29.06.2015 : Amber Murphy

Empowering client decisions

Client indecision is often the consultant’s problem. How can we as consultants empower decision making?

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. - Theodore Roosevelt

Client indecision is often the consultant’s problem. Over the years I have seen many a design stalled right on the cusp of construction. For example, a completed pipeline design done along a defined route was stalled when the client requested exploring different routes before deciding to go ahead. For many projects the cost of redesign far exceeds any savings made by having a better final design. You very rarely have 100% of the information needed for a decision. If you wait, the problem can change, often getting worse, the problems do not go away.

Often it can be frustrating when the client or decision maker won’t give the green light until all options and design solutions are explored. Also until works are physically in the ground, there will be an on-going problem affecting communities. For example that pipeline may be required to stop houses being flooded, to stop expensive operation and maintenance activities on damaged infrastructure, or to allow other works to proceed like pothole and roading repairs, local business operation and private construction activities.

If we are able to proceed with even some of the works proposed, it allows the client to gain control, see the proposed solution in action and creates a more positive feeling among the community. By empowering the client to make a decision, a project can get underway in a timely manner. This was experienced during the recent Canterbury earthquake rebuild works at the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT). Workers were often welcomed cheerfully into communities, even though there were construction and interruptions to traffic. The community was happy to see people working to alleviate their problems. Road cones and workers in high visibility vests became popular!

I’ve learnt that in order to move things along, we need to understand the client’s drivers, investigate solutions correctly and offer clear recommendations. Most importantly, these solutions must tie back to the key drivers of the client.

Tips to empower decision making

  • Understand the client’s criteria for making a decision. This can include a number of factors such as level of service, benefit cost, community support, government support, environmental impact, making a road smoother, keeping construction away from a school, or even saving a particular tree. Use these parameters to assist with decision making. For instance if the client is concerned about traffic around a school, then the recommended pipeline route should be designed to reflect this, and the rational conveyed back to support the solution proposed.
  • Always offer a recommendation. After all, the client has engaged us for our expertise and advice.
  • Don’t provide too many options. If you have a multiple variations on multiple options, trim them down and get into the engineering details with the best options only. Perhaps step back and look at the big picture: what are your alternatives, what information do you have, and what actually are the key differences between options.
  • Be concise and clear. Don’t surround the client in technical jargon and waffle.
  • Do the work to make sure your recommended option will work. Get it right. Make sure it’s constructible and financially acceptable. Have the background data, calculations, and analysis to support your recommendation.
  • When you know your solution will work, be confident and recommend.

Remember, a good consultant enables the decision maker. Present the client with the information to be able to make a decision according to their criteria, not yours.

Our expertise and understanding of the client’s drivers along with our concise and clear recommendations will help our clients get more decisions made (and pipes in the ground).

About the Author

Amber Murphy

Senior Associate - Environmental Engineering

Amber is a civil and environmental engineer. She has a range of experience in asset investigations, catchment wide assessment, detailed design, construction and coordination of works and other disciplines. She has had key roles in projects involving disaster recovery and infrastructure rebuild.

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

Mai Yeung · 3/07/2015 1:29:12 PM
A picture says more than a thousand words. Annotated photos to demonstrate ideas are well received by clients and easily get the message across where frequently they do not understand the technical explanations.