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What is Order Clarification?

Table of Contents: DefinitionContents and QuestionsChallengesTipsNotes

Smartpedia: Order clarification is a process in which the client and contractor clarify mutual expectations with the aim of developing an understanding for a joint project.

Order clarification – the basis for successful cooperation

There are probably no valid figures on what percentage of projects fail partially or really fail completely. One reason why projects fail or at least get into difficulties is a lack of clarification of the mandate at the beginning of a cooperation between client and contractor. If expectations are unclear, goals remain unspoken or contradictory, the approach and communication are not defined, additional stakeholders with new requirements emerge in the course of the cooperation or technical framework conditions are unknown, then it is hardly surprising that the cooperation does not succeed smoothly.

The order clarification provides the basis for a successful cooperation. It is a process in which the client and the commissioning party exchange mutual expectations and develop a common understanding of the nature and content of the cooperation.

Order clarification - the basis for successful cooperation

Typical contents and useful questions in an order clarification

An order clarification usually addresses the following contents:

  • What is to be achieved with the project? What is the project goal?
  • Who are the stakeholders of the project? What positions do they take, what goals do they pursue, how will they be involved or informed in the course of the cooperation? Who are the primary contacts, how and when does communication between them take place? Who is actively involved in the project?
  • What is part of the project and what is not? What is the scope? And what is the joint procedure?
  • When should the project be completed? What is the time schedule?
  • How big is the budget?
  • What resources are needed for the project? Who will provide these resources (staff, material, hardware, software)?
  • What risks are associated with the project? What benefits are expected? And what work results are to be delivered?

Probably many projects fail even though they address these issues in the run-up to a cooperation.

To really gain a common understanding, it is often useful to ask additional questions. Here are some examples:

  • What is the reason why a project is happening right now?
  • What will happen if nothing changes in the current situation?
  • What has already been tried to solve the existing problem?
  • What do the parties involved already know about each other?
  • What is the motivation for working together?
  • Why doesn’t the client buy an available standard product?
  • Who needs to be involved so that the project is practically guaranteed to be a success?

Projects can also get into difficulties, even though such and similar questions are asked and answered in the course of clarifying the assignment. However, the imbalance is usually not due to a missing, inaccurate or even bad clarification of the assignment, but despite a goal-oriented clarification of the assignment.

Challenges in order clarification

There are some challenges that arise again and again in the course of clarifying assignments:

  • There are unspoken objectives and expectations – often on the part of the client, but regularly also on the part of the contractor.
  • The client’s expectations are unrealistically high. It is particularly difficult for the contractor if the motives of the client’s participants remain unclear.
  • Central contact persons are not or only to a limited extent available for the exchange of information on contents, procedures, deadlines, cooperation, etc. The contractor’s expectations are not met until after the contract has been awarded.
  • Personal, substantive exchange only takes place after the contract has been awarded – e.g. in the case of tenders from larger organisations or authorities.
  • The goals and wishes of those involved on the client side are contradictory.
  • There is a lot of time pressure, which makes a detailed clarification of the assignment difficult, and as a result leads to misjudgements of content.
  • There is no basis of trust between the parties involved.

All this is not so easy, is it?

Tips for order clarification

Some tips for practice can be derived from the challenges:

  • Time pressure is not a good advisor. Insist on an order clarification that helps both sides, lays a foundation for good cooperation and enables a service that meets expectations. Or put another way: If you cut corners here, you will almost certainly pay a high price for it in the course of the cooperation.
  • Ask in detail and listen carefully. Dare to ask questions where you think you know the answer. Do not interpret.
  • Try to understand the context – what situation is the client in, what does he need, why and how until when? And what is the situation of the contractor – what can he do and what does he want to do, where are his capacity limits, what can he do well, what does he like to do, what does he need to achieve a good project result.
  • Carry out the clarification of the assignment as early as possible. Document or record the results and review the agreements in the course of the cooperation.
  • Ensure transparency. Even if those involved want to “sell themselves well”, it is about a common understanding of a situation, it is about context, needs, possibilities and trust.

And last but not least: even if the client and contractor know each other from previous collaborations, do not forego clarifying the assignment. It is and remains the basis for successful cooperation.

Impulse to discuss:

Why is the importance of order clarification underestimated by many companies?


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Here you can find a German-language video on order clarification.

Here you can find a German-language video that addresses the importance of order clarification for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches who lead without power and authority.

And here you can find additional information from our t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Order clarification - first things first

Order clarification – first things first

t2informatik Blog: How can I avoid uncertainty?

How can I avoid uncertainty?

t2informatik Blog: Four special power skills in project management

Four special power skills in project management