This summer we decided to redecorate our lounge. We had a reasonable budget and thought it would be plenty to repaint, get a new carpet, new curtains, and replace the old-fashioned fireplace.
Of course the first task was deciding exactly what we were going to do. This took longer than expected as although my husband and I agreed on the big things, we tended to disagree on the details. In the end we reached a compromise and set about pricing up and planning our new look living room.
Of course things didn’t go to our initial plan. The first major change was to realise that we didn’t need a fire at all. Why spend hundreds of pounds on something that we never use? So instead of replacing our old fire with a new one we decided to have it removed. This saved us money but delayed the project as now we had to find someone who could remove a gas fire, brick up the hole and plaster over it.
The removing of the gas fire also left us with an unanticipated problem: the fact that we now had a big gap in the skirting board. No problem will just buy a piece to fit in the gap. But of course it wasn’t that simple. Our skirting board has been on the walls for 15 years and you can’t buy it any more. So the whole lot had to be taken off and replaced. This in turn resulted in lots of ‘filling in’ leading to time and cost that we hadn’t anticipated.
Remarkably the painting took as long and cost as much as we expected. The carpet however turned out to be more expensive. Taking into account the quality we needed and the fact that none of the cheaper carpets that we liked individually was acceptable to us both, we ended up spending around £300 more than we expected.
Finally it was the curtains. We had hoped to find ready-made curtains in a colour and style that suited our new décor. We couldn’t. In addition when looking for new curtains I decided that pelmet above the curtain rail would add a touch of class. So made-to-measure curtains, along with a brand-new pelmet quadrupled the amount we intended to spend on curtains, and instead of being able to take them home and use them that day, we had a months wait. The result however is fantastic, and this time next year we will forget that it took 3 weeks longer than expected and we exceeded our budget by 50%, because we have the room that we wanted.
Why am I telling you this?
Quite simply this is what happens with training consultancy and design projects (NOT that they go over time and budget!!! – Both of these things are easily controlled). Our clients have a good idea of what they want, and they have a budget that they would like to stick to. However once you begin things start to change: we hit unexpected problems (e.g. all the source material they said they had…the actually don’t); we see options that we weren’t aware of before; we have to balance timescale with cost; we have to compromise original plans to balance the needs of many stakeholders; priorities change; people change and our ideas simply develop.
That is why it is difficult to provide a bone fide specification and quote at the start of training design project. If you are delivering a six-day management development programme, you can quote for that. Six days of training delivery plus one day for follow up/feedback/tailoring of materials. Easy. When you start a consultancy or design project (such as creating a competence model, the performance management toolkit, an induction programme, or writing content to sit on an intranet) you can only give your best guess as to what’s involved.
Of course we don’t expect our clients to have an open cheque-book: you need to be able to budget. With almost 20 years experience, we can give a reasonably accurate estimate of the time and cost associated with a consultancy or design project. However, it is only when we start work and get into the detail that we get a really accurate picture of what’s involved. That’s why we break a project down into phases so our client only ever has to approve the next stage (which is clearly specified). We believe in honesty and transparency, so when ever we spot something that is likely to affect timescale or budget we immediately let our clients know so that they can decide how best to proceed.
Sometimes, clients take on part of the project themselves. Sometimes they find the extra budget to get the product they want. Sometimes they extend their timescale so we can deliver bit by bit. Sometimes they tell us to stick to the original brief, which is fine. The important thing is that we all have realistic expectations, are open and honest with each other from the outset, and accept that things will change.
Like planning a redesign of the living room, the original plan was good but it isn’t what we ended up with. What we ended up with was better. That’s evolution.