~ By Brad Egeland
Our project customers are our clients, sometimes our friends, they pay the bills, and sort of call the shots. And then again, some of them want nothing to do with what you're doing…they just want you to "do it." But in general, there are three things that most - maybe not all but most - project customers wish their project manager and his team realised from the outset. These are just from my experience and opinions so please feel free to add to the list and share your thoughts. But here are my three:
Most of the time your project customer is a sponsor for the project because it is something that falls in the scope of his normal responsibilities at his organisation. Yes, sometimes it's all about everything he does and overseeing your project and your team is 100% of what he is doing. But usually that is not the case. Usually he's acquired the project because it was assigned to him or because it is important to him but he still has 90% of his time taken up by his normal tasks that he performs on a daily basis.
We like to think that this project customer individual is available to us 24/7 day and night at any time we need his input for information or a key decision…but that is often not the case. He cares, but he may just be a figurehead. The gatekeeper. You do the work, he signs off. So he wishes you understood that he has a lot of work to do that may not have much at all to do with the project you are running for him. If you sense that is the case, then try your best to keep your needs for him at a minimum and you'll likely end up with a higher degree of customer satisfaction throughout the engagement.
You produce detailed status reports, filtered project schedule outputs, and nice colour-coded project dashboards indicating project health on everything from resource management, to budget status, to schedule tracking. It's all there and you proudly send it off to your project customer and they say, "I don't want to see all that detail." Ouch. What do you do? Has this happened to you? It has to me. Don't get me wrong, many project customers want to see that level of detail. And many of the rest at least think they do or having it in their files makes them feel better about the job you and your team are doing, because if you're producing that much detail then you must be feeling a high level of accountability so you're not likely going to let them down without a fight. But there are those customers that recoil at the sight of that much detail. They want you to manage it, manage it well, and tell them what they need to be concerned about. Giving them this much detail almost implies that they should find the concerns and alerts themselves…or at least that's how they feel.
What can you do? You can decrease what you give them to match what they want to see. Or you can assure them you'll still keep them abreast of the details verbally during weekly status calls and continue to give them this level of detail. The key is this…you need to quickly get them back to their comfort zone.
Budget is important. In fact, it may be so important that it doesn't even need to be discussed because when it's gone, it's gone. Or a little over doesn't matter. Either way, hopefully you've already gotten a sense of that from the outset of the project.
Rather, what often is considered more "moveable" from the delivery team's perspective is the timeline. Well, guess what? That isn't really how the customer feels most of the time. They have internal users waiting on your solution, executives waiting for the next phase to roll out, and maybe even third party vendors lined up to tie in to whatever you are deploying. You may think a couple of weeks here and there doesn't matter, but usually that is not the case with your project customer. You answer to them, but they have to answer to someone higher up in their organisation. You don't want to make them nervous or make them look bad. That's very bad for you, the team and the project. So never take timeline setbacks lightly. Discuss them with your project customer quickly - and figure out jointly how best to handle them.