Customer Centric IT Project Management - An Emerging Trend
We have been dealing with the famous project triangle of Scope, Cost and Time for quite a while now and without any doubt it has been an imperative guideline to drive a project towards success. However with the continuous evolution and advancement across the business globe, the urge for having a competitive edge becomes inevitable. This is setting new trends for IT service providers and project management is also being influenced. Project methodology demands to be more customer centric now rather than only focusing on time and cost effective delivery like back in the days.
Customer responsiveness, expectations and satisfaction are also being used now to determine a project’s success along with the time & cost metrics.
A recent report, ‘Customers 2020’ predicts that by 2020, customer experience will surpass both price and product as the key brand differentiator. Many say that it already has.
Business entities are now using customer satisfaction as a performance indicator for their projects. Experts of the trade have shared their views on customer centricity:
“Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.”
Tony Alessandra – A famous American Writer
“Customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company.”
Tony Hsieh – CEO of Zappos
“Amazing things happens when you listen to customers”
Jonathan Milden Hall – Coca-Cola
A Customer Centric IT Project Methodology
Till now we have discussed the influence of customer on the project. We need to identify how we can effectively introduce this approach into our projects and what are the long term and short term benefits associated with it.
Involving Customer(s) in the Project Team
For most of the IT projects, the project team is required to coordinate with the customer’s technical staff in order to understand and work on the existing infrastructure for the new solution. This is often achieved by arranging meetings with the Client technical POC. However during this communication the progress and outcome is based on the behavior of the technical team. Normally they see it as a thankless favor they are giving to the vendor who is already receiving payment for his services. Hence the involvement level remains minimal.
The other way of doing the same activity is nominating one Technical coordinator from the Client Team who is responsible for coordination with the internal technical teams. Obviously, this person will not be involved in any configuration or effort but, being a project team member will only be involved as far as coordination is concerned. Thus he is performing the same task of coordination, but is fulfilling his role in a much better way as he has a sense of being accredited. The benefits associated with it are:
- More involvement from the Client Technical team as they know they are booked and acknowledged by their employer to work on the project. This results in aggressive progress.
- Being part of the team helps in understanding the complexity of the technical tasks that a project team may have been facing. Hence when you as a vendor project team are justifying a delay, “the insider”, knows your pain and can help communicate it to senior client management.
- Having a project coordinator from client helps foresee any technical obstacle and often the first one to cry “Ice berg ahead” is the Client Project Coordinator. This helps mitigate / minimize any delays due to technical issues.
Including Customer in the Steering Group – Decision Making
When a customer requires an IT solution/Service he or she usually expects the solution to be according to requirements, if not exceeding them. The most convenient way to counter this problem is to put them in the driving seat so that they can contribute in designing the execution methodology; this will indirectly overcome the “meeting expectations” dogma.
Normally complex or long projects have steering committees receive periodic reports about the progress periodically. Upon input from the project manager they make certain decisions which influence the progress positively. It is the job of the steering group to ensure that the project is not being derailed in terms of cost, time or scope.
When a person from Client senior management is introduced in the steering group it does wonders for both the project and client-vendor relationships.
- The Client’s feeling that he has not only ordered the Ferrari but is also driving it home increases his satisfaction level.
- Apart from the status meetings scheduled with the client regarding progress, it is an influential indirect way to keep the customer updated.
- Whether it is a matter of approval for a cost or change in the actual requirements, the role of Client’s steering group member proves beneficial as it facilitates both vendor and customer.
Being Interactive in helping customer
It’s not only about providing what the customer wants, it’s about providing them what is beneficial to them in a more cost effective and efficient manner. Interact more with the client in the requirement gathering and scope discovery phases to get insight into customer pain areas in the business and suggest them best possible solution wherever applicable. If there are some potential issues that the customer is unable to see or if there are any value added benefits associated with a solution do bring them to their knowledge. This will create a sense of being helpful rather than being just an output generator.
The role of the customer in achieving a project’s success has always been vital. Adopting customer centricity in project methodology is just another way of acknowledging it. The above mentioned methods for engaging customers are only a few; depending upon the nature of the project, vendor and client there are many other ways of involving the customer in the project. The important point is that the sooner we realize the importance of listening to clients, the sooner our productivity will increase and the longer we will sustain.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Systems Limited, or any other entity related to Systems Limited.