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What if the Project Client Won’t Move Forward?

Business analysts – tell me this – have you ever worked with those project clients that you can’t seem to get out of the starting gate?

You seem to be in a perpetual starting mode, but the real project never seems to happen? Have you ever had projects that seemed to take forever to start and maybe never started?

As an independent consultant, I’ve had many clients seem like they were ready to go yesterday on projects…only to find myself six months later still discussing how we might get started. It’s frustrating; it takes time away from other projects we are managing or involved in and caters to clients who may really only be fishing for information from experts with little to no intent of ever starting a project.

Related Article: 5 Reasons You Need a Business Analyst Before Project Kickoff

How do we recognize these situations so we can somehow avoid them the next time they start to show these same signs? Or better yet, how do we help push them along into real projects? Let’s consider some possible concerns.

How can we more easily and quickly recognize these situations as they start to happen?

My quick answer is you don’t recognize it until it’s too late. And by too late I mean until you’ve spent some considerable email and phone time – and for larger, potential projects maybe even face to face time involving expensive travel. Yes, you may blow through a considerable amount of time and money and never get anything out of it. That’s the nature of project negotiation – it happens all the time. But avoiding it is almost impossible.

You don’t want to chase those project opportunities that are clearly outside of your scope of expertise. Your likelihood of success is low anyway. But if it looks like a good match then the ambitious business analyst is going to put their head down and push forward as hard as they can and try to get a project going out of what they have so far. And continuous client promises of a decision by the end of next week, or an agreement after one more discovery call, leaves a deal too close to pass up after you’ve already put weeks or months into trying to finalize the deal.

Suddenly, you look back and six months have passed. If you truly reach that six-month milestone, it’s probably time for the business analyst and project manager just to give up. You can’t turn a potential project customer into something they are not.

You know the saying; “If you love something, let it go…if it was meant to be it will come back to you.”

Is there a way to avoid these types of situations?

Probably not. But it may be that we could ask better questions up front. We never want to sound too pushy, of course. But it’s fair to ask if there is budget approved for this project, if the project is backed by senior management, or if there are high-level requirements mapped out already.

Have they gathered end users and questioned them on the potential project? The bottom line is this; have they really thought this through in terms of need and finances before they came to you or did they come to you fishing for some ideas?

If you ask the right questions, you can find out if they’ve really thought this through, if it’s a project with money and thought behind it or if it’s just in it’s just a concept in its infancy. You may even find out if they have decided if you’re the fit if it does become a project. You might just be one of fifty that was selected to be pinged with an email or phone call to get some information that might help them along in their decision process.

Be careful, however. If you give them a lot of good information, you may become the single source of providing them with planning info that they have no intention of paying for in the long run. I’ve been there. I think I’m in one of those situations right now, but I haven’t quite figured out if that is the case or not…so I’m hanging on.

Can we more easily turn them into real projects?

The quick answer is that you won’t be able to, or that you’ll fail more often than you’ll succeed. You can’t force something that was never really meant to happen. However, if you feel you are close and that the chemistry is fairly good, then the thing that may push it over the line into real project territory is one of two things; 1) drop the proposed price or 2) the addition some interesting service or add-on product. Giving them back some of their proposed dollars or giving something of yourself or offering for free can turn some of those “explorations” that never end into a real project.

Summary / call for input

We think we are in control, but we aren’t. We are the experts and possibly the business analyst is the most expert resource of all on each project. Still, these situations happen and can be so extremely frustrating. Just when we think we are about to get a new project in place and ready to move forward, the customer may throw a new wrench into the process or need more time or need more funding. You can’t force a “yes.” You can maybe negotiate a “yes” by giving more away for free, but at the business analyst and depending on your organization, you may not be able to negotiate too much or make that call. Again, it can be incredibly frustrating. If you are in a position to do some negotiating, then consult with the project manager and team and weigh the options. But be sure to think about the long term, too, not just the short term. And then decide – keep going or give up? That’s about the only amount of control you can have.

How about our readers? Have you been in a position with a project client that seems to be in a holding pattern indefinitely? What did you do to push it toward being a real, viable project? Were you successful?