keep dragging on. Your team loses motivation, costs rise, the project delays and the quality of work actually declines after a few rounds.

The nasty thing here is that every time it seems like you are almost there. The client keeps saying “This is really the last thing and then we’re done!”. But every time something new comes up. Maybe a new insight, a new opinion, a new stakeholder is introduced or maybe they discover a mistake or bug. In any case, this is exhausting for everybody involved.

What you can do to prevent this

Preventing revision hell is actually very possible. It has a lot to do with setting great ground rules, managing your client’s expectations, facilitating great feedback, and being conscious throughout the whole project. Let’s dive in.

Setting ground rules & managing expectations

If X happens, what will we do? Setting ground rules on your collaboration with the team and the client is crucial. A lot of this starts in the sales phase. A few pointers:

  • Most agencies have a standard list to put in their proposals and a more legal document (Terms & Conditions) that is more vague, but also handy. This is a great starting point.
  • For example: I usually guarantee one round of revisions without any extra costs when working in a Waterfall project. If more revisions are necessary, this should be calculated as extra work.
  • What is forgotten quite often is that the client should be (made) aware of the rules. He or she know what this actually means in practise. Sending it in a proposal without a conversation is usually not enough.
  • Also, make sure you set rules on what to do if your deliverable has a flaw and you are responsible. Will you correct it without any cost? And what about a year after delivery? What about bugs that only happen in an Internet Explorer browser?

Facilitate great feedback

  • Make sure the client has the time and mind space to sit with a deliverable, get input from the organization, and sort things out. This way he/she has the chance to give you proper feedback to work with.
  • Also, make sure the client knows when to give input.
  • Let the client collect and review all relevant feedback from his or her colleagues before you get to work. Sometimes a client will give you the input in parts. Don’t start if it seems like the second part might be a game-changer. Let them sort it out internally and get their story straight before you spend valuable time processing it. Chances are, you prevent doing work that wasn’t necessary to begin with.
  • Sometimes a client has trouble imagining something working in the real world. You will get feedback that is often positive, but superficial. You’ll miss out on input you will for sure get later in the project when things are further along. Use realistic mock-ups, sketches, prototypes, or other tools to make them envision your deliverable in the real world. The more visual, the better.

Being conscious

The last part in prevention is being conscious every step of the project.

  • Familiarize yourself with what was promised in the sales phase or phases you didn’t attend. If something is out of wack, you might have to talk to the client and try to shift the situation. Maybe apply new rules or talk about a promise that was made on which you can’t deliver. Be transparent and try to tackle it before something goes wrong and emotions rise high.
  • Pay close attention to your client’s body language, choice of words, and tone. Ask about any notable behavior. For example: “Hey, maybe I’m getting this all wrong… But do I see some doubt here?”

How you can end Revision hell

If you find yourself in revision hell right now, it’s going to be a little bit of a process to get out. Our goal here is to have a happy client, a happy team, minimal overrun, and a relatively fast delivery.

Get in a conversation with your product owner (or contact person on the client side). Explain the situation in as much transparency as you can. Keep in mind a win-win situation. Offer a solution. For example: finish the current round of revisions without extra costs, but the next ones are calculated per hour.

If things are tense, get a neutral third person on the table to act as a good or bad cop. Maybe that’s your account manager or the agency owner. This third person can be more direct and speak on behalf of the organization because he isn’t working with your client directly. This way, your working relationship doesn’t have to be influenced on a day-to-day basis.

That’s it for now. I hope you get something out of this! Please let me know in the comments or on the socials what you would do.

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