One of the most critical responsibilities of an IT project manager is keeping a project on track. Clients don’t like surprises, especially the kind that cost time and money. When it’s your reputation at stake, you want to be sure you’re managing the client’s expectations appropriately. Doing so means striking a careful balance between meeting the clients’ business goals and staying realistic when navigating the inevitable bumps in the project’s road.
As anyone who works in the IT field knows, some project delays may simply be unavoidable. So how do you keep your clients happy? It’s all about managing – or exceeding – the client’s expectations. As the IT project manager, it’s part of your job to provide thorough project planning, ongoing evaluation, and careful documentation that you can use to educate your client about the project. These steps will also keep your client knowledgeable about the factors both within and beyond your control that may have an impact on its success. The goal: to reduce or eliminate the chance that you’ll have to deliver unexpected and unpleasant news about the project to your client.
Few project managers enjoy organizing and preparing the documentation required to do the job right. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be difficult, and it gets easier with time. Starting with a quality set of templates you can customize for any project allows you to construct detailed project documents quickly. According to project management process expert Karl Wiegers, a project management plan is a good starting point.
The Project Management Plan
When you give your client a detailed project management plan at the outset of a project, you set the scope of the project and the motives behind it. The plan is also the place to establish goals and objectives, success criteria, and major project deliverables.
You can also manage customer expectations by detailing any known constraints that could later affect the project’s success or the client’s outcomes. The project management plan can also help you prepare your client for any potential negative influence caused by external events or supplies on which the project’s success depends.
As part of the plan, you can define how the project will be organized, including interactions and commitments among both internal and external stakeholders. By clearly defining each stakeholder’s role and responsibilities in your plan, you can help avoid communication breakdowns over the course of the project.
The plan can also outline all necessary resource, training and personnel requirements, along with a work plan that includes major deliverables and scheduling.
To boost your client’s confidence in you, your project management plan can also clearly define your strategies for monitoring and reporting on project progress, managing risk, and resolving issues as they come to light.
Managing your clients’ expectations is all about giving your client plenty of information throughout the course of a project. The more detail you can share with your client before the project even launches, the better. For helpful tips and a tool to develop your own project management plan, see Wiegers' Project Management Plan Template.
The Risk Management Plan
Another way to manage your clients’ expectations is to let them know that you’re doing everything you can to manage any risks that could negatively affect the project. A written risk management strategy assures your client that you’ve carefully thought through any potential project pitfalls and are proactively addressing them before they can set the project back.
A risk management plan is also a good place to define risk housekeeping details, such as:
- Each stakeholder’s risk management roles and responsibilities, and
- Where and how risk management information will be tracked and documented
To get started, says Wiegers, consider organizing a workshop in which all team members can identify, assess and prioritize risks that could negatively affect the project. The goal: to create a “Top 10” assessment of those with the highest estimated risk to customer outcomes. Based on that list, the team can develop a risk management plan with avoidance, mitigation or prevention strategies for each of the “Top 10” risk factors, and can assign people to work on resolving each risk before it becomes a problem.
Your risk-resolution strategy should include a methodology for monitoring progress. Risk should be continually reassessed as each “Top 10” item is tackled and new items are identified. As the overall project enters each new phase, it may make sense to revisit the risk management plan to ensure that nothing is overlooked.
By aggressively addressing prospective project risks throughout the course of the project, you can give your clients continual updates and assure them that you’re working hard to keep the project on track.
For risk management tips you can put to work immediately on your own project, see Wiegers’ Risk Management Plan Template.
Project Status Reporting
It’s important to regularly update your client on progress over the course of a project. Before the project begins, ask your clients how frequently they would like status updates, then establish reporting periods based on their response. Next, develop a short project status report that includes a management summary of important status indicators, risks and issues, and other information.
Your regularly scheduled client reports are an opportunity to share the good news – milestones reached, risks controlled, issues resolved – as well as the bad. By informing your client about departures from the project plan, defects, or newly discovered issues or risks, you can better manage the client’s expectations about the project’s progress.
For each reporting period, educate your client about how actual resource use compares to your time and cost estimates. Consider including details of computer resource consumption, labor hours, and costs – both to-date and since the prior reporting period.
Keep in mind, the metrics by which progress can be measured may vary for each project. For a convenient reporting template, see Wiegers' Project Status Report Template.
Managing your customer’s expectations is about keeping surprises to a minimum, so be sure to give your client plenty of detailed information and a chance to ask questions before any potential issues become bigger problems. Every client appreciates honesty, so sharing the bad news along with the good can go a surprisingly long way toward improving customer satisfaction.
Free Downloads and Other Resources
For additional articles, templates and tools for project management by Karl Wiegers, visit www.processimpact.com or www.projectinitiation.com.
Writtten by Brenna Lemieux - check her out at Google+ or Twitter