Projects are important. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be ‘projects’ and you and I would not have jobs. But they are important, they are necessary, and someone experienced needs to lead them. But they are not and never will be an art form. Let me explain.
We become aware, at some point in life – hopefully sooner rather than later – that we value things differently than others do. What’s important to us may not mean anything to our neighbor or best friend…and vice versa. I know that projects are important, you know that, our customers know that, and our management knows that – sometimes if only seemingly for the revenue they bring in. But getting them done is often what’s valued most. How they get done isn’t that important to many of the people on the big stakeholders list. As long as they don’t cost too much, take too long, or end up quality-poor. As project managers, we understand that there is a certainly level of PM expertise and oversight needed to make sure the project has the greatest chance of success. We want to avoid overkill and micro management, of course, but a project team left to their own devices would likely be lacking those best practices, that schedule accountability, and that PM expertise to stay on track, on budget and to manage the customer all at the same time, right?
You would think the customer would probably be the most likely person or individual who would see the most benefit of the project manager and the PM processes…but that isn’t necessarily the case. The customer doesn’t necessarily care about project management they way we think they should. Some may even consider it an unnecessary expense. When those professional services organizations provide customers with resource prices and they see the project manager bill rate of, say, $200/hour, they may hit the roof.
Different customer types
The way I see it, there are three general customer types with respect to how they see and value the PM process. Some see the benefit, others have a hard time stomaching paying that much, and still others may completely despise the project manager seeing them as useless overhead managing something they could oversee themselves. We should probably just let them try because sometimes you’ll likely never please those types until they’ve had the chance to try and fail on their own.
Thankfully, you won’t run across that third type too often. I’ve only come close once – and it was difficult earning their respect but I did it through careful budget management, only giving them what they wanted, suggesting ways to save costs, and showing them whatever PM benefit I could at every turn. It worked, but it wasn’t easy getting there.
So getting back to the title of this article. So what do I mean by the statement, “Your project will never be a show piece?” The concept I’m trying to get across to any frustrated PMs out there is that you can follow the PM process to a ‘T’. You can be the best PMP-certified project manager in the world. You can deliver everything on time and on budget. And you still may find yourself frustratingly trying to please a customer that may never get pleased.
The real key is to listen to the customer and give them what they want. But make sure it is also what they need…and if it isn’t, you’ll need to dig a little deeper, reset some expectations and give them what they need, too. All with a smile on your face and while doing it as efficiently as possible. Understand what your customer really wants from a PM. Show them value without showing them over billing. If they don’t want too much PM, don’t give them too much PM. It’s all about keeping the project customer satisfied and confident in the delivery team’s performance and ability to actually deliver.