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Beyond IT Staffing: Honesty Is the Key to Managing Customer Expectations

Monday, March 24, 2014/Categories: project-management

There’s much more to IT staffing than just providing talent to meet a client’s short-term needs. Doing the job right requires a thorough understanding of what a client hopes to achieve, and then developing a valued partnership with a shared goal of helping the client accomplish those goals. As part of that partnership, an IT staffing firm can provide added value by stepping in to help keep a project on track and eliminate unpleasant surprises for the customer.

It’s all about managing – or exceeding – the client’s expectations. The more the client knows about the project – and the internal and external factors that can influence its outcomes – the happier that client will be. That’s why many IT staffing firms’ services include project planning, ongoing project evaluation, and careful documentation designed to keep their clients informed and involved throughout the course of a project.

Documentation is especially critical for effective client communication. A quality set of templates that can be customized for any client and any project makes documentation easy. According to project management process expert Karl Wiegers, creating a project management plan is a great way to start.

The Project Management Plan

Developing a detailed project management plan to share with your client at the start of a project shows your firm’s grasp of the project’s scope and the motives behind it. Your plan should also detail the project’s goals and objectives, success measures, and primary deliverables.

A project management plan helps you manage customer expectations from the outset by identifying any constraints that could eventually have an impact on the success of the project or on the client’s outcomes. This is a great way to educate your client about the possibility of any external events or supplies having a negative effect on the project, so the client won’t be surprised if a factor beyond your control should later cause a delay.

You can also use this plan to clarify just how the project will be organized, listing commitments and interactions that will take place among both internal and external stakeholders. Clearly defining each stakeholder’s role and responsibilities early in the game can prevent communication breakdowns later.

So that customers know what to expect, the plan can detail the project’s estimated resource, training and personnel requirements, deliverables, and scheduling. It’s also a good place to outline your plans for progress reporting, risk management and issue resolution.

Because an informed client is a happier client, the more detail you can give your client, the better. For helpful tips and a tool to help manage your clients’ expectations with your own project management plan, see Wiegers' Project Management Plan Template.

The Risk Management Plan

No client likes surprises – particularly those that cost them time and money. That’s one reason why a written risk management plan is so important to client satisfaction. Such plans reassure your client that you have carefully assessed and documented the potential risks that could slow down the project, and have taken steps to address and track them. A risk management plan is also a good way to clarify what the various team members can do to manage or mitigate risk.

A good first step, says Wiegers, may be to invite all team members to attend a risk management workshop, where you can get their help in identifying, assessing and prioritizing risks that could jeopardize the project’s success. Based on their feedback, create a “Top 10” assessment of the risks that could have the most negative impact on customer outcomes. Then, call upon the team to develop avoidance, prevention or mitigation strategies for each of the “Top 10,” and assign individuals to attempt to resolve each risk before it becomes a problem.

Of course, it’s important to monitor progress against resolving the identified risks, and to continually reassess risks to identify new ones as the project enters each new phase. With a set plan to aggressively and proactively identify and tackle risks over the course of the entire project, your clients will know that you’re doing everything possible to keep unpleasant surprises to a minimum.

For risk management tips, as well as a template you can adapt to your own project, see Wiegers’ Risk Management Plan Template.

Project Status Reporting

Whether a project is running smoothly or running into problems, it’s a good idea to keep your client informed with regular reports. Find out how often your client wants to hear from you on project progress, and schedule reporting periods accordingly. Then, create a project status report that will educate your client about key status indicators, risks, concerns and more.

Use these reports to share not just the good news – such as milestones reached and issues averted – but also the bad. Although no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, keeping your client aware of defects, issues and unexpected deviations from plans helps you better manage the client’s expectations.

Your reports are also an opportunity to clarify for your client how much money and human resources the project has consumed to date, as compared to estimates provided earlier. If you’ve established metrics by which progress can be measured, this is the time to report on those, too.

For a convenient reporting template, see Wiegers' Project Status Report Template.

Managing your customer’s expectations means presenting your company as honest and straightforward, with the client’s best interests always at heart. With that in mind, you can never give your client too much information, whether the news is good or bad. By working together with your client in an open and candid partnership, you can improve customer satisfaction and gain a customer who knows they can count on you for the long term.

Free Downloads and Other Resources

Project Management Plan Template
Project Status Report Template
Risk Management Plan Template

For additional articles, templates and tools for project management by Karl Wiegers, visit www.processimpact.com or www.projectinitiation.com.

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