aka: The Customer is Not Your Friend
I realize that this may sound harsh… but it’s true! Follow the rules of project customer engagement and don’t necessarily treat your customers in the friendliest way possible. This statement and the premise of this article go far beyond that. The project customer is not your friend. By that I mean, the relationship as a whole is not ‘friendly’…it is ‘professional.’ There is a difference. Let’s consider….
As an application developer and then later as a Deputy Project Manager on some very large government programs, I was very professional with my contacts on the government side which have included some fairly high ranking officials in both the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Defense. I treated them as ‘friendly’ but ultimately maintained a very professional, long-term relationship. Now, those individuals are retired and some of them are actually Facebook friends of mine…10, 15, and 20 years later. That’s because I treated them professionally and delivered and kept a friendly, but a business-like relationship with them throughout our partnership. Had Facebook existed at the time, there is no way I would have connected with them in that manner until our work was finished.
The downside of friendly
You may disagree, and everyone needs to do what is most successful for them. But in my opinion, and from what I’ve witnessed in my own professional life and from my colleagues is this…the downside of maintaining too close of a relationship with your project and consulting customers can be disastrous. Consider these potential consequences:
Gold plating the solution.
One significant problem that can arise from being less professional and more friendly with the project client is the concept of gold plating. This refers to the tendency to overdevelop the solution – include things that the customer may want or that may be helpful but weren’t part of the requirements. While this may make the customer happy in the short term, the long-term implications are very bad. Gold plating can lead to work being performed outside of the requirements and therefore outside of the budget and project management software schedule. In the end, the project will suffer as most likely will your relationship with the project customer when issues of missed deadlines and change orders arise.
Casual business relationships often include casual meetings and conversations that go undocumented. I’m not saying every word that is spoken between you and the project customer needs to be written down, but 90% of your conversations with the project customer should happen within the confines of the regular project status meetings and documented in the project status report and meeting notes. That way action items and assignments are noted, the project management software schedule is appropriately revised, and everyone has a chance to make sure that they are all on the same page each week…allowing very little chance for things to just ‘fall through the cracks.’
Decisions made without proper input.
Likewise, casual business relationships with our project customers can lead to decisions made about the project with less than adequate thought and time spent on finding the right solution or making the most appropriate decisions. Critical decisions and important information sharing should happen through the proper channels and during formal project status meetings that allow for full team input and decision-making.
Finally, if we get too comfortable with our customers and treat them as friends rather than business partners, we may find it too easy to miss deadlines. Those missed deadlines only serve to weaken our business relationship over time and can lead to customer dissatisfaction and project failure. Keep things a professional as possible while the business is happening…there’s time for beer and pizza after the solution has been deployed.
Your project customer should be your first priority on the project. If they aren’t happy, then you simply won’t succeed. The project will be deemed a failure – at least to some degree. So it’s important to gauge their satisfaction throughout the engagement and address issues as they come up. Always be professional, always conduct yourself in a business-like manner, and always practice efficient and effective communication. Casual conversations can lead to interpretations and misinterpretations, invalid assumptions and work being performed outside of the scope of the project…which is never good for the timeline or the budget. Be professional and you’ll be more successful. Use a good tool to foster your communications.