10 Surprising Ways to Make Your Project Customers Happy

Have you ever had a customer accept your project work although they were not happy with the project?

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, customer is “the person(s) or organization that will pay for the project’s products, service, or result. Customers can be internal or external to the performing organization.”

Group of People Standing Holding Customer

Internal customers have many problems. The problems may include:

  • A product that lacks certain features or functionality
  • Too many defects in a manufacturing process
  • A regulatory requirement
  • Insufficient sales
  • Lack of a building or infrastructure
  • Unhappy external customers due to poor response times
  • Vulnerabilities to a cyber attack
  • Not enough coffee (just kidding)

The customer problems are documented in a business case. The study results in recommendations on how to correct or address the problem(s). In other words, the business case describes why a project should be undertaken.

For example, let’s assume a claims manager for an insurance company has a problem. When auto policyholders make a claim, the insurer is taking 14 days on average to close the claim. The customer satisfaction is low, and the lengthy cycle time is resulting in greater cost to the insurance company.

The project is approved, and a project manager from Information Technology (IT) is assigned. The project sponsor is the V.P. of Claims. The Claims Manager is assigned to help lead the project. The project is completed in a matrix environment.

Now, imagine you have completed the project. The sponsor has signed off on the deliverables, but the customers (i.e., V.P. of Claims and the Claims Manager) were not happy with the project. What are some factors that could have contributed to the dissatisfaction?

10 Alignment Problems (and Solutions)

  1. Lack of clarity in the project goals. Clear goals are the foundation for successful projects. Fuzzy goals result in fuzzy results. Wise project managers invest time up front with the sponsor and stakeholders to clarify the goals.
  2. Morphing of the project into something it was not originally intended to be. The customer has a picture in her mind of what will be delivered and how the world will be a better place when the project is implemented. When the product or service is delivered, a weakened version of the original ideas is delivered in the sea of other things. Maintain the integrity to the project goals and requirements.
  3. Lack of clarity in the requirements. Users often struggle to define their needs clearly. A mature, experienced business analyst (BA) can utilize requirements elicitation and analysis tools to understand and harmonize the customer’s need. The BA helps to distinguish between what the customers say they want and what they need.
  4. Lack of stakeholder involvement. Although project managers plead for time with the stakeholders, sometimes the stakeholders never make the commitment. This situation leaves the project manager to guess at the interest and needs of the stakeholders…Not a good place to be. It’s critical that the project sponsor step in to ensure appropriate resources are available.
  5. Lack of periodic reviews to get stakeholder feedback. Don’t wait until the end of the project to unveil the new product or service…this is not Let’s Make a Deal. Start as soon as possible to make the deliverables visible. Use models. Draw diagrams. Prototype in different fashions to allow the stakeholders to see and provide feedback early and often.
  6. Lack of sponsor engagement and guidance. Project managers often struggle to get and keep sponsors engaged. The sponsor may fail to provide adequate resources, support the project, and communicate changes to the organization’s strategic plan. Organizations should train sponsors and help them understand the sponsor is accountable for enabling project success.
  7. Poor change control. Change happens. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the project manager must use the change control process to get approvals for changes to things such as the requirements, schedule, and budget from the beginning to end of the project. The project manager should communicate changes to the stakeholders.
  8. The project took longer than the customer expected. The project manager and team should complete the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the estimates, and the schedule together. The project manager should have the schedule approved by the sponsor. Lastly, the project manager should share the approved schedule with the stakeholders.
  9. Conflict between the project manager and the customers. In this example, the project manager was an IT resource. Assigning an IT project manager is not necessarily a bad thing, but an IT resource may be biased toward solutions that make things easier for IT. Conflict is inevitable. Project managers must use conflict management skills to effectively identify the causes of the conflict and minimize the negative influences.
  10. The team members had two bosses. Don’t underestimate the challenges in a matrix environment. Team members are selected from functional areas such as accounting, claims, and sales. While performing project work, team members are constantly dealing with the demands of their functional manager. The stress of two bosses, the functional manager as well as the project manager, can cause individuals to have ill will toward the project customers. Work with the functional managers to create the environment where individuals can flourish in their functional and project roles.

So Happy Together

You didn’t start the project with the goal to end with unhappy customers. You and the team members did not develop a diabolical plan to dupe the customers. The cause of disappointment is often rooted in a gradual digression in alignment…it’s a slow fade.

The project manager must clarify and baseline the goals and requirements. Check to ensure the team is delivering the products and services according to the project plan. Be sure the project manager and the customer(s) cross the finish line together!

The results? Happy customers. Happy project manager. As the Turtles would say, “So happy together…forever.”