The Client and I: Project Gap

Every design job starts like this: we know next to nothing about the client’s business, they know nothing about design. There is a chasm between the two worlds.

I’ve already dared to claim that the client has no idea what exactly it is that they want. Now comes time to ask the following: how can this even be possible? How can they have such erroneous ideas about their own aims, how can they be so oblivious of their own goals? After all, these questions all form part of project preparation, and should be a breeze for anyone that’s completed even a short project management course. Working out a strategy for the project – its business plan, monetization channels, marketing plan, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and how they are measured, principal goals and objectives, long-term project vision – must surely be the at the forefront of the client’s mind. It’s their business, their world – who could possibly have a clearer idea, right?

Quite often, the reason behind such a lack of strategy will be a phenomenon none of the parties involved are aware of. I call it the Project Gap. By that I mean a certain, quite palpably missing link between the expertise of the buyer, and the expertise of a supplier who they contract to do a job entirely outside of their own field. Neither party understands the other’s industry, knows its specifics, understands terminology, has any experience with standard processes, and without a doubt is oblivious to the pitfalls and nuances involved. It makes little difference whether the situation involves a top clinic contracting an upmarket tailor’s shop to make workwear for its surgeons, a food lab seeking a heating contractor, or a steelmaker looking for a studio to create a new website for them. Surgeons know nothing about tailoring, tailors are ignorant to the fine detail of the surgeons’ craft, laboratory technicians have no clue about heating much like heating engineers have no clue about biochemical facilities, steelmakers know nothing about web design – just like we know nothing about steelmaking.

The Project Gap is the missing link between our knowledge base and our client’s.

Let’s imagine the following situation: say there is a fictional company, Globuli – not a new player; an established ball bearings trader with a long history of doing business. They are a reputable trader, with not only a long-term business plan, but also several short-term ones. They have marketing strategies in place, they reel off their KPIs and SWOTs on a daily basis, they have no shortage of visions and goals, they plan and manage projects artfully, and they certainly know how to make their ball bearings go around. Project management is something they could teach others: in fact, their last sale of giant-sized ball bearings to Indonesia was such a stellar success that the executive in charge of managing the project gave a speech at an international ball-bearers’ conference.

They know what they are doing. They are good at it. They have their strategies, clear visions and goals, they have detailed business, production, and marketing plans. And in one of them, somewhere between planning for interim storage for bearing lubricant and finding a new supplier of bearing glands, lies a terse and rather inconspicuous item that says „new website“.

What will a company like that do? Obviously, the logical thing: find someone whose business it is to do things like that. Probably put together a request for proposals and organize a tender; or heed someone’s recommendation and choose us. And send us the initial request for a Globuli Ball Bearings website. Does anyone really expect them to find a project manager who will put together a high-quality website amongst all their lubricant and gland experts? They are good at balls and international commerce, so that would be a surprise. And why should they even have to try? They’ve already hired the experts – our company.

From our perspective as the supplier, the situation is reasonably clear too. We build stellar websites and online applications. We love creating them, and we do it well. We have an all-star team: graphic designers, developers, server administrators, marketing specialists, an outstanding art-director – as well as amazing and efficient project managers. They seamlessly manage every job, plan down to the hour, source materials, liaise between our departments and with third parties – they rock. But what do they know about… what was it, ball bearings? What do they know about a Globuli? And what kind of website was it that the ball-bearing people wanted, what do they expect from it, how is it supposed to work? What do you mean, they don’t know?

So who, for ball-bearings’ sake, is supposed to know?

The answer is simple: no-one knows yet; a wild Project Gap has appeared. And to fill in this gap, to bridge the knowledge bases between both parties, is the highest priority goal of the designer in charge of creating the Globuli website-to-be.