The role of the project customer
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This is an edited excerpt from my book Customer-Centric project management, which I co-authored with Phil Peplow (Routledge 2012).
Project managers will be