No matter how your organization deals with planning, the approach usually includes charting a determined amount of finances and human effort. Afterword, this information is reviewed across all projects. This is how organizations decide which projects deserve the most funding and which projects are of the highest priority. According to Kiron D. Bondale of PM Hut, one missing link in the planning process is the inclusion of the customer or project sponsor. The requirements of a customer, if known and set in advance, could mean a different allocation of company time and money. Bondale notes that it is not usually the responsibility of the customer to produce project deliverables, but an absence of customer involvement in this area can lead to a few distinct problems:
- Delayed decisions resulting in project schedule impacts
- Reduced organization awareness, buy-in and operational readiness to fully benefit from the project’s outputs
- Deliverables rework with accompanying cost impacts based on changes in direction or resulting from decisions that were made with insufficient thought or focus
- Frustration on the part of the project team or project manager when escalated issues, risks or actions are not addressed in a timely fashion
The role of the customer is decidedly hard to deal with. In other areas of a project, substitutions can be made. However, substituting the demands of a customer can be next to impossible. Bondale notes that such a role is hard to fill if the customer cannot share the responsibility of producing deliverables:
What is especially challenging about this is that while it may be possible (if project budgets have flexibility) to bring in outside assistance to address shortfalls in producing project deliverables, it is rarely possible for a hired gun to easily take over the role of project customer as it usually requires significant specific operational or functional knowledge coupled with well established relationships with peers and executives. To avoid this issue, a rule-of-thumb for appropriately planning for customer allocation could be developed based on the assessed complexity of the project.
This is not to say that every single project demands maximum involvement from the customer. Smaller projects of a less complex nature will understandably require less of a commitment from the customer than their larger counterparts. The main message Bondale wishes to impart is that planning a large scale project without a commitment from the customer is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. He concludes by noting that “it pays to cut your coat according to the availability of team member and customer cloth.”
In a perfect world, customer involvement in deliverables would be easy to achieve. In reality, you may face some time crunch issues in this area. However, as Bondale has detailed in his article, the benefits of garnering that involvement outweighs the trouble it takes to do so. Technically, the customer is not responsible for this type of involvement, but making that customer or project sponsor see what could potentially result from a lack of involvement may be the best method to get things done.