Delivering on the project is great. On time delivery, on budget delivery. Fantastic. Delivering exactly what your client asked for? Pretty nice. Delivering exactly what your client needs? Even better. Some clients expect more than we are planning to deliver. Some expect less. Setting those expectations properly out of the gate is a challenge and an art form. And it’s something that every good project manager needs to be able to guide his team to do….no matter what the project customer says or expects.
The expectation gap is more the result of a failure to communicate than it is of anything else, and this lack of communication starts at the beginning of a project and extends all the way to the end. This definitely does not have to be the case. It is the project manager’s job to utilize effective and efficient communication to sort out customers needs and to appropriately set customer expectations and team expectations early in the project to ensure the end goals are correct, are attainable, and are what the project customer actually wants and needs. Let’s look into this a bit deeper…
Figuring out what is needed as opposed to what is being asked for
The customer has a problem, issue, need or want. That’s why you’re on the job. But keep in mind, the big problems on many projects are caused because there is often a disconnect between what the project client says they want and what they really need. The disconnect may come about because the client is swept up in a euphoria over some new technology and is so enamored with what they see for potential technologies and solutions that they have convinced themselves they have to have it without any further thought of exactly what it is they really need.
Or they see a problem that needs taken care of, but they really aren’t addressing the root cause of that problem. That’s your job…and figuring that out is what will make for a satisfied customer – and end users – at the end of the engagement.
It is the job of the project manager and team to ask the right questions and extract the needs out from behind the wants. If there is any reason to believe that what the client says they want is different from what they need, the project manager has the responsibility of sifting and sorting this out as soon as is humanly possible – even pausing the project to go back and get a better handle on the true need. It would be a mistake to proceed without having the assurance that wants and needs are in alignment – it serves no good purpose to just forge ahead. You don’t want to start the project not knowing that the solution is in fact what will satisfy the client. The project statement of work (SOW) should begin to lay this foundation for the project team but may not fully sort out the customer needs from wants. You and your team will have to dig deeper and ask the right questions.
Where do most projects run into the greatest problems? Usually at the beginning as you try to get everything off on the right foot – but there are so many variables that many projects falter at this point. And communication plays a huge role in this initial success or failure.
How often do you find yourself thinking about what you are going to say while the other party is talking? If you are going to be a successful project manager, you must stop and listen. Proactive thinking and planning is great – but not at the expense of hearing what the customer is expressing early in the project planning process. An essential skill that project managers need to cultivate is good listening skills. The key is to understand what is being said, listen well during business process discussions and then you’ll be in a better position to help guide the requirements definition process down the right path.
In the end, delivering the right project solution is critical
If you are practicing efficient and effective communication throughout the engagement, then you and your project team should be able to become aware of what it is exactly that the customer needs as opposed to what they think they want. It may be difficult to break through the barriers that are hiding these true customer needs and even harder to convince the customer that what they say they want isn’t exactly what they are indicating they need.
The thing to remember – and to remind the customer of – is that you have the team of implementation experts and the customer came to you with the project. It is your job to deliver the right project to them and a solution that their end users can actually use. You’ll need to convince them that your proposed solution is actually what they need, though it may be contradicting what they say they want. If this is the case, you’ll need to draw upon your top-notch customer management and customer service expertise to guide them on the right path, be sure not to offend them as you redirect their thinking toward the proper solution, and keep them confident and happy in your ability to deliver they solution their business truly needs.