Is the lack of customer involvement a good thing? Sure, we’d all appreciated it from time to time if our customer’s would stay out of our hair. It would make our jobs a lot easier if we could work on the project without phone calls, questions, and demands from the customer, right?
But what are the downsides? While a project free of customer involvement and interference may sound enticing, let’s look at what problems this scenario can potentially cause:
If the customer throws their requirements over the wall to the vendor at the beginning of the project and offers little participation beyond that, you can be relatively certain that the delivered solution is going to miss the mark on a few, if not many, real requirements. Much as we’d like to believe that requirements can be set in stone at the beginning of the project, we all know that’s really not the case. Planning meetings – when handled properly – almost always flesh out more requirements and more detail to existing requirements. Clarifications are needed, assumptions need to be addressed….it is inevitable. If that detailed planning can’t happen or doesn’t happen with the customer, then the end solution is likely to not be what the customer and its end users need.
A typical professional services organization is going to charge its customer – on average – close to $200 per resource hour. If no one is participating from the customer side, it’s a given that it’s going to take more project team hours to gather the necessary information, obtain more detailed requirements and reset expectations, manage the project, and provide a final, workable solution. It wouldn’t be a one-to-one trade off on customer hours versus vendor hours, but customer hours would not be costing them $200/hour – it’s far more likely to be costing them about one-third that amount. Given that, every hour the customer spends helping to manage the project can actually result in a decent savings over the course of the engagement as long as you keep their assigned tasks and participation meaningful and relevant to the success of the project.
Some customers may say they want you to handle everything and keep them on a “need to know” basis only. In reality – whether they admit it or not – customers like to be catered to and they like to have their hands held. And the less they know about what you’re doing on the project, the more uncomfortable they will feel. Even if they hear nothing negative about the project, their satisfaction level will decrease over time as doubt and concern starts to enter their minds.
Keeping the customer well informed – even if they don’t seem to want it – is the best way to maintain customer confidence and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. And coaxing the customer into ongoing project participation will force them into a situation where they are continually in touch with you and are up to date on the project on an ongoing basis. Be creative, come up tasks for the customer to handle on the project …. do whatever you have to do, but keep them involved.
About the author: Brad Egeland is an IT/PM & Business Strategy consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit his website at www.bradegeland.com.