Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Do You Get Your Clients to Focus?

What do you do when you're part of a project with clients who can't (or seemingly aren't able to) FOCUS?

As in not making everyone at a meeting go over a documented design decision for the fifth (or eighth, or tenth) time? 

Or not being able to clearly define the parameters of a project even after there have been dozens (literally!) of meetings to try to get enough clarity on the subject to productively move forward.

I know that the horrid economy is stretching resources and forcing museum folks to become even crazier multi-taskers, but at what cost to exhibition content development, and definition of project tasks?

In any event, I thought I'd throw open the question of "How do you get your Clients to focus?" to the witty and urbane ExhibiTricks readership.

So please post your ideas, or any resources or techniques for finding focus with clients in the "Comments" Section below.



  1. Experiencing this right now. It's been going on for almost two years. I wish I knew the answer.

  2. Each design decision is a project milestone. Once a decision is made, it's resources have been expended. Revisiting documented decisions costs more money - they will become very focused when their pocketbook is on the line. The question is how to do this clearly and professionally.

    The client must understand that, while it is of utmost importance that they get a product they love, there are clear and finite deadlines that must be met. Schedules that show allocated resources are a great tool for this because everyone is aware how much time can be spent on each task.
    The problem you describe is common when the client is a group of people, rather than an individual. If this is your situation, I would recommend identifying who is in charge and give them the task of steering/focusing the group.

  3. I remind them that we are working on AN exhibit about (fill in the blank), not THE exhibit about (fill in the blank). This helps re-direct focus back to the chosen theme(s). I also like FraQuin's comment about process milestones. The reality of a change order that shows the actual cost of indecision works wonders.

  4. I've found (as a client and as a contractor) that this is one time when a very bureaucratic start to the project helps - spending a lot of time (arguably too much) defining the content outcomes we want and defining the subject matter boundaries (the exhibit is about "X" and NOTHING ELSE). This doesn't mean that we never change things, but changes become a much bigger deal for everyone.

    The problem that's harder to change is when nobody on the client team feels able (or allowed) to make decisions. I've seen this in bigger institutions where there is a constant pressure to pass decisions up the chain of command. I don't know if you have the power to get ultimate decision-makers in meetings (who don't have time to waste), but that might help.

    Finally, I've heard of companies who work out the staff cost of every meeting (per minute!) on the basis that decisions with a financial impact below a certain threshold aren't even worth the meeting. Do your clients know how much it costs each time they sit down at the meeting table?

  5. Great responses for how to properly frame the start of the project!

    Now a more difficult question: Any tips for re-framing or re-focusing a project that did not start in such a clear manner?