Throughout much of my IT career, it was an unwritten assumption that if we brought the project in on time and within budget, and obtained client sign-off, our clients were satisfied.
But were they?
I wonder just how many Project Managers even think about client satisfaction when they are in the throes of project delivery.
I have relayed this anecdote frequently. The CEO of one of my colleague’s clients told her that their most recent IT provider did indeed deliver the project on time. They stayed within budget. They checked off every functional and technical requirement. But he would never work with that provider again.
Can you spell, “d-i-s-s-a-t-i-s-f-i-e-d?”
When IT organizations conduct their project closing activities, it is my observation that they pay attention to the checkboxes that are process-driven …
- project sign-off? √
- system ownership transferred to maintenance and operations? √
- final invoices? √
- staff performance reviews? √
- analysis of successes and areas for improvement? √ (well ok, perhaps a partial √)
- lessons learned? √
- final closeout report? √
… but not the people-related checkboxes
- satisfied client? (silence)
In fact, IT organizations often makes a huge assumption that their clients are satisfied. After all, they accepted the system, paid all invoices, contracted for additional maintenance and operations services, and even gave good references for project work with new clients. But as indicated in the anecdote above, that may be a dangerous assumption.
So, how can IT organizations know that their clients are satisfied? How can they confidently close the project with the assurance that they met the client’s objectives for a successful project?
Client satisfaction does not begin and end with project closure. It begins with project planning or earlier:
- When the IT provider responds to the client’s request for services, does it do so with the intent of delivering a project that meets all industry standards, or that meets client expectations?
- When the Project Manager develops the project management plan, does she do so to satisfy her employer that the project will be delivered on time and within budget, and will meet the project objectives? Or does she develop it with the intent of satisfying the client’s desire to have the system delivered on-time and within budget, and to ensure that the final product meets the end-users’ needs?
- The difference here is in mindset. Either the Project Manager works to be technically proficient and process-driven, or with the intent of delighting her client.
- When the project team executes its tasks according to the plan, do they do so to meet the letter of the contract requirements? Or do they look for ways to meet the spirit of the client’s expectations?
- When the project team communicates with their client counterparts, do they rattle off status, use their own jargon, and issue curt requests? Or do they listen to understand, take time to explain, and strive always to be transparent and forthright?
- Is the client kept in the loop in regularly scheduled status meetings with reports and dashboards provided in readily understood formats? Is there regular communication with the client in emails, impromptu conversations, social settings, and the like?
- In keeping the client in the loop and striving to be transparent, does the Project Manager avoid unpleasant surprises for the client?
- Do deliverables meet the quality expectations that the client has for them?
- Are client staff on the project treated as equals? Are their project roles well-defined? Is the client involved in risk management decisions, issue resolution, and problem-solving?
- Are client stakeholders and client staff on the project ever asked for feedback:
o “How do you think it’s going?”
o “What are your questions or concerns?”
o “What are you pleased with?”
o “What can we be doing better to keep you engaged and ensure we meet your expectations?”
These are but a few actions that the IT organization can employ to ensure that the client begins the project with a sense of confidence and satisfaction, and remains confident and satisfied throughout. To discover that the client is dissatisfied at project closing is a failure.
A former colleague once worked for an IT organization that conducted client satisfaction surveys on a regular basis. She and her teammates were compensated based on the satisfaction score they received. Imagine her surprise when she joined our firm, and the best we could say about our clients’ satisfaction was, “I sure hope so!”
Surveys are an excellent way to determine whether the client is satisfied with the project team’s performance, especially if the client team is a large one. Survey responses can be aggregated to indicate areas where the project team is performing well and where adjustments need to be made. The results can also be used to reward exceptional team performance, implement client retention strategies, or develop new client opportunities.
Project Managers are particularly good at the technical and process aspects of project delivery. They need to also pay attention to client satisfaction with their execution performance. Those are the people aspects of what they are hired to do.
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