Contract Agreement - End-Of-Availability Clause

Hi all, I just want to share with you a section/clause I am thinking to add to the contracts we send to Clients after some late experiences.

While working in Asia, everything was super fast. By that I do not mean smooth, but fast.
However, coming back to Europe, starting a small office and working now with 2 clients from different European countries, we find ourselves the projects to take so much more time than expected due to Client’s painfully slow responses, indecision, lack of internal co-ordination.
In order to avoid in the future similar situations, we are thinking to add something like “availability” clause were we will state that we can guarantee our team’s availability to your project for X months. In this way we :
a) Set a kind of project deadline
b) We can “leave” the Client if we feel he/she is dragging us.

Do you use any kind of similar term, clause to your contracts? Do you have similar experiences and how did you overcome them?

It will indeed be painful adjusting to a new business culture after operating in Asia…

After relocating from Korea to the USA a few years ago I was met with similar frustrations. It is not just the USA design/development culture per se that I find myself in, but the new digitized, globalized and distributed screen based on steroids environment that we all are still getting used to that is quite bothersome. Some find it exceedingly difficult to adapt to the new post-Covid working environment while others are embracing the new paradigm and are even getting better at compressing schedules and increasing efficiencies as you are probably seeing as well.

What I’m seeing new now is that with people working from home, they are taking on more projects from others (even while employed full time) and this is creating new tensions that are not necessarily out in the open but more opaque. People hold 2 and 3 positions with different firms (despite signing non complete clauses), and as this becomes known to other team members, tensions grow and patience wears thin for those who want to move more quickly. (this has happened to me twice now since the pandemic began).

The chart below reveals some of what has contributed to the present problem. Of the 4 design methods sectors measured in the below chart produced by the research from Humantific, Discover/orient and Define/conceptualize have the largest in quantity. This data is is primarily collected in the west and illustrates how design has morphed more towards strategy and less towards execution which is measured by the other 2 sectors: Optimize/plan and Execute/measure which are largely now the domain of East Asian based resources that include mass manufacture.

You are among the first to recognize and address this issue at the consulting contract language level in my experience. I’ve had to cancel working agreements on several occasions with start ups because other team members will not leave their full time gig to complete their part of the project. Many large design/engineering departments here in the USA have become overwhelmed with internal cultural issues due to pandemic and increased human resources priority related issues and do not have time to devote to working on actual projects. It appears to be the time now to address this new problem in design/development and get it out in the open.

Momentum during a project from a design perspective is valued only by the designers. Other team members from other disciplines see priorities differently. Finding a way to package the deliverables in a way that has a clear start and finish time that all can agree on is one way forward. This will require much more contract, design brief writing, video conference and oversight on the part of management. This will help set expectations and ease the frustration, but at the same time it will add loads more administrative time to the the project that many are not used to. I’m doing this with new start up firms I work with from now on. Many are and will be resistant to this approach due to the nature of the way startups are structured. Large established corporate firms need to re-realize that small external teams of designers cannot stand still while their client’s team employees go for more race sensitivity training or deal with remote members who are preoccupied with multiple jobs that others do not know anything about.

Good luck…

In one of the consultancies where I worked, we added a “communication, feedback, and review turn-around” component that stipulated a certain maximum time that was acceptable, in order to hold to project timing, for the client to respond to requests, updates, or review. Outside of that maximum time, the contract stated that the project duration would increase (with associated additional, divulged costs). It worked pretty well.

designbreathing , thank you for the lengthy and full of interesting information response.
Indeed, relocating from Asia was so painful from day 1 as me and my wife (and partner) found out how slow daily and professional activities can take.
The issues you raise on the way working processes has changes because of covid are valid as other fellow creatives (especially in the motion graphics domain) have observed them as well. In my case though, the problem is the company structures/cultures or NPD processes they follow (or do not follow).
The chart from Humantific is super interesting and absolutely spot-on on the developments of the design profession in Europe and even Asia (I dare to say), I do not know about US.
Quite some designers younger than me that I know and almost 90% of my students in Taiwan where I was teaching are all about Strategize, Research (oh yes and UI/UX). It appears very that very few are willing to get down to the hard reality (and beauty) of execution.

The one company is SME the one with a cash-cow looking to develop the next product (but not in a rush), the second one is a new company (but not tech start-up) and, as you very correctly point-out, the owner has another (cash-cow) company so his newer one appears to occupy less of his time.

Jacob, thank you for your input as well. We do state that as well. We do not have penalty though and this is an interesting alternative to just “fire” the client as our initial thinking was. May I ask what was the % of the initial quote the company would surcharge the client?

Other consultancies I’ve worked for would put a 48 hour limit on decisions with the ability to charge a 5% late fee on the phase for going over with a day for day push on the final deliverables. All of the decision points, timing and deliverable handoffs are clearly stated in a signed contract… so deviation equals breach. I find it also helps if the initiation payment is substantial (50% of total program) because the the client is invested and will want to reach that 50% point efficiently, which then establishes a cadence for the project.

But some of this is bond to happen which is why so many firms oversell their services to compensate for the slack that happens from programs creating gaps at decision points.

Michael, thank you for your input and info you share as well. We always ask a 40% of the total fee as a down-payment.
We conclude that we will have to have both an additional fee for delays as well as the option to set ourselves (optionally) as “non available” after a time-frame.
The extra fee we think that will make the Client to reconsider any delays in a short-term (kind of per design/npd phase) and the “non available” (aka fire client) will set is free when we see that even this extra fee/penalty can not compensate the hassle and trouble that client is creating to our processes.

Steppenwolf, glad to hear you have a sizable deposit as well. I think that has become pretty standard. I’m sorry to hear that is not motivating the pace.

I think if you have a schedule in your contract that details decision points, and you have a clause stating that decisions can only take “x” amount of time, then if they go over then the client is in breach of contract and you have recourse to cancel the rest of the project or come back to it when you have availability. That might negatively effect your reputation of course.

I had a client who was constantly breaching these things a few years back. The projects were sizable and I usually had a couple of contractors working with me on them. But sometimes they would take a month or two between decisions and come back with a major scope change with a rushed deadline that necessitated change orders. Every once in awhile it is understandable, but it became evident it was just their standard operating method. So once we finished out our contractual obligation with them I let them know they would have to find another design partner. It just wasn’t a great fit and a call I could make since we had other clients who wanted to do work and were a bit more predictable.

Steppenwolf, I’m sorry, I can’t remember what our “penalty” fee was for this, or exactly how we extracted it (left that lovely business up to the account manager), but it looks like you’re on a good path with all the feedback . . .
Cheers and good luck!

Oh yes, we have learnt the hard way as well as, my partner/wife who worked in the design/manufacture/export business, she introduced this model. Actually she was in the 50% range as you do, but me, a bit more conservative wanted a number a bit bellow the 50% psychological barrier.

This is a good point yo. Thank you, we do have a project timeline attached to the agreement of course, but the addition of the clause you are mentioning is a nice “exit strategy” :slight_smile:

No, problem Jacob, thank you!