No one will argue the fact that the overall responsibility for managing the project falls to the project manager. By definition, that is true. By job description, that is true. Every project manager understands, or should understand, that the target is on their head when they accepted the role and it simply can’t be passed along to someone else.
However, there are things that the customer must bring to the table for the project. Active customer participation only helps to ensure project success and that should be ever customer’s desire for their project and the money they are spending on the engagement. I think we can all agree that the project delivery team will perform most of the work on the engagement. However, there are some fundamental things that should be expected of the client-side team on most IT projects.
Detailed requirements definition
You hope the customer comes to the table with some detailed requirements. High-level requirements won’t do the job so it’s a given that you have to drill down to the detailed requirements level before you can ever start to develop the solution for the client. No one knows their business and their end users like the customer so ideally they should be the ones to take the first cut at providing detailed requirements for the project. Undoubtedly, they won’t get them all right. No one ever does. Requirements are the lifeblood of the project – that’s what I always say. But rarely are they created perfectly during the planning phases of the project – that’s why we have change orders. However, an intense up front effort by the customer – preferably before the project ever kicks off – will greatly increase the project’s chances for success and will decrease the amount of hours and money that has to be spent on planning and requirements definition once the project is underway.
Regular meeting attendance
Projects that lack significant customer involvement rarely fair well. It may seem like it would be a dream project for the project manager if the customer just stayed out of the way, but in reality that is not the case. Client participation is necessary for progress, decision-making, and timely task completion. Because of this, the customer needs to be attending and participating regularly in the weekly status calls and other meetings that are critical to the project throughout the engagement.
Testing preparation and participation
It’s not in the customer’s best interest to let the delivery team create test scenarios and perform detailed testing on the solution that is to be implemented. It basically boils down to a conflict of interest. Plus, the customer is the one who will live with the end solution. The customer’s end users are the individuals who will be utilizing the end solution. Testing preparation and the actual act of testing and approving the developed solution must happen on the customer’s side.
Timely deliverable review and signoff
Nothing frustrates project teams more than customers who won’t review and approve deliverables. In some cases, approval of a deliverable can be the trigger for the next tasks to happen, so holding up review and approval can actually delay all work on the project. And from a financial standpoint, this can be a problematic situation for the delivery organization in terms of receiving timely payment for work performed. The process of reviewing and approving deliverables throughout the engagement should be established and agreed upon during the project kickoff phase and it’s critical that the customer be held to that agreement.
Finally, responsive and active communication from the customer is definitely a reasonable expectation. Decisions have to be made and often those decisions are hanging out there waiting for important feedback from the customer. Timely, efficient, and effective communication is critical for project success and that’s not just the sole responsibility of the project manager and team. The customer must also practice good, proactive, and responsive communication in order to keep the forward momentum of the project going.