Major Changes in 2017 for Project and Program Management (PPM) – US Federal Government

Understanding the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act Legislation to improve program management practices and bolster workforce development became a law on December 14th, 2016 with the signing of the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA). The purpose of the law is to enhance accountability and best practices in project and program management throughout the federal government. The legislation, strongly endorsed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), was approved by both chambers of Congress with overwhelming bi-partisan support. The PMIAA reforms federal program management policy in four important ways: Creating a formal job series and career path for program managers in the federal government. Developing a standards-based […]

Ready to bury your resource management spreadsheet? A webinar you can’t miss!

View Slides – upland-rtmc-resource-management-webinar-dec-14-2017

Many IT departments and Project Management Offices (PMOs) are still struggling to drop their old school ways of thinking to embrace productivity. If a business aims to be successful in overseeing dispersed teams and leading them on projects and tasks, there are key things that must happen.

For starters, bury the resource management spreadsheet and welcome its successor, the best-of-breed resource management solution.

Join experts from Upland and RTM Consulting, as they take you through the benefits of using a tool that allows you to manage resources and schedules across your entire organization and make sure the right people are working on the right projects, at the right time and in the right place.

In this webinar, we will address:

  • The challenges and pain points facing resource managers today
  • What you can do to improve resource forecasting, skill management, capacity planning and highlight the benefits of taking action
  • How reporting dashboards help you gain better insight into your data
  • Where to start

Gain Further Knowledge on How Six Sigma Can Help You Reach Project Success

View Slides – How Six Sigma Can Help You Reach Project Success Slides – Dec 7, 2016

View this interactive discussion with Dr. Harry of Six Sigma Management Institute to see him answer six sigma project management related questions and discuss a number of topics including:

  1. What is Velocity of Value, how can it drive my efforts?
  2. Is there a difference between project identification and project prioritization? What are the implications?
  3. What is the optimum structure of a Six Sigma Initiative? (Roles and responsibilities)
  4. How has Six Sigma changed over the years, and where is it going?

About Dr. Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized and cited in many publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world’s leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations was on the national best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Amazon.com.

Most notably, Dr. Harry has consulted too many of the world’s top CEOs and has been a featured guest on such popular television programs as the NBC show Power Lunch. In addition, he was distinguished by Arizona State University with the Life-Time Engineering Excellence Award for superb achievements in the engineering profession and notable contributions to society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute®, Inc. (SSMI®). Visit http://www.ss-mi.com/ for more information.

Thought Leadership Series: Use Your Project Team for Peer Reviews

Use Your Project Team for Peer Reviews

peer-reviewI hate mistakes. I hate misspellings and grammar issues – though I’m probably crossing some dangerous lines in this article alone. Most of all I hate leading a project and turning error-riddled deliverables to an anxious client, whose every thread of trust to be provided with quality and timely output is placed on me and my team.

Do you hate error-prone project deliverables as much as I do? Have they caused you problems on one or more projects so far? Read on and hopefully this will educate us all on ways to avoid providing anything less than stellar output to our customers going forward…

Proof and Test. The same care needs to go into our project deliverables. Proof, proof, proof. Test, test, test. When you hand a deliverable over to the customer – unless it’s understood that this is an early draft – then you’re telling the customer that this is done and the best I can do. It better be correct. It better be accurate and read well. And it better be free of simple typos, for crying out loud.

A very bad experience. I had a project with a major US airline where I had two business analysts working on the project. One was more experienced than the other and was really acting in a mentoring role to the other one. The less experienced one was the BA actually doing most of the work. The understanding was – for my team AND for the customer – that the less experienced BA’s work was being overseen and proofed by the expert BA.

When we had to go through 5 iterations of the Business Requirements Document (BRD) going to the customer with typos, inaccurate table of contents items, misspellings, missing graphics, etc. you can imagine how quickly the customer satisfaction we were building started to disappear! The customer couldn’t understand – and rightly so – how a team of 5 skilled technical resources (including me as the Project Manager) couldn’t turn in an accurate BRD without typos. Customer confidence dropped like a rock.

Avoid assuming…you may very well regret it. I was in the wrong for assuming that between two experienced Business Analysts that they could get a document handed over to the customer that was free of typos. I was busy, everyone was busy, and I expected it to just get done and be done right. It wasn’t until we started incorporating peer reviews for every single deliverable that went to the customer that we started handing over error-free documents. We conducted peer reviews on the BRD (finally), the Functional Design Document, the Test Plan, and every piece of information that went to the customer in written (or electronic) form from that point on and we got it right. I even had the full team review the status reports, weekly status meeting notes, revised project schedule, and issues/risks lists before sending them off to the customer in order to ensure that the customer did not see any more incorrect and unprofessional submissions from our team.

