Tyranny of ‘Just One More Thing’

This article is for all writers, whether technical or document writers– fully employed, contractors or freelancers.  It will primarily cover three topics that seem difficult for many writers to master (especially the second one below).

  1. Scoping the work
  2. Ensuring changes are costed (time and fees)
  3. Includes two sample forms

The origin of the topic comes from a conversation I had with a fledging freelance writer.  He was struggling to rewrite a document for the sixth time for a client who could not articulate what they wanted — but knew whatever was presented as final copy needed ‘just one more thing’. 

I asked the writer how they were costing the changes and was met with a look my Mom would have called a ‘stunned mullet’ look.  So I dedicate this article to Paul (you know who you are).

NOTE:  If you are wondering why I’ve placed quotation marks around ‘Just One More Thing’, it is to indicate that, in my experience, there is never just one more thing. 

Scoping each document

All business writing must rest on structure.  Structure covers more than the outline for the subject matter itself.  It begins with knowing and documenting what is required. 

If you don’t do this, it is like shooting an arrow into the side of a barn, then drawing a target around it afterwards, so it looks like you’ve hit the bulls eye! 

For most of us, the danger comes from our eagerness to just get started with writing — either because there is such a tight deadline or because we assume that what our client is asking for is obvious and easy! (I’m certain everyone knows the dangers of assuming.)

Whether the deliverable is for an internal, external or repeat client (the person or group commissioning the writing) you must work to pin down expectations, so you do not disappoint, and so you know when to stop writing. 

To do this, you ask defining questions that matter.  This is the ‘measure twice/ cut once’ part of writing that will ensure you and the client know when you have fulfilled the requirement. 

NOTE:  You will find a link to a sample ‘Scoping Writing Template’ at the bottom of this article.  I hope it will stimulate your thinking about how your requirements are unique and that you will be challenged to improve or create your own scoping document.

Although scoping the work will delay the writing it will ensure you hit the target, save time, frustration and money. 

Costing writing assignments

There would not be enough space in this document to cover the nuances of pricing, so I will cover this topic in the next newsletter.  

‘Just One More Thing’

I had the privilege of working with a large law firm in Atlanta (Georgia in the USA) on a project to edit nine book manuscripts on construction law in contractor’s language.  It helped form my foundation when starting my business. 

A chapter or many of the books had to do with ‘change orders’.  Many people become familiar with change orders when they build or remodel a room or a house. 

Example – Build a Backyard Patio

Let’s say you hire a contractor to build a wood deck patio at the back of a house you’ve just purchased.  You look through a number of potential designs and agree on one you love.  The contractor buys the materials and prepares the site. 

Once construction is nearly complete you decide to inspect the progress.  When you do, you notice the contractor has used pine wood rather than something that seemed obvious to use – redwood. 

You know pine is cheaper than redwood and assume the redwood was not chosen to save costs. 

You go the contractor and insist that the pine deck (that is now nearly complete) be replaced with redwood. 

The obvious cost impact from no one specifying the type of wood — and both parties assuming they were reading the other’s minds — clearly would be significant as would costs and time delays from legal wrangling.

The contractor has some choices now if they are to get paid.  In hindsight, they have learned the hard way, the critical value of properly scoping and specifying the details of every project before picking up their tools or buying anything.  Had they initially agreed and signed off a scoping document, everyone (contractor and client) would have known what to expect.

However, in this case, perhaps it was a friend doing the work (as writers we can sometimes fall into this trap), the contractor may:

  • offer alternatives, such as treating or coating the pine with something to extend the life of the wood and offer to absorb the cost of this
  • agree to make the required changes at their own cost)
  • cost the changes and leave the ultimate decision to the client to accept the additional time and cost to swap out the wood

Change Orders

Change orders are not simple editorial enhancements (spelling or grammar), they are changes that will take substantial thought, time and effort to make, for instance:

  • change the length of the document (usually to increase the length or sometimes to chop it in two)
  • adjust the timeline for delivery (usually accelerated!)
  • redirect the purpose of the document
  • address a different audience
  • create additional, but different versions
  • restructure or adding new materials
  • research additional information to insert within the document
  • etc.

The Trap

Here’s where a great trap lay – TIME — meeting new, urgent, unreasonable or accelerated time frames!  You may be pressured to just make whatever changes are requested to meet the requirement by working around the clock.  [You don’t want to lose the business or argue with the client.] 

However, beware of making unlimited numbers of changes (like Paul who was  on his sixth rewrite) because you ‘train’ your client to keep asking for ‘just one more thing’.  And they will blame you when a deadline or quality standard is not met. 

Most important, this results in not getting paid a fair price for your work.

A writing assignment takes good project management.  This means anticipating from the beginning how the process could go and what to do if it doesn’t. 

It is professional to be open to any request for ‘one more thing’.  But it is vital to define what is wanted and cost it in time and fees BEFORE you begin changing a document. 

NOTE:  In your scoping document it is always wise to address change orders and how they will be handled, so no one is surprised.

Define the Changes

If your client asks for changes, it is important to send them a formal ‘Change Request Form’ (there is a sample below).  Ask them to complete it, then meet face-to-face (or by video conference) to work through the Change Request form together so you are certain you understand the changes required.  This is a great time to negotiate if and why something is absolutely necessary. 

Once complete let the client know you will return to them with a time and cost estimate to make the changes. 

As you did with the original scoping document use the change request form to work out what the changes require in time.  Do a gap analysis between what was agreed (which you will have met) and the new requirements. 

You can use the time/ cost metrics you used for the original scoping document. 

Once you’ve calculated the amount of additional time and effort involved, present this to the client for their agreement (or not).  Discuss how the changes will be managed, establish an agreed time frame and MAKE SURE you get their signature.  Then make the changes.

NOTE: to discourage this becoming ‘the way we work’, especially where timeframes are nearly impossible or the client is difficult to manage, you may wish to add a ‘nuisance fee’ (which you will, of course, call an ‘Additional Service Fee’) based on your judgment of the situation and assignment.

Rules of Change Control

  1. Be prepared. Establish a policy to manage changes before you begin writing for others.  It is best to write this out, even if you are a new freelancer beginning your business or someone working within an organization. 
  2. Share the process. Clients and any others involved in the change control process decision-making process need to know how, if, when, what changes can be made and the potential impact of the changes in time and cost.
  3. Share the responsibility. Establish a change control decision-making person or group/ board/ steering committee.
  4. Anticipate and manage emergencies. Define how decisions will be made should there be ‘emergency’ changes (such as a legal or regulatory change).
  5. Document progress. List and date requested, accepted and completed changes in a formal ‘Change Control Log’. 
  6. Learn from the journey. Review this log as part of the final ‘project implementation review (PIR) and note the lessons learned and, if necessary, update the policy or procedure.

 

Click on these to receive PDF copies of the forms:

SAMPLE – Scoping a Writing Project

SAMPLE – Change Requests

By Darlene Richard