Monday, 16 March 2009 19:00

Making the Client Situation Better

Written by Andrew Miller
As a Project Manager, what is our main objective? To keep the project on track? On budget? In scope? To implement successfully? There is a strong argument for all of these, but many of them are difficult to manage. Scope is a variable to be debated, project timelines are changing all the time and project budget may be static, but can never be exact.
Maybe we need to look at a different way of determining whether or not we were successful as project managers. Ask yourself this simple question – is the client better off than he/she was when I got here as a result of the work that I have done? (For the purposes of this blog, client can mean external clients or internal business – in each case those benefiting from the project). The reason that I like this question as a gauge of success is it focuses on improving the clients’ position. The reason that you may NOT like it is because it can be a purely subjective measure. Typically you can put measures in place to prove whether or not the client is better off, but most do not spend the time required to do this.

Many of us have found ourselves in a position destined for failure. Project sponsorship is poor, there are not enough resources on the team, the software vendor is non-responsive, etc. In these circumstances, traditional project management measurements (budget, timelines, change orders) would make us look like terrible PMs. But, if we ask the question above, and the client is better off than when we started, then we did a good job. A good PM recognizes that they cannot always fix the problem, but they can improve it.

If a manufacturing organization has a defect rate of 50% on parts and embarks on a project to fix the problem that results in a reduction to a 35% defect rate, did the PM do a good job? Most would say that a 35% defect rate is unacceptably high and therefore the project failed. I would say that on the surface, it looks like the PM did a good job, but what was the project supposed to achieve? Was the target 20%? 40%? Without knowing our objectives, how can we gauge whether we were a success or failure? Traditional measurements do not give us this information, but we are stuck using them because that is what everyone wants to hear.

Maybe we need to look at a different way of determining whether or not we were successful as project managers. Ask yourself this simple question – is the client better off than he/she was when I got here as a result of the work that I have done? (For the purposes of this blog, client can mean external clients or internal business units.) The reason that you may NOT like it is because it can be a purely subjective measure. Typically you can put measures in place to prove whether or not the client is better off, but most do not spend the time required to do this.
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