 

Summary / call for input

Never take for granted that everyone cares as much as you do about the output that they deliver. Yes, it has their name on it, but if it’s your project it also has your name on it and everything comes back to you as the Project Manager. Work hard to ensure that emails are accurate and have the proper attachments the first time, that status reports are accurate, that status notes are accurate, that your project schedule has been updated with everything that the customer is expecting to see, and definitely make sure that the documents you deliver as part of your engagement are free of the simple errors and typos that make a professional team look very unprofessional.

This won’t necessarily increase customer satisfaction because it’s really just an overall expectation they should have anyway, but at least it won’t decrease customer satisfaction and that is definitely a good thing.

Have you had negative experiences with you or your team turning in error-prone output and deliverables on a past project? What did you do to stop that practice and help ensure quality going forward?

 

Thought Leadership Series: Staying on Top of that Complex Project

Staying on Top of that Complex Project

The project is kicked off and requirements are set.project success Everyone is on the same page and ready for the next phases of building the solution.Ready, set, go!

You’re the project manager? In the real world of project management, what do you do next on this complex project you are about to embark on?What’s the next most important thing you should be doing? What is least important? Hint – the answer is nothing. And how do you stay on top of everything that is going on while still keeping everyone up to date, on the same page, and focusing on their tasks and the same end goals? The answer, really, is a lot of organization and communication. For me, it comes down to these four key areas to focus on in order to keep the project under control as the project work progresses…

Communication. Handling communication – as well as effectively and efficiently communicating – on the project is the most important responsibility that the project manager has on any project. Communication is Job One for the PM. Failure to properly communicate can lead to so many project negatives: re-work due to miscommunicated task assignments, poorly documented requirements, meetings that end leaving attendees confused about next steps, and a project team that doesn’t fully understand what is expected of them. All of these can spell disaster on the project.

Status reporting. Part of that critical communication responsibility for the project manager is the act of status reporting. Weekly status reports play a key role in assuring team and customer understanding of what is important on the project and who’s responsibility it is to finish tasks ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’. Everyone needs that status report, too. All stakeholders – from the customer, to the project team, to senior management, and on to anyone and everyone who plays a key role in the project. But the smart project manager figures out one project status reporting format that will satisfy all stakeholder needs. The PM has enough to do without creating fifteen different versions of the project status report for fifteen different stakeholder entities. Most status reports need a good high-level project health dashboard for a project quick view that senior management and the customer often like, an area that focuses on what’s just been accomplished, what work is happening now, and what is coming up in the next 1-2 weeks, an area for project budget health, and – of course – an area reserved for critical issues and change orders and who is assigned to what. Again, try to make it one size fits all…you already have enough to do.

Team and customer meetings. Team and customer communication are critical and it will happen through ad-hoc email and phone conversations as needed. But those all-important team and customer weekly scheduled meetings must also happen. Utilize them as reset points where you make sure everyone knows what they are working on, everyone knows what is important today and this week, everyone is on the same page and leaves the meeting with the same understanding. It’s also critical for keeping those busy project customers engaged on the project. They may be busy on their day jobs, but the more engaged they are, the more confidence they will have in yours and your team’s ability to manage and deliver on the project because they are seeing the progress and are discussing it with you. So even if there isn’t much to cover in a given week, don’t skip the meeting. Even if it’s a five-minute call to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, conduct the meeting. You never know when it might result in the sharing of a piece of information that may ultimately save someone $20,000.

Task and change management. Your regular team meeting will help you keep task and change management under control as you will be discussing and reviewing outstanding work, tasks and issues with your team every week. But it is the project manager’s job to maintain control of the tasks and change orders through close attention to detail on the project schedule and the tasks – and progress on those tasks – through frequent review and revision of that schedule. Weekly meetings on these tasks and issues with your team will also help keep scope for the project in check resulting in any necessary push back to the project client on work that seems outside the guidelines and requirements already agreed to for the project…thus resulting in project change orders for any of that work that is necessary and approved by the client as a change order.

Summary / call for input

No amount of organization and communication will ever guarantee project success and customer satisfaction. There are just too many things that can happen that may be outside the control of the project manager. But by focusing on these “best practices” throughout the project you can be certain that your likelihood for project success and customer satisfaction will be increased dramatically and consistent focus on these practices will help you realize far more frequent successes than failures. Communication is critical – never leave project success to dumb luck.

