There are a million ways to run into problems during an IT engagement.  You can lose personnel, the client can change the scope, or your CEO can shoot himself (I think I covered that one in the last article).  However, there is one critical way that often happens right out of the gate and it doesn’t become evident until the ball is rolling and it’s too late to do anything about it quickly or for free.

Sales and the Client

During the sales process the Account Manager and numerous other sales individuals and some technical individuals work very hard to secure a contract with the prospective client.  As I’ve mentioned in numerous articles, it is unfortunate that Project Management is almost never a part of this process.  I feel that the lack of PM involvement leads us to this next issue. 

When Sales is securing the business with the client, not enough attention is always paid to the client’s “as-is” vs. “to-be” state and what it’s truly going to take to close that gap.  Not enough detail is put into this pre-engagement requirements analysis and business process definition portion of the engagement and the resulting problem is an underestimating of the complexity of what it will take to provide the customer with the needed solution.

I’ve seen this take many forms and every time it has been traceable back to the sales process.  I’ve witnessed:

- Client training needs not properly outlined resulting in the Exploration and Design phases suffering badly due to an improperly educated customer.

- Business processes for the client not defined at all in advance – when this was clearly a requirement but not enforced – resulting in a doubling of the Exploration phase timeline.

- Data needs and integrations poorly planned prior to the engagement beginning.

- Not enough knowledge on the client side – the right experts not assigned to the project team – resulting in the client unable to make decisions at critical times during the engagement.

And the list goes on and on.  The common thread though, is that all of these affect the project adversely.  All of these extend the timeline for the project, increase the budget due to additional effort and hours expended, and decrease customer satisfaction. 

I’ve sat in the room with the client during early Exploration and Design phase meetings and explained these shortcomings to the customer.  When I hear “that’s not what Sales told us” I subtle roll my eyes and scratch my head, but the bottom line is you’ve hit a wall with the customer and it’s hard to recover from.  They may be frustrated with the Account Manager initially, but you’re the one sitting in the room with them and you’re the one who has to fix the situation quickly.

The Workaround

So, you’ve just realized that due to some event or lack thereof early in the project or pre-project process that you know have an improperly scoped level of effort.  What do you do?  The customer isn’t happy and aren’t likely to become happy quickly with anything you’re going to say….so how do you minimize the discomfort?

First…let the customer know the issue.  You probably already have because what I’ve described above usually comes to light during early phase project meetings with the customer as you’re diving deeper into requirements.  Next, talk to the Account Manager to gain a better understanding of how they arrived at the current scope and estimate and understand what was presented on the customer side in terms of needs.  Getting the story from just the customer is not always the best approach.

Now that you’ve done both of those, go into damage control mode.  Look for ways in the schedule that you can incorporate the activities that should be in there but were missed while enduring minimal timeline impact.  If training is needed on the customer side, offer them a reduced rate to bring proper instructors onsite to the customer – this will be cheaper for the customer and will take less time than trying to organize customer personnel from multiple locations to fly to your corporate site.  I did this with one customer with very satisfying results and it became a new model of training offered to all customers going forward due to it’s success.

Summary

The key concept to gain here is – you can’t really see this coming unless you’re part of that sales process.   And unless you’re in a smaller organization, that is not likely to happen.  But how you react to it can definitely help to ensure project success and minimize customer dissatisfaction.  The customer will almost always end up paying more for what they thought they were already paying for, but how you present this necessary change in scope goes along way toward goodwill with the customer.