Managing Communications and Project Customer Expectations

4 minute read

Sara Whitwer

Have you ever had that project where you start down one path, and your customer was expecting something different…or you were? I have – and it’s usually a result of not being on the same page. Whether it is the result of miscommunication, not reading emails and documents all the way through, or negotiations done with blinders on it doesn’t matter…it’s still a bad place to be in. It’s hard to explain but I see it all the time and even run into it myself with clients. They say they understood one thing, but when we go back and check emails and invoices they can see that it was clearly spelled out differently for them. Now I better understand why my wife sometimes gets mad at me…we often hear what we want to hear or interpret things the way we assume they will go…even if that is not what we are reading right in front of us.

So, how can we assure better management of customer expectations? How can we better assure that we deliver what they want? Here, I am going to present 4 concepts that should help with that – at least I’ve learned over time to utilize these to avoid mismanagement of customer expectations and they have worked well for me…

Clarity in writing. Make sure our writing is clear. Before sending a proposal or informative email, read it over again. Does it make sense? Can you remove yourself from the role of project manager, insert yourself as the customer or project team and does it still make sense? And, yes, typos can modify the meaning of any communication – plus they look unprofessional. Fix before sending.

Review before finalizing. Before finalizing any customer agreement, change order or big decision, review the materials again. Are you conveying what you mean to convey? Have any details been omitted? You don’t want to send and resend because people will stop taking your correspondence seriously. You don’t want to gain the reputation as the error-prone PM.

Early tweaking and follow up. Tweak customer expectations earlier rather than later in the project. And what that means is always make sure early in a project or consulting effort that you are both on the same page. If not, fix it then. Because fixing it at the end is not an option.

Post delivery review. Finally, in the name of gaining the highest customer respect and confidence possible, conduct a post delivery review of the project. Were expectations met? What could have been done better? Was there any point where the customer was surprised or caught off guard by where the project was going? Any point where things seemed less than clear to the project customer? Take note of any of these situations and make sure they aren’t repeated on your next project.

Summary / call for input

Being on the same page with the project customer is really everything in the project management world. We all know how frustrating it can be when you get to the 11th hour on something and you’re ready to sign off on an agreement or deliverable and the customer was expecting “x” and now they see that they are getting “z.” It doesn’t matter if you had it well spelled out in the invoice or requirements or design document or wherever. Saying “I told you so” doesn’t serve to make things ok or to make the customer suddenly happy about how things are turning out. It just makes you look like a jerk and all could have been avoided with the proper amount of follow-up and upfront expectation setting.

Readers…what would you add to this list or change about it? What tricks do you have to keep customers up to date and manage their expectations so that you are all on the same page throughout the engagement – especially at that crucial project starting point?

About Brad Egeland

Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at http://www.bradegeland.com/

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