Using Your Contract As A Work Plan
By Gail Doby, ASID
CVO & Co-Founder, Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting & Design Success University
Getting a client’s signature on a contract is a great feeling. You’ve sealed the deal. Now you can take off your salesperson hat, put on your designer hat, and get to work. But wait! Don’t take that contract and file it away in a drawer. Signing off on the contract is only the beginning. If you’ve drawn up your contract correctly, you have in your hands all the elements of a work plan to help you manage the project and the clients’ expectations.
Contract management is a function usually found in larger companies or government agencies that handle hundreds of agreements with customers, vendors, suppliers, partners, employees, and outsourced services. It involves the creation, negotiation, execution, oversight, compliance, and analysis of contract agreements. A good contract manager can save a company a substantial amount of money and reduce its exposure to financial and legal risk.
Contract managers are highly trained, but you don’t need to go to school or hire a contract manager to benefit from good contract management practices. Once the contract has been created, negotiated and executed, the next phase – the project phase – focuses on two critical areas, fulfillment of the terms of the contract and compliance. That’s where the work plan comes in.
Some designers include a work plan or schedule as a part of their contract document. If you have a more basic contract or are using a letter of agreement in place of a contract, then, before you begin work, you should create one and review it with the client. I strongly recommend, however, that you include the work plan as part of your contract or letter of agreement, as it has more legal force that way should problems arise during the project. In addition to whatever other steps or details you need to specify, your plan should include all the elements of the contract, such as which party or parties are responsible for doing what and by when, invoice and payment schedules and amounts, and major project milestones, deliverables and deadlines. If you and the client have discussed any contingencies or “go” / “no go” points in the project, those need to be called out and highlighted.
Once you have begun work on the project, continue to update the work plan, noting when terms have been met or deliverables accomplished, and provide the client with an updated copy as well. You can actually create a checklist review of the scope of services. Check in occasionally with the client to “audit” your respective progress and reaffirm the terms of the contract, address any issues, and, if needed, mutually amend terms – in writing. This is done in an addendum or a change order and is signed by the client before beginning that additional piece of work.
Using your contract as a work plan not only helps ensure that both parties meet their obligations and have their expectations met. It also reinforces the validity of the agreement and your professionalism, which will help deter the client from failing to comply with the terms or trying to back out of the agreement. Unexpected occurrences happen in every project, but neither you nor your client should be “surprised” during the project by something you both agreed to from the start.
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