Projects are launched for a reason. The final deliverable is a unique product, service, or result that is accepted by the customer. You must begin by making sure you are clear regarding customer expectations. Surprisingly, many project managers take the approach of imagining what the customer wants, which is analogous to putting the cart before the horse.
Start with the Customer
The customer has a good idea regarding the final deliverable. In essence, the customer knows what the product, service, or result is supposed to do, but they lack the skills and time to do the actual work. It is your job as the project manager to put together a project plan that meets the customer’s schedule and budget.
A good first step is conducting a requirements analysis. One of my companies created dynamic web portals for the officiating departments of major collegiate conferences. As the PM, I needed to find out the precise project requirements. To do that work, I emailed a requirements list to the customer. I wanted to know the features and functionality required for this project to be successful. With this information in hand, I could initiate the project.
Create Clarity Where Ambiguity Exists
Even after collecting the requirements from the customer, the project manager will notice activities that are unclear. For example, the customer might desire a reporting module to collect end-of-year information. The PM needs to find out where that information will be gathered,who will collect the data, and who is tasked with data entry. One key question is: How do you make sure the data is reliable. It must have integrity or the reports are useless.
The so-so project manager assumes the customer has a handle on all requirements. The proficient project manager, on the other hand, will value the input from the customer, but will follow a checklist to avoid mistakes on the back end. A smart customer appreciates a PM who practices due diligence.
The Goal is Providing Value
How do you define value? While you might have an excellent understanding of what value means to you, it might be completely different from what is important to the customer. Remember that your customers often have other customers, which means their definition of value includes are larger group of people and entities.
A good approach is to think how you can make your customer look good. If they are meeting their requirements to their own customers, you are providing tremendous value. Avoid thinking that you have to provide bells-and-whistles to “Wow” the customer. In most cases, customers are impressed with a product, service, or result that meets the basic requirements.
For most customers, value is about receiving the deliverable on time, within budget, and to the agreed quality level. In other words, simplicity translates to success.