When I do projects, I normally go into them with the mindset of defining and locking down scope as much as possible, as early as possible. I want the customer to be focused on their needs and not stray into too many other areas. Well, Donna (our kitchen designer/project manager) had a different approach. She encouraged us to look at as many ideas as possible, go to different manufacturers, look at pictures, come up with as many ideas as possible.
At first I thought this was a frustrating approach. I want action and don't have much patience. My approach would be to show me three kitchens and I'll pick one. That is, until I heard Donna's reasoning. She said, "I don't want you to come to me at the end of the installation and tell me that you've seen something else that you really love and that you wished you had picked. I want to make sure that you've seen everything out there and have made an informed decision."
One of the phrases I've heard in project management describing this approach is "Creative Expansion". What this means is that before you start an actual project or solve a problem or need, make sure that you have explored multiple options with the customer. If the customer is looking for a sales tracking system, bring in packages and prototypes, go to trade shows, organize brain storming sessions. Don't be afraid of exploring options that may not be realistic. What this will do for you is that when the customer comes to you the day before implementation and says, "I just saw this great solution to our problem on the internet last night", you can say, "Good idea, we actually explored that early on, but found that it didn't really meet our need, and here's why...".
I am not a believer in that one size fits all. Often, just going for the obvious solution is right. But I do believe that very often when we, as project managers, push for a quick, firm scope definition, we are just setting ourselves up for customer dissatisfaction, change requests and rework. Take a look at your next project and ask yourself, "Is this a project where we want to do some creative expansion with the customer before we select our approach?" It may do wonders for your long term customer satisfaction.