The customer just won't sign off on a deliverable. No matter what you do, no matter how you tweak it, no matter what you offer as a compromise to get past the issue, the customer can't seem to get past whatever roadblock they are seeing. Ever had that happen? Ever had a deliverable review that is so painful you want to pull all of your hair out? I have ... .it is not fun. And I don't have that much hair left to mess around with.

Maybe they just don't have the funds to pay now and they know signoff approval means payment. Or maybe they just are that picky. Or maybe the deliverable is really that bad. Things happen. But to move on with the project, you must get past this current issue. What do you do?

When I've experienced similar issues on my projects - or witnessed them happen on the projects my colleagues were leading - I have become aware of a pattern of successful responses. I have notice corrective action that either I have taken or a colleague has taken that seems to help the situation and project more often than it has hurt the project. These are:

  • Send executive management to the customer
  • Hack the price
  • Give something away
  • Ramp up your team with better resources

Let's look at the first two of these four potential actions:

Send executive management to the customer

I once took on a project that seemed to be in a never-ending cycle of fix, test, fix, test, fix, test ... you get the picture. Yes, this is what I unwittingly jumped in to. We were always 90% done, with perpetually 10% let to fix and implement.

We just couldn't get over the hump with some final issue resolution. The issues that remained would not affect system functionality, but it was still painfully embarrassing and left the customer concerned that agreeing to signoff now would mean they would be left to resolve everything on their own.

It didn't matter that I had modified the post-deployment support schedule and showed them through Seavus Project Viewer that we were going to hold their hands through any remaining issues. They still would not sign off. So, at my urging, two of our senior management staff went onsite and did some customer confidence boosting as well as some slick negotiating that I had been pushing for and we finally got that final project signoff we'd been looking for. Painful? Yes. Satisfying? Very much so.

Hack the price

You may not have the authority to do this on your own, but cutting the price of an expensive deliverable for the project customer may get you over the hump. On one of my projects we had delivered a critical project document with mistakes in it multiple times. First it was typos, then it was a bad PDF creator, and finally it was some bad formatting on the final revisions. It was at that point that I implemented a 'peer review everything' mentality on all of my projects, but the real deal finalizer was getting my management to ok a deliverable price reduction by $5,000 and not so surprisingly, the customer jumped on it. Yes, money can definitely make things happen.

Give something away

This is similar to decreasing the price, but a different twist. Maybe you're sending your developers to the customer's site to help get them through some difficult testing activities. Don't charge the customer for the travel - or possibly don't charge them for some of the work that is being performed.

And if the problem has gone on long enough and the customer is frustrated enough, maybe you don't charge them for the trip at all. If you're trying to regain customer goodwill and compliance, then giving away some work for free may mean the difference between an easier-to-work-with customer and one that will make your life miserable for the rest of the engagement.

Ramp up your team with better resources

This may or may not help, but it will likely send a good message to your project customer that you're doing as much as you possibly can to get past the issue. Add the best resources your organization has to help get over this current hump.

It will likely break the project budget - if that hasn't already happened. Indeed, fighting the fires to get to this point has probably already killed the budget ... .but that doesn't mean the project isn't savable. So, if the project is visible enough and if the customer is important enough and if the dollars the customer is refusing to pay are high enough, reach out to your senior leadership and ask for whatever you need.

Tell the customer you're going to apply the best resources within the organization to get past the current issues. I did this on a project I had inherited and it basically worked. Once I had the resources pulled from other projects and secured on mine, the customer then came on site for two weeks of intensive - and expensive - work to get to the point of finally being able to signoff on the system

With the help of the top resources for two weeks - and a knowledgeable former colleague helping on the customer side as a contract project manager, we resolved the system performance issues that remained to the point where the customer was ready to approve the system for implementation.