Projects frequently fail to meet their customers’ expectations. And there will doubtless be plenty of
excuses reasons. But, to my mind, it’s a sin that’s pretty nearly inexcusable. Meeting customer expectations on your next project flows from just six simple steps.
So, why do so many projects and project managers struggle with this? I think – and it’s just a hypothesis – that many project professionals confuse:
Or, perhaps, they fail to draw a clear enough distinction between the two. And is not completely unreasonable. If their customers are happy, then it creates the conditions for the business to thrive.
But the business needs are articulated:
Your customers, or users, are the people who will:
As a result, these people will have a very particular point of view. And, it’s a very important one.
Having trailed this framework, let’s introduce you to it. And, to keep this article as simple as possible, lets also structure the article with these six steps.
The six simple steps for meeting customer expectation are:
With all that said… Let’s go!
If you want to meet your customers’ expectations, you need to start with an attitude. And that is a customer-centric attitude that places customer needs, priorities, desires, and expectations at the heart of both your thinking and your processes. Note that I am NOT saying that you must make meeting their expectations a mandatory part of your process. But I am saying it will be near the top – maybe at the top of your priority list.
This is certainly core to Agile thinking. The first of the 12 Agile Principles that accompany the Agile Manifesto is:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
You may or may not be producing software. But satisfying your customer needs to be a priority nonetheless.
One way to make this happen is to seek to involve your customers at every step of the project process. And here’s another place where too many project managers go a little astray.
It is easy to see your stakeholders as a distraction from what you and your team are ‘supposed to be doing’. They get in the way of important work.
So, you need to turn this on its head. See working with your customers as what you are supposed to be doing. This is important work.
Right from the start of your project, get to know your customers. There are four key activities here.
As you’d expect, everything starts with figuring out who your customers or users are. And, to recap, your customers are the people who will:
Next, find out what you can about them, and start to build a picture of what their needs, desires, priorities, and expectations are likely to be. And, equally important: why. What are the drivers of their expectations?
As early as possible, get to meet your customers. In the real world, if possible. If not, meet them online. You may like my video, Lessons I’ve Learned about Productive Web Calls: Zoom, Teams, Webex, Blue Jeans…
This is how you will build a relationship and actually get to know your customers.
It can often be very helpful to draw up customer personas. Representations of typical customers with a shared set of needs and expectations. This is a tip I draw from the world of marketing.
But a clear articulation of what a group of customers is like, what’s important to them, and how they are likely to see the world, will be of great help when you are:
For more on this important marketing concept, take a look at my video, What is a Customer Persona? on my Management Courses YouTube channel.
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the hard work of understanding what your customer wants, needs, and expects.
This is about dialogue, where you will concentrate on two things:
You may also like my video, Astonish Your Stakeholders… with a Stakeholder Listening Plan | Video
There are a wide variety of tools available to us, to help with prioritizing and balancing the different priorities and expectations of our different stakeholders and customers.
The process of deliberately listening to customers to understand their points of view and expectations has a name, and a process. It’s called Voice of the Customer, or VOC.
Perhaps the best know tool for prioritizing different customer needs, priorities, and desires is MOSCOW Analysis.
The acronym, MoSCoW stands for needs, priorities, desires, and expectations we:
However, following Russia’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, I know that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with this mnemonic, metaphor, model, or whatever we call it. So, I have coined the alternative, KYIV analysis.
The more of your expectations we meet, the happier you will be. That’s the essence of the Kano Model. It helps you prioritize features or scope according to how much they are likely to satisfy and delight customers. It allows you to weigh this against implementation costs.
Once you have understood your customers’ expectations, you need to refine and articulate them. You will need to find a way to balance the four constraints of:
Design Thinking is an approach to finding product solutions that is characterized by being customer-centered – focused on the needs and behaviors of users.
It is ideal for dealing with poorly characterized or partially understood problems. Hence its frequent use alongside Agile methodologies.
User stories are an approach from Agile project management that is excellent for documenting customer expectations. A user story describes simply something a user wants. It is a simple description of a product requirement, in terms of what the product must be able to do…. And for whom.
So, user stories together represent the features that a customer or user expects from the project.
That old adage that ‘Project Management is 80 percent communication’…
If you doubt (and you shouldn’t) the applicability of that statement to the earlier stages, this step can be about nothing else!
And we need to communicate our customer expectations to:
One of the most valuable things you can do is prepare to meet resistance. Two things are likely:
You need a dynamic communication plan to address these shifts and maintain the support of your stakeholders. This means working hard to address the gaps between expectation and reality, and to prepare your customers for what is coming.
However, in resetting expectations, some things need to be non-negotiable.
Be open, honest, and transparent about what you can and cannot do. Never over-promise against what you are confident you can deliver. In fact, I am a great proponent of the adage:
To maintain reasonable expectations, you need to keep your customers and other stakeholders up-to-date with:
An equally important aspect of the communication process is to actively seek feedback from your customers on what they are hearing about the project and any pilot, prototype, or testing experiences.
This feedback is not only vital to optimizing your product and delivery performance. It is also a crucial way that you can align expectations. The difference between feeling heard and feeling like your experiences are not listened to is HUGE. And it has an impact on expectations. Ironically, when I don’t feel you are listening, I escalate my expectations because I now demand the fairness that I feel like I am missing out on.
The other expectation that you have to meet is that, if I take the time to give you feedback, I expect you not just to listen, but to act on it. Always report back to a customer or user what you have done, are doing, and plan to do in response to their feedback.
As always, honesty is critical. It is okay to say that you have evaluated a piece of feedback and concluded that it is:
Or won’t feature in your plans for any other reason. Treat them like adults and give the bad news. But, never a naked ‘no’. Always give a reason why.
If you have experiences to share or questions to ask, I’d love to read them in the comments below. And, as always, I will respond to every contribution.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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