I originally wrote this article for the Projects @ Work website. To view the original article, go here.
You’re a successful project manager or have a strong desire to become one (why else would you be visiting this site). Therefore you fully understand that no two projects are the same and no two customers are the same.
If you have considerable PM experience, then you learned long ago that it takes far more than consistent paperwork to make a demanding customer happy. You certainly have to do the basics…. Communicate well, deliver timely reports and updated schedules, track issues, and manage the budget, but if you’re not a people person then somewhere along the way you’re likely to lose a customer…or at least make them unhappy or uncomfortable.
Three Needy Clients
Not all customers need coddling and constant stroking, but there are some out there that do. Unfortunately, many times those just happen to be the largest customers. In my recent career, I’ve had three customers on large software implementations who demanded most of my time and energy while I was running their projects (I was not the PM on the customer side – I was on the vendor side). Each of those projects was going well and I was communicating everything to them on a regular basis. Weekly I was:
- Delivering a revised project schedule (more often if changes necessitated it)
- Delivering a detailed weekly status report
- Delivering detailed budget and financial forecast information for the project
- Delivering revised issues and risks lists
- Conducting formal weekly status meetings that included my entire team and whoever the customer wanted to bring with them
Another customer was certain they had all business processes well laid out in advance to ensure a smooth 90-day implementation. They had repeatedly told us during our detailed kickoff session how minimal their changes would be to the out-of-the-box functionality that a 90-day implementation was definitely possible – and I believed them. Due to poorly defined business processes and poorly documented requirements, it became obvious that was not the case and 90 days later I was onsite with my team working through issues and trying to get the project back on track. It would be yet another 90 days and about $50k before anything was implemented.
The final case involved a small government agency that was actually run by a husband and wife team – probably the quirkiest customer I’ve ever worked with. You loved them one minute and were very frustrated the next. They were constantly afraid to spend money on the budget that was laid out for the project so work was frequently halted…meaning all forward progress would halt as well and it’s difficult to continue to keep the project team together when the project stops and starts.
How do you get around these issues? The answer is you really don’t. You can’t eliminate them, that’s for sure. You can do things to try to avoid them like focus on the key project manager tasks I’ve listed above. Performing those tasks well will instill customer confidence, ensure that all resources on both teams have as much information as possible to do their jobs and know where things stand, and will help ensure that the scope of the project is managed well resulting in a tighter ship in terms of project timeline and budget.
As PMs, we didn’t get in to this line of work for the easy projects and the easy customers. Those are boring. We like challenges – and that means challenging resources to manage, challenging projects and technology to implement, and yes…challenging and quirky customers to manage. Juggling customer satisfaction, delivery team happiness and focus, and delivery of a solid workable solution that is on-time and on-budget is our main focus and it’s what project management is all about.