I have worked in many companies delivering project management training where there appears to be an issue with my clients complaining that their clients keep changing the specification of work.
In order to dig a little deeper I have asked my own clients ask a number of simple questions:
What have you done to really tease out client needs/expectations?
Have you got a clear statement of what problem(s) you are trying to solve?
Have you got clear objectives with scope statement (what is included and what is excluded)?
How much do you engage with your clients (and internal stakeholders) during the project keeping them informed of progress towards solving 2 above?
Looking at the questions above in order I can best summarise responses as:
What have you done to really tease out client needs/expectations? In many cases, little time has been spent doing this. One project manager was told by the client that ‘the brief is the one in the email’ which he described as brief and not to the point. Another said that the expectations were ‘gleaned’ in a 5 minute phone call. Little work was done to try and get agreement on the expectations of the client
Have you got a clear statement of what problem(s) you are trying to solve? Very little work is done to understand the true problems to be solved and where problems are clearly identified few write anything down
Have you got clear objectives with scope statement (what is included and what is excluded)? I am told that objectives are vague and there is no agreement on what is included and what is excluded from the scope of work
Are you really working with your clients to tease out their needs and expectations?
How much do you engage with your clients (and internal stakeholders) during the project keeping them informed of progress towards solving 2 above? Engagement with clients is seen by project managers as haphazard. There is no agreed process for communication (either way) and as one person suggested ad hockery rules!
Educating your client is a key project manager role
I have stated many times that educating your client is a key aspect of the project manager and project sponsor role. I get some sceptical comments when I suggest this. I understand why as it slows down the project management start up process and in some cases it takes people outside their comfort zone; having to spend time asking questions, researching, agreeing the scope and yes, educating the client!
However, the consequences of not educating your client are clear to see;
deadlines come and go – are not met (or it is a false deadline)
client expectations are raised but not managed or delivered against (indeed, they may be impossible to deliver against)
relationships start to suffer as the client is not getting what they want
companies lose clients as ‘you cannot deliver’
the quality of the work drops in order to meet the agreed deadlines (but with added scope)
profit margins are reduced
There is a need to spend time educating your clients. Indeed, I suggested to one client that they should ask their clients if they wanted to come onto one of their internal project management courses or, run one for them!
How do you educate your clients ?
In discussions with one client I asked what else can you do to educate your client? Here are some of the suggestions:
share lessons learned – many of these are client issues as discussed in this article. Imagine the power of a lesson that suggested; “We got it wrong at the start. We should have spent more time exploring what the problems were and the budget to solve it.” OK, these are my words however they are pretty powerful if read and understood by others
improve listening and questioning skills – if used effectively, these two skills will really tease out what the client wants and whether you can actually deliver for them
be more proactive – suggest to clients that typically the start up process throws up all sorts of issues so let’s sit down for a few hours (or have a ‘phone conference)
stick to best practice – it’s all too easy to say OK, we can deliver against that timetable and cost/. But, what is it you are delivering? Use project management templates
So, what do we need to do to educate our clients, and ourselves?
Original image in Google Images labelled for use with modifications