One of the most risky and challenging realms of project management is customer requirements and specifications. This is a challenging area because even the slightest misinterpretation can result in an error, a delay, or an unhappy customer with the final deliverables and product.
What are some ways project managers can deal with the risk and make sure they keep customers happy?
- Document, document, document. This may be obvious, but don’t assume that everything documented is all you need. It’s important to go through the documentation, as many times as needed, to make sure all the information is there and it is clear before assigning it to team members, delegating tasks, sending elements to the project off to vendors, or other internal departments. Basically anyone who touches the project should be clear on expectations, specifications, and be able to read any documented instructions at any time.
- It’s up to you to clarify. If there is an area of the specifications or instructions that you received from the sales rep or customer that is unclear, vague, or doesn’t make sense to you, then it is the project manager’s responsibility to clear it up. Remember, it’s up to you to clarify.Sometimes when reviewing or analyzing a new project and its specifications and risks, you may not be quite sure what the customer wants, or you may foresee issues with a particular spec. If this is the case, then it’s important to take the time and talk to your customer to suggest ways to improve or enhance the product, and even make them known of the risks involved with the current specs. Your customers will appreciate and thank you for it.
- Know your customers. After some time, professional project managers typically develop relationships with their customers. In doing so, not only does this make customers feel like you value them and providing excellent customer service, from a project management standpoint, you are also able to read between the lines, so to speak, and gauge what a customer is really looking for in their product and final deliverables.Of course, this may not be the case when working with new or potentially new customers. It takes time to get to know them and what and how they want their final products to look like. Spend the time up front getting to know their personalities and style and you will be able to leverage that into final deliverables. Project managers can also create a client intake form that asks questions related to their products, how their products are used, and what they are looking for in a firm. This information will arm project managers with the tools to make customers happy.
Finally, while customer requirements and specifications is a challenging area for most project managers, taking the time to document instructions and specifications, clarifying those specs when needed and communicating them to team members and other departments and functional areas, and getting to know your customers can make all the difference in meeting and even exceeding customer expectations.