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Avoiding Change Order Black Holes

Handling those ‘it-will-only-take-a-minute’ requests as they come up.

During a project, how many times have you heard, “While your guys are here, could you just…?” Chances are it’s not the business owner hearing what Taylor Swift would call a “nightmare dressed like a daydream.” It’s probably not the sales rep or the project manager either. It’s the installers on the job, hard at work, trying to execute the scope of work they were handed that morning and told, “Good luck!” The client is excited and all this whirring activity has her in a creative mood, remembering all the little bugs and micro projects she’d been putting off because having people in the home is so disruptive. “But, oh, now that you’re here, could I show you something? It will just take a minute…”

Change Orders
Illustration by Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Welcome to change order hell, one of Dante’s concentric circles in the Inferno. How do we complete the job and keep the client happy while at the same time parrying their request blows to keep us on track? Installers tend to be oriented around pleasing clients and they’re a captive audience. The project manager (if the job has one) is long gone and we’d need to text them. After all, the client said it would just take a minute; what’s the harm?

The project manager checks back in at the end of the day to discover things aren’t going as planned. The job’s going to be pushed out another day, disrupting other booked clients. We also never got approval from the client to bill them for their “just a minute” request, which ended up taking four hours. Now the project manager has to eat non-billable revenue while letting the client know we’ve gone sideways. Now the client is upset and is having a hard time connecting the dots between her “minor” request and the delay. “You guys are the professionals,” she says. “No one told me it would be more money or delay the job. I’m disappointed.”

The road to hell is truly paved with good intentions. Everyone in the story meant well at the beginning, and, in the end, everyone is mad. How can we prevent this scenario from playing out again inside our businesses? Two simple words can save the day next time: proactive communication.

Also by Henry Clifford: Rethinking Specialty Training

Picture a train rolling down the tracks at top speed. The engine is chugging full steam, passenger cars are bursting at the seams, and the caboose is bringing up the rear. Now imagine you need to add another car to the train. Can’t we just insert it in the middle? Of course not. The train would derail and all those imaginary passengers wouldn’t be home for dinner. What we can do, however, is attach the new car onto the end of the train. Our projects are no different.

The next time a client approaches you with a “Could you just?” request, consider the following response: “That sounds great! Let’s get the original project nailed and then we can tackle the new requests. That way we’re not spinning too many plates in the air. Okay with you?” I’ve used this phrase many times and 99 percent of the time the response is “Absolutely!”

If we’re willing to hit the pause button prior to performing additional work and setting expectations with the client, everyone’s happy. So why don’t we do this every time? As with most things, it’s all about the people. Consider labeling this phenomenon with your installation, project management, and sales teams and then training the hell out of it using role-play scenarios. It won’t happen overnight, but before you know it your employees will recognize “it-will-only-take-a-minute” potential black holes from a mile away and will know how to handle them.

Also by Henry Clifford: Beware the “Warp-Zone” Employee

What are you doing in your company to stay out of change order hell?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.