I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen Professional Services (PS) projects get waylaid by cost overruns, schedule slips, or clinging clients who don’t wish an engagement to end. While there are multiple reasons these common difficulties occur such as poorly scoped deliverables or bad communication on the part of the project team, one of the lesser considered solutions has to do with having a point-of-view (POV).
The old adage that “the customer is always right” often rears its ugly head in the case of PS projects because a PS team is an enabler of customer success, especially in the case of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies. PS teams often have to walk a tightrope between making a customer happy and therefore, interested in a long-term contract, while simultaneously completing projects on time, on budget, and with a profit. This balance can falter when customers view themselves as solely in control of projects and begin treating the project team as contractors instead of partners. This is where the magic of a strong POV can head off having the project team relegated to being paid staff.
Having a POV must start at the top of an organization. It is the responsibility of management to enable our teams with a perspective they can use with customers from the very beginning of projects. This can come in many different forms such as a product strategy, a project management philosophy, or something like a customer maturity model.
For our POV, I was tasked by company leadership to create a maturity model that we could use to coach our clientele on how they could succeed beyond simply implementing and using our software. This model, which tracks six high-level constructs like executive engagement, measurement, and process improvement, gives our PS project managers a tool they can use to drive conversations from the first day of a project. As an ancillary benefit, our model allows us to better position services by diagnosing potential areas a customer could improve.
Our maturity model is based on the concept that all internal customer programs (examples: reference programs, content operations, or sales enablement programs) can benefit from a third party’s expertise. Thus, I strongly encourage my team to position themselves as experts and partners with the client in their project kickoff meetings. By leveraging the model, the project manager consults on day one of their projects in turn positioning them as peers to our customers rather than order takers. This seemingly subtle shift in messaging can make a world of difference in how a project proceeds as a customer is less likely to push for scope creep or try to manipulate scheduling when they feel like their PM is there as a strategic resource.
Now to be clear, having a POV is not a panacea for all project problems. You still need strong contract language, enablement materials, processes for guiding customers, and PM education to ensure full success. But a strong POV can be the extra push needed to ensure success after all other foundational aspects of PS have been established. Further, something like a maturity model can help build a long-term relationship with a SaaS client as they see us caring about more than just software usage from the very beginning of our post-sales relationship. We’ve found that customers are hungry for assistance and see software providers as experts in their program’s space because we encounter hundreds of other customers trying to solve the same issues they are. Thus, having a POV creates a win-win situation where we are positioned as experts and customers get to benefit from our expertise and experience.