Friday, April 15, 2011

3 Simple Tips to Effectively Manage Customer Expectations in a Project

Unfortunately, I have been a part of numerous projects, where customers change their expectations in the middle of the project. I am sure that you must have been a part of similar situation during your career. I might not have a perfect solution for this problem. But in this blog, I will provide you with 3 simple tips that will help you minimize any change in your project due to changes in customer expectations.

Identify what your customers don't need:

In my experience, I have always found a "NOT TO DO" list very helpful. The list of things you will not deliver sets boundaries for your project, and it provides a comprehensive basis for scoping discussions with your users and customers. To define a "NOT TO DO" list, you can ask various questions to your customers, such as: What is of the least value to you? What if we don't deliver this component? What will be an acceptable project? Trust me, this approach will go a long way in defining the actual scope of your project.

Communicate ONLY realistic expectations:

During my career, I have been a part of numerous projects where expectations were unrealistic. Manager/Client will over promise to their customers/stakeholders to gain their business/trust, and they fail to realize that they will lose their credibility when they can't stand up to their expectations. Thus, I would suggest you to carefully define the scope of your project. If you suspect any infeasible components in your project, then investigate those issues before promising anything to your customers. If your investigation shows that something expected by your customers is probably impossible, then communicate your findings with them. In this way, you will earn their trust and gain some credibility by involving them into decision making. After all, it is always better for projects to under promise and over deliver than to do the reverse.

Revisit requirements often:

Those days are gone, when we used to have rigid requirements for our projects, which hardly ever changed. Today's Project Management is a whole new game. Though our project might not change, the external environment will change, which will in turn change the requirements of the project. Thus, I would recommend you to implement a continuous feedback loop in your project management lifecycle, and revisit your requirements often. You can use various mechanisms to do this, such as: ongoing project discussions with your customers; demonstration of prototypes, pilots, mock-ups, and intermediate deliverables; feedback from testing; and other periodic customer interaction.

I hope, these tips will help you to manage changes in your project due to change in customer expectations. Let me know, if you have any other suggestions regarding the same. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

Monday, April 4, 2011

Incorporate best practices into your organization's culture

Recently, I was called upon for help by one of the local small business owner. She wanted to improve efficiency of her business processes to improve production capacity. After reviewing her existing process documents, I couldn't find any major improvements. So, I visited her company and met with few employees to get more information. To my surprise, employees gave me the different picture of the organization. Most of the employees seemed to consider processes as an unnecessary overhead. Their working style reflected "Just do it" approach to finish the work. This is not an independent event. I have seen many organizations, where this problem is prominent. You can have as many processes as you can, but if you fail to incorporate those process in to your culture then nothing is going to help you in improving efficiency. Following are few tips that you can follow in order to enforce your processes.

Demonstrate Benefits:

Most of the workers push back on the use of processes based on their primary perception of "more processes = more work". While that might be true, the assumption that not employing processes will tend to create less overhead is generally untrue. Thus, an organization needs to do a better job of communicating benefits of their processes to their employees. For example: Don't just tell your employees to put in their actual hours in to the ERP system. Explain them how this will help you to get an appropriate estimates for your future projects, and how this will reduce their overtime. Also, discuss about other benefits such as reduction in employee's stress level due to more control over projects, etc.

Customize processes:

It is always better to have people adopt practices that they have thought of instead of demanding that they should follow a particular process “because I said so”. Thus, every organization should do a better job of involving their employees in fine tuning their processes. Before coming up with any kind of process or hiring an external consultant, one should ask their employees about their idea of an ideal process. Of course, you might not agree with each and every idea that is presented to you. But it will give you a baseline to think about, and that too, for free. Asking feedback from employees will make them feel valuable and get their buy-ins before you implement the process. Thus, there are more chances that those customized processes will convert into actual processes instead of being just on paper.

I hope, these tips will help you to incorporate best practices in to your organizational culture. Let me know, if you have any other suggestions regarding the same. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi