When a client contacts us about a new branding, design, or development project, we ask a lot of questions about the scope of the project so that we can propose an accurate budget and timeline. In addition to questions about the details of a project, we’ve started asking, “At the end of this project, how will you decide whether or not we’ve been successful?” Or, a variation that we’ve been experimenting with is, “When this project is complete, what will make you want to refer us to others?”

You might be tempted to think that the project's scope is synonymous with the client's definition of success. We used to think that too, but we've learned that's not always the case. The RFP or statement of work is heavily focused on the what of the project, whereas declaring a project successful requires satisfying the why of the project.

For example, a client's scope of work may list the following high-level deliverables which comprise the what of the project:

  • Brand refresh, including updated logo
  • New website
  • New business cards

But further discussion about the client's definition of success reveals that we also need to accomplish the following to satisfy the why of the project:

  • The client wants to clarify their position in the market as the top-quality vendor, rather than compete on price.
  • The client wants to work with a firm that never misses deadlines (their previous agency frequently missed deadlines).
  • The client wants ongoing support after the project's completion.

The original deliverables tell us what the client needs to have at the end of the project, but the additional details tell us more about the real results the client wants and what they expect from us during the project.

We’re not interested in merely checking off the feature list in a statement of work; we’re interested in happy clients who can’t help but tell others about their successful project. Making this happen reliably requires knowing the client's definition of success at the outset of the project.

As an added bonus to better understanding the client's real needs, we've discovered that asking this question also helps the client understand what they really want and this, in turn, helps them to better evaluate the various proposals they receive. When they've clearly defined the outcome they hope to achieve, the lowball proposals start to seem less appealing and a reputable firm starts to seem like a must-have…and that's where we come in.