“But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For…”
Clients, in general, usually have a good handle on their project needs. They come in with most business processes defined, some idea how those processes will be affected by the project in question, and expect you to figure out the rest. As project managers, our goal is to do a good job of documenting both the “as is” and “to be” environments and then figure out how to bridge the two.
However, there are always unspoken things customers wish you understood about them – even if they themselves aren’t really aware what they want us to know. Rarely surfacing at the beginning of an engagement, they typically show themselves subtly during the course of a project through verbal and non-verbal communication. If you’re adept at uncovering these issues at the outset of a project, you’ll stand a much better chance of meeting, or even exceeding, a customer’s expectations.
From my experience there are about four key things clients want their project managers to understand. Let’s take look at each…
Good communication from you is important
Some project managers like to run the show, make decisions and keep the customer on a need to know basis – especially if the customer isn’t pushing for too much info. However, no matter what they are asking for, understand that the more they hear from you, the more confidence they will have in your ability to deliver. Confidence is critical in project management assignments There is simply too much at stake. So keep the doors of communication open … it’s a project manager’s top responsibility.
Your client is already busy with the “other” work they are doing
The project you are running for your customer (i.e. the project sponsor) – may or may not be their full time focus. More likely, it is adjacent work which corresponds to their larger responsibilities. Thus, while good client communication is important, remember they may not be accessible 24/7. Keep your client well informed with project schedule updates, status reports, and team meetings, etc., but don’t get frustrated by intermittent responses. Remember, we all have our day jobs. Just make sure the information is easily available and up to date.
Detailed project schedules often don't mean that much to them
Customers need to know where things stand and your project status report needs to spell this out for them in an easily digestible format. While many customers like the broad strokes (Are we on time? Are we on budget?), others are more detail-minded and want to see each project, their tasks, resources, constraints, dependencies, etc. The information you supply must provide a solid executive summary plus the ability to drill down to the minutia for those who want to consume it. The use of a cloud-based project management solution which captures and tracks all the information on a given project is the best way to start. This allows you to create executive level and detail level project reports for those who want them, and maintains a history of any change orders, delays, critical task blockers, etc. stakeholders want visibility to. This helps ease the communication burden of the project manager and gives customers real time access to a project’s status.
No matter what they say, the budget is always a concern
A project budget is not a cash register waiting to be rung. Regardless of its size, the budget you get has been through several “right-sizing” discussions with executive management, finance, etc., to cut out any perceived “budget bloat.” Thus, from the outset, assume the budget is tight – from the customer’s viewpoint – and that they are mindful of every dollar spent. Closely monitoring the budget, being mindful of change orders, out of scope work requests, etc. is extremely important. A project manager who isn’t budget conscious risks a project’s overall success and the ire of a displeased customer.
Net net, the project is the project manager’s primary responsibility. While the customer is a necessary part of the puzzle, they have their own day job to focus on as well. Keeping these concepts in mind throughout the project’s life will help you to keep them confident in the ultimate success and keep you from feeling frustrated by those “unspoken” needs.