What about our readers? What are some of your thoughts on these points? What do you consider your key practices to maintaining control of the project, team, tasks, and customer as the engagement progresses toward completion? Please share and discuss.

Upland PowerSteering and Six Sigma Management Institute® Partner to Deliver Major Breakthrough to the Continuous Improvement Market

Strategic partnership offers MindPro® Wizard as a next generation tool

AUSTIN, Texas, October 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Upland Software, Inc. (Nasdaq: UPLD), a leader in cloud-based Enterprise Work Management software, today announced a strategic partnership with Six Sigma Management Institute (SSMI), enabling PowerSteering customers access to MindPro Wizard. Developed by SSMI® and Dr. Mikel Harry, Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the DMAIC Methodology (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process, this tool is designed to take continuous improvement professionals to the next level. MindPro sifts through mountains of continuous improvement data to provide answers in a concise and simple manner.

“As the leader in Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) for Six Sigma, we are always looking to provide additional value to the market and our PowerSteering customers,” said Mounir Hilal, Senior Vice President of Project and IT Management for Upland Software. “Partnering with SSMI and MindPro adds one more reason for continuous improvement leaders to look to Upland Software for their PPM needs.”

Some of the key features of MindPro include:

  • Filtered database queries that provide results in a manner consistent with search engines
  • Key Word search capability that allows the database to be searched for known words, such as ANOVA or DOE
  • Resources such as calculators, simulators, exercises and reference documents, and
  • Exercises designed to better help apply the tools and concepts needed for everyday project success.

At the heart of MindPro are over 1,500 videos, delivered by Dr. Harry, that are short and to the point covering what users need.

“We have long recommended the PowerSteering Portfolio and Project Management offering to continuous improvement leaders,” said Dr. Mikel Harry, Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and Co-Creator of Six Sigma. “As such, partnering with Upland is a natural fit, since the combination of MindPro and PowerSteering creates a powerful, one-of-a-kind solution for leaders looking to accelerate and manage their continuous improvement, as well as seeking to increase their Value Creation and Velocity of Value.”

MindPro is a SaaS offering that is immediately available through Upland Software. To learn more about MindPro, please sign up for the upcoming webinar with Dr. Harry: http://info.uplandsoftware.com/MindPro-Wizard-Learn-More.html  .

About PowerSteering

PowerSteering combines the robust Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) functionality demanded by global organizations with the cost & speed-to-value benefits of cloud delivery and an unmatched level of flexibility. Easy to use and administer, it enables top-down program & portfolio management without requiring granular task & resource tracking, and provides class-leading analytic and financial tracking capabilities. Leading global organizations, including PepsiCo, Ecolab, Staples, the US Department of Defense, and the UK National Health Service, rely on PowerSteering to accelerate results in Continuous Improvement, IT, New Product Development, and Business PMOs. PowerSteering is part of the Upland Software family of cloud enterprise work management applications.  Visit www.powersteeringsoftware.com  for more information.

 

About Upland Software

Upland Software (Nasdaq: UPLD) is a leading provider of cloud-based Enterprise Work Management software. Our family of applications enables users to manage their projects, professional workforce and IT investments, automate document-intensive business processes and effectively engage with their customers, prospects and community via the web and mobile technologies. With more than 2,000 customers and over 235,000 users around the world, Upland Software solutions help customers run their operations smoothly, adapt to change quickly, and achieve better results every day. To learn more, visit www.uplandsoftware.com.

 

About Six Sigma Management Institute (SSMI):

The business mission of SSMI® is eloquently simple – create breakthrough levels of improvement in the client’s quality of business.  The strategy for realizing this mission is centered on maximizing the client’s velocity of value creation, yet do so in a way that is highly repeatable, sustainable, accountable, verifiable, teachable, affordable and ethical.

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized and cited in many publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world’s leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations was on the national best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Amazon.com.

Most notably, Dr. Harry has consulted too many of the world’s top CEOs and has been a featured guest on such popular television programs as the NBC show Power Lunch. In addition, he was distinguished by Arizona State University with the Life-Time Engineering Excellence Award for superb achievements in the engineering profession and notable contributions to society.  At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute®, Inc. (SSMI®). Visit http://www.ss-mi.com/ for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 6 PPM Software Trends of 2017 : Managing Resources

As we close into 2017, the project workforce increasinglyTop 6 PPM Software Trends broadens its footprint on the global economy. In fact, according to a study by the Project Management Institute (PMI), “There is projected to be 15.7 million new project management roles to be added globally across seven project-intensive industries by 2020 reaching an economic impact of over $18 trillion, across seven project-intensive industries including Manufacturing, Finance & Insurance, Information Services, Utilities, Business Services, Oil & Gas and Construction.” With the increase presence of project management domestically and abroad, 2017 ushers in a new era in PPM software where Gen X and Millennials increase their influence in decentralized teams, agile approaches and improved collaboration with a heavy focus on streamlining resource management processes.

As these forces take hold of the project management world in 2017, the following PPM trends can be expected to make their mark in our industry:

1. Resource-centric approach to PPM – with the increased diversity of resources and teams across verticals, project leaders will continue to turn their attention to maximizing their talent pool to deliver stronger results within their portfolios by leveraging their PPM solutions as proactive and preventive vehicles to resource planning.

2. PPM will attract a broader audience – with the affordability of SaaS PPM and the increased importance more organizations are placing on IT projects and the resources they manage, PPM software will continue its move down market attracting more business of all sizes that heavily depend on the strategic IT projects and people that drive their businesses.

3. PMOs increased role in decentralized teams – as projects continue to extend beyond borders, the role of a PMO to manage dispersed teams and diverse portfolios will rely heavily on PPM technology to streamline their processes and deliver high-value projects with the best talent.

4. Heavier focus on security in the Cloud – with Cloud technology becoming mainstream across all verticals, the security around PPM Cloud solutions will come to the forefront. Security and vulnerability in the cloud will be a high priority on customers and buyers PPM checklist and PPM vendors will tighten their belts in response.

5. Mobile is no longer a “Nice to have” – today more that half of the emails sent will be opened via mobile devices. In the PPM world where information workers are increasingly on the move and users have multiple mobile devices at their disposal, delivering mobile capabilities around notifications, status updates and collaboration is a “must have” for PPM vendors to effectively manage their resources.

6. Optimization of the Self-Service experience – with 90% of consumers expecting self-service capabilities when dealing with businesses, this is an area PPM solutions need to continue to optimize. PPM solutions will be moving beyond their primary strategic need and act as service portals collecting and sharing information (via push and pull capabilities) on resource, project and portfolio health.

In the end, the real game changers for PPM software in 2017 will be the stakeholders who are responsible for managing and delivering successful portfolios and projects. As these key stakeholders continue to broaden their geographical and influential footprint in the organizations’ they serve, PPM solutions will continue to evolve and adapt to a more inclusive audience that will demand improved transparency and access to the critical information that drive their decisions.

 

 

About the Author: Mounir Hilal leads the Upland Customer Success organization, which is focused on driving adoption, value realization, retention and loyalty for existing customers. Prior to Upland, Mounir served as Vice President of Client Services for Tenrox, where he oversaw the global professional services organization and was responsible for growing services revenue. With more than 12 years of professional services experience, Mounir has extensive knowledge in enterprise software design, development and deployment processes, as well as business consulting and project management. In addition, he has a high degree of expertise in operational control, compliance and business process optimization. Mounir holds a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from McGill University and an MBA from Queen’s University, and is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).

Risk Management: 5 Tips to Keep Your Project Client Satisfied

Risk Management: 5 Tips to Keep Your Project Client Satisfied

Balancing the communication of a project and 5-more-tipsmanaging risks while maintaining client satisfaction can be a difficult balance. If it doesn’t seem like your customer is enjoying the process, that doesn’t mean the project is going poorly. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong or that your team is under-performing. Some customers are harder to please than others. Proper risk management is a crucial part in obtaining your client’s satisfaction. Below are 5 tips to assist you with navigating through the delicate balance of effective risk management while maintaining your project client’s satisfaction.

 

Keep the risk planning going. Even though we all really know that risk planning and management needs to happen throughout the engagement, so many times we either skip it entirely (content to manage risks as issues along the way) or we perform risk planning once at the beginning of the project and then store it away. Here’s a new option…treat it as a living breathing piece of the project and discuss those documented risks during each status call and reassess their status. Don’t spend two hours doing this – spend 10-15 minutes each week, tops.

Define uncertainty as a risk. Every project has uncertainty. When you don’t know if that vendor is going to deliver on time, document it as a risk and start tracking it so you’re better prepared to react to it. When the project is only partially funded from the start, know that there will soon come a time when you have to revisit pricing and funding and the project could go on hold. These are uncertainties and therefore real risks to your project. Track them…discuss them.

Be sure the team skills fit the project – don’t wait to find that out later. Project managers – if you are given any opportunity to screen project team members as they are onboarded to your project, do so. 98% of the time you’re probably fine, but those 2% where you’re not – where there is a bad mismatch in skills versus need – you are going to wish you had screened them before putting them in front of your important project customer.

Show some political savvy on the project – negotiate for success. Negotiation to get resources, dollars and cooperation can be a constant struggle. Yet most of us find ourselves doing it here and there on nearly every project engagement we manage, right? Come on, you know who you are. So get good at the skill of negotiating. It is an art form and a definite skill you need to master. For example, when you want a resource, be ready to negotiate with your resource gatekeeper – either on timing or duration of that resources time with your project. Sometimes you can wait or take what is given to you, and then sometimes you need the best and you need that person now. The ability to negotiate – possibly trade a resource around on another project you are overseeing in order to get what you want from the resource gatekeeper – can make a difference between success and failure on your project.

Make sure the infrastructure supports the remote project workers well. A good IT support infrastructure is important no matter what. But in today’s world of bring your own device (BYOD) and remote workers and teams – like project managers and geographically dispersed project delivery teams worldwide – the need for top-notch IT support is higher than ever. The ability to get something taken care of by support by for our project team members in need out in the field quickly – whether they are onsite with the customer or working from their home office in Norway – is critical.

Summary / call for input

Our goal is always to be successful on our projects. This is just five more on a list of ten I have now presented. What would you add to or change about this list or the last one? Please share your thoughts and let’s discuss.

 

The Importance of an Effective Project Kickoff for Project Managers

The Importance of an Effective Project Kickoff for Project Managers

project-kickoff

In order to run an effective and successful project, there are some critical things that need to happen right and in the right order as well. Communication – good, effective, efficient communication – is key to project success and probably one of the most important things the project manager does throughout the engagement. Good, complete requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Without accurate, complete requirements that are well-documented and easily reference-able, the project will not likely stay on budget or on time and may be doomed to failure. And finally, a project that is not properly and formally kicked off jointly with the project customer may get off track before it ever gets a chance to start. It’s all about setting proper and accurate expectations right out of the gate and that likely won’t happen without such a kickoff.

 

It’s this area that I’d like to explore here and I welcome your thoughts and input on this key area of project success. So just what does it take to conduct a proper, formal project kickoff?  I think I could ask fifteen experienced project managers and get fifteen different answers. Some elements would be similar, but I bet no two responses would be close enough to be considered the same. So, I will give you my views and let you respond with your own. In this order, here is what I do and what I consider to be the five key steps to proper project kickoff…

 

Gather all project documentation to date. The account manager who closed the project deal always has documentation. A rough draft schedule. A mocked-up dashboard report. At least a rough statement of work (SOW), some high-level requirements, a draft resource forecast and a project budget…at least a high-level one since he had to come up with a sales price somehow and prove it to the project client. This is likely going to be all the information you get, best scenario, to work with so you’ll have to run with whatever you’re given. But it should be enough to derive what the project is about and what it is going to take – at least at a high-level at this point – to get the job done.

 

Create the draft schedule. Next, take this information that you have pieced together and, along with any portion of your project team that may be assigned at this point – or alone if you prefer or have no team yet – start drafting the project schedule to the best of your ability. Don’t start from scratch – that takes too long. Pull out a schedule “sample” from a past similar successful project and use it as a shell. Good, experienced project managers always have past project samples and templates that worked well on a project. Why re-invent the wheel every time? There’s no shame in re-cycling. Starting from scratch is painful and slow and you can end up overlooking some details.

 

Handling the introduction. After you have a few things in place, meet or call the new project client. Introduce yourself, discuss the project, touch on some highlights of the project schedule you’re putting together. The goal is to get to know them, give them a comfortable, confident feeling about your knowledge and competence to lead their project, and discuss dates and locations for the project kickoff meeting. Also, discuss who should attend. I failed to do that with one huge client on a fairly complex project and they showed up with more than 30 end users. What should have been a two hour project kickoff meeting turned into a 2-day requirements meeting. It was painful and inappropriate at that early stage. I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten better at crowd control and kickoff meeting planning since that day.

 

Putting it all together. Next, put together presentation materials for the kickoff session. I like to put together a Powerpoint deck of several slides that discuss the goals of the project, general target dates and milestones, a high-level resource plan, the change control methodology that will be utilized, the overall project management processes that will be followed and what happens next after the kickoff meeting. The goal is to leave the kickoff session with expectations properly set for the engagement and everyone on the same page. You can save these materials till the meeting or provide them to the client in advance. I like to send them in advance to get their approval and maybe any changes or additions they’d like to see.

 

The formal kickoff. Finally, conduct the session. You drive the meeting so keep the crowd under control and the discussion focused. Keep focused on what you want to get out of the kickoff session. And followup after with notes for key stakeholders – asking them to confirm understanding or to respond with any changes to your notes within 24 hours. Again, you want everyone on the same page as quickly as possible so you can move on productively with next steps.

 

Summary / call for input

 

From my viewpoint, how you start the project can set the tone for much of the project. The customer either sees you as confident or competent or they don’t – and much of that comes out of this “take charge and set expectations” session. If you don’t pull off a good, formal project kickoff session with the customer, you may spend the next couple of phases of the project proving to them that you and you team can do the job. Project life can be much easier if you set the tone at the start with a good project kickoff and they are confident of your abilities to handle the project right from the start.

 

How about our readers? What’s your take on the importance of a good project kickoff? And do you agree with these steps? If not, what does your list look like?

Three Tips to Understanding Your Project Client’s Real Needs

Understanding Your Project Client’s Real Needs understanding-clients-real-needs

Too many times we make assumptions that we later regret. In the case of a big dollar, mission critical project, those assumptions could turn out to be disastrous if they aren’t right on the mark. Forcing our opinions and our own understandings or preconceived ideas on a project before fully understanding it can lead to less than desirable results. And the problem is, we may not even realize we are doing it. How many times have you gone into a project thinking you know exactly what to do and exactly what your project client wants and needs because you’ve heard their high-level need and related it to a project you’ve worked on previously? “Oh, I know what you need – it’s exactly like this other project where….” may be what you’re thinking…or even saying. Be careful.

In project management, communication is king and that is the most evident as you’re trying to get the project off the ground during initial phases. How the project starts sets the course for the rest of the engagement. And if you are fully listening to your customer, fully understanding the incoming documentation, and fully comprehending the “as is” and the “to be” and how those things differ, then you are setting a good course for the project. So, put away the ego and the expertise and the experience…well, not all the experience…and come into the engagement with an open mind and open eyes and somewhat of a clean slate. Experience is good and necessary, but don’t let it put blinders on you.

To ensure you know what your client really needs, do these three things…

Read the statement of work through several times. In the beginning, the statement of work (SOW), if one exists, may be all you have. Make a point to know it inside and out. I use it as the basis for the project kickoff session. It is the origination of my staffing plan, many components that go into my initial draft schedule, how I derive milestone dates and identify all key deliverables. Know it frontward and backwards so that first time you sit down with the client on the phone or in person or during a kickoff session you are ready to discuss expectations and next steps.

Ask the right questions to your project client and ask the tough questions. No customer likes to hear that they may have the wrong need or problem identified. But you have to go there. You can’t develop a full solution based just on your customer’s initial perception of need or want. It may just be a symptom of a bigger issue, need or problem. If that is the case and you find that out at the end of a $250,000 project, you’re going to have a much bigger problem than just a few frustrated end users. If it doesn’t satisfy the need, the target will be on the project manager’s head no matter what. So ask the right questions and dig far enough to find out what that client really needs. Do they really need a new point of sale system or do they need an entirely new accounting process and all the functionality and reporting that goes into it? The latter will cost a lot more and may mean the project gets shelved, but that may be better than bad press at the end of the project for not really solving the real need.

Present multiple solutions to discuss with your team and customer. If possible, avoid going away as a team and coming back to your customer with one rigid solution. The best possible method going into a real discussion with the client is to have 2-3 variations of the solution ready to discuss and finalize with the client. That way, you have a better chance of generating some final discussions on the solution and truly come up with the best understanding of what they really want and need from you on the project. If there is a technology solution to discuss after requirements are finalized – meaning it’s not set in stone how their problem or need should be fulfilled – then presenting multiple options will allow for teams on both sides to provide additional valuable input and help to eliminate the chances that you’ve moved forward without the absolute best project plan in place for the engagement.

Summary

You’re the expert. At least your team is and you’re leading your team. The customer came to you. So be confident, make decisions, and lead. But make good decisions. And to do that you need to listen, assess and then act. In that order.

How about our readers? What steps or processes do you go through to ensure you know what your project client needs? What tricks or tools help you get to that point where you’re feel you fully understand how their business operates in relationship to the project goals and think you have the requirements in place to satisfy the project needs? Please share and discuss.