As a project manager, when you are entrusted a project, what takes your main focus? If asked, some would say the project scope, for others it would be Quality and for some schedule or timelines. All of these answers are true since these do represent the key project expectations. However, the most important thing that many project managers lose focus of is the customer itself! While managing the project tasks one should not forget whose problem the team is trying to solve through deliverables defined by scope, quality and schedule. Here are some quick suggestions;
Involve the customer representatives early on the project: As soon as the project is handed over, one must identify the customer representative or a stakeholder who potentially is going to play a role in acceptance of the project deliverables. I do not mean the client organization people who are involved in the project governance alone as these might be business people entrusted to get the project done. There is a difference between them! As project progresses you can go back to the customer reps for progress updates and seeking suggestions on the challenges being faced by the team. This need not happen only at the time of and at the frequency of planned communication. This can be ad hoc or on need basis in addition to during planned intervals. Key here is to at the support and acceptance on the expected deliverable features, functionalities or benefits.
Define user stories : there is an emerging trend of using more and more user stories were as detailed requirement descriptions are being used less and less during the requirement process phase of the project. Same is true for use cases that have been used extensively over last 5 years or so in most technology/IT projects. The reason is it is easier for the business as well as the actual users to relate and understand the benefits of value of product or solution coming out of the project. I don’t say that discard these techniques, what I mean is to focus more on the user stories and scenarios to gain customer or user confidence. This also helps you in case the project happens to be on agile nature.
Find a real user: it would be another great way to be able to understand the pain points of the customer and be able to provide what is most important to the customer. If you can identify a real user who is a potential beneficiary of you project outcome, it can give you key insights in to what would work for your customer. Chances are if it works for him/her, it would work for the project stakeholder too. It helped me a lot few years back to refine the workflows and streamline multiple I user iterations, as I managed development of a web based product that helped online reviews of design artifacts & documents. This not only helped deliver the right feature sets but also reduced turn around time for the creative guys working at the advertising agencies.
Test early: this is a key if you really want to avoid a major goof up and shocked faces on a big day. To test, you don’t need to wait until the entire module or product is ready, you can always test individual functions first before they are grouped in to a module. Similarly one can test hardware for compatibility first if the software is still in development instead of waiting for it to be ready before end to end testing. This way lot of unforeseen issues can be addressed early on giving you a smoother transition experience and a satisfied customer your team worked hard for!
Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional