In my last post, I took a real look at the role of commitment and its affect on timely delivery of projects. Today we will look at some straight forward advice that may take a twinge of bravery, but is critical to delivering on schedule.
Tip 8 – Manage Customer Expectations
Some of you who have been reading along and paying attention to this series, you might have a couple of questions come to mind:
Do we really need to manage customer expectations if we will be delivering on time by following all of your sage advice?
Wouldn’t managing customer expectations be more useful if we were going to be late on the project?
To those questions I would answer yes and yes. Even though managing customer expectations is even more relevant if your project is late, it is still a critical part of delivering on schedule. I will let you in on some keen insight that a wise friend of mine shared with me a long time ago. I won’t reveal his name since he said he would deny it anyway. We were discussing optimizing the performance of software systems. One topic related to when a user clicks a button, how many seconds does it take for the action the button represents to finish. In the middle of discussing best practices and techniques for minimizing response times, he stopped to share some expert insight. The jist of what he said was that no matter how fast and responsive a system is, the customer will always want it to be faster, so you might not want to give them a maximally tuned system in the first release.
So how does this story relate to our topic at hand? No matter what date you commit to, the customer will nearly always want it sooner, or will want to add more features, etc. How do you counteract the natural and insidious scope creep or feature creep before it becomes a scope avalanche that takes you far away from your objective of delivering on time? In addition to having a simple and effective process for managing change requests, you have to manage the customers’ expectations. You need to help keep them and you focused on the end result of getting the current project or phase of the project done so they can start reaping some of the benefits that the project promises.
On the surface, my previous statements may feel like the beginning of a migraine headache rapidly approaching. The good news is, I have had my collective years of virtual migraines for you and distilled it down to the following key aspects managing customers expectations. Hopefully this will save you a few migraines and add a couple of years onto your life.
Keys to Managing Customer Expectations
Understand what your customers want
To do this, you have to listen. They may say a lot, but you have to listen for what they want, and sometimes that means you have to listen to what is not said. Assuming your customer wants the project to happen and wants it to be delivered on time, that is what you have to repeatedly keep you and them focused on.
Educate your customer
Most customers don’t understand the technical specifics of managing or executing a project. Thinking from their perspective and background, you have to appropriately educate them on how the project will progress from start to finish. This is a high level education, not an attempt to impress them with the details.
Keep your promises
If you simply do what you say you are going to do, that goes a long way to building trust. To do that, you can’t promise to do everything that they may ask for. You may not honestly be able to promise to do everything your organization sold them on upfront. This is where it is critical to promise only what you can promise and focus on doing everything you can to make that happen. Keep in mind, your most important promise is to deliver a quality product on schedule. Everything else is negotiable.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is a continuous performance and not a one time act. Saying something once or saying it multiple times but only in one mode of communication is rarely sufficient. Keep the communication flowing, which includes plenty of listening.
“The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” -George Bernard Shaw
Stay tuned for Delivering Projects on Schedule – Part 9, which will be the conclusion of the series and the most controversial advice I publicly provide on how to delivery projects on schedule.