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Can this project be saved? How to respond when a proposal totally misses the mark

In his weekly advice column, Maynard Webb tackles the opposite of “scope creep” and urges both sides to listen.

Can this project be saved? How to respond when a proposal totally misses the mark
[Photo: iStock]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, the former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I found someone I thought was the right contractor for an important project. We discussed the scope and our vision for success, and I thought we were aligned. Then, I received a quote that didn’t include two primary things I asked for. Now I’m questioning the competence of this person. Is that appropriate? 

—Executive in the Bay Area

Dear Executive, 

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I understand your confusion. You thought you gave clear direction and you received back something that was out of sync. That can be frustrating, and now you need a path to move ahead.

  1. Instead of focusing on how you were not listened to, try to find out how you got here. As Stephen Covey wisely taught us: “Seek first to understand.” What did happen? Ask questions, so you have a better sense of what caused the misalignment. Try to clarify the differences. You can say something such as, “I was expecting this, and I got that. Did we have a miscommunication? Did I say something incorrectly, or did you hear something else?”
  2. Rather than making a contest of who is right or wrong, approach this with an air of wonder. Be open to new possibilities. Is it possible the original assumptions were wrong? Could there be another way? Or, is the best approach to go back to the original
  3. Remember you are still the boss—you write the paycheck and how you proceed is ultimately up to you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and you don’t have to continue to work with someone you lost faith in. You are embarking on an important project and the outcome will be with you for a long time.

As with most relationships, success really boils down to good communication — or as I often say, over communication. In the future, after each discussion, make it a best practice to recap the project, your expectations, and next steps. That can reduce the risk of wasted time and unclear direction and keep the project on track.