Think about this one. I mean really think. I’m not talking about the project manager who is only running internal projects…that never really presents a dilemma. But for those project managers working in professional services environments where you are leading a team of project resources who have been assembled to deliver a solution for an external customer – for example a customized implementation of your own software offering – this can become an issue.
So the question begs to be answered…where do your loyalties lie? When push comes to shove, who are you fighting for? What are you trying to accomplish and who will you listen to first? Who’s concerns weigh heaviest on your mind?
I’m not saying that your executive management team is not working in the best interest of your project client. But it is no secret that what your executive management team cares most about and what your project client cares most about are usually two or more very different things.
Generally, your management cares about:
- Not exposing organizational weaknesses to customers
- Customer satisfaction and retention
What your customer cares about:
- Usable end solution
- Adherence to original price
- Adherence to original timeline
- Few change orders as possible
- Available and skilled project delivery team
I’m not saying that the executive team is bad – those are truly viable concerns for leaders of any organization. But as you can see there is really no overlap except for the last one – customer satisfaction and retention. That one is usually pretty important to your company leadership and it’s also built into every one of the customer’s top concerns as well.
I’d like to give you a couple of examples from my own experience where I was pulled two different ways and the end result of each action that I took or agreed to take.
Project funding issue
I was leading a $1 million+ long-term software implementation project for a very large government agency as a project manager and employee of the organization who’s software was being implemented. I had taken this project over from the outgoing project manager and it was my job to kick start this long-dormant project. I did that – with my new team and a new team assembled on the government side and weaved the project through toward completion. As we approached the 80% completion mark, it was apparent that – due to unforeseen data loading issues – we were going to be over budget.
I wanted to bring this immediately to the attention of the project sponsor on the customer side, but was asked not to by my leadership and I followed their guidance against my better judgment. When the funding issue became more critical and basically all project funds had been exhausted, I was then asked to seek more funding from the government agency. Ouch. Needless to say, this did not go well. After a forced project stoppage to consider the funding issue (which amounted to about $150,000 additional funds that were going to be needed), the project was canceled altogether even though more than $1 million had already been spent on the effort. It was not a highlight of my career and if I had it to do over again I would have taken the initiative to discuss funding concerns as soon as it became an issue.
Setting customer expectations
One of the main reasons you conduct a formal project kickoff session and planning sessions is to ensure that customer expectations are properly set so that planning and development can start and productive work can be accomplished immediately. Following a kickoff session with my project client on yet another long-term high-dollar software implementation I went onsite with my business analyst and our project customer to conduct some detailed planning sessions. We began mapping out business processes to carefully document requirements and functional design. It soon became apparent that in order for our project client to fully understand how to tell us what needed to be accomplished, they needed to know hands-on more about what the software could do for them and how it worked. They thought such training was part of their contract – but the sales staff had failed to make clear that it was not and it was going to be very expensive for them to go to our site for the training (as was the normal process for such training).
As I worked with my executive management to determine how best to proceed, they pushed for my team to continue with the current planning sessions which, unfortunately were going nowhere and were causing strain with the customer. I suggested a work stoppage and a change order that involved bringing one of our trainers onsite to the customer for a week of detailed product training. This satisfied my project client as a low cost onsite training solution involving no travel on their part and satisfied my executive management because the change order meant additional project revenue and profit for the company. I was fortunate to get a rare win-w in out of it, but putting my loyalties with the customer on this one was the best solution.
Summary / Call for response
How about our readers? Have any of you found yourself pulled in opposite directions by your company leadership or even your PMO leadership and your project client? If so, what was the conflict? How did you respond? In hindsight, do you think you responded appropriately or correctly…did you do the right thing? Please respond as we continue this discussion. Thank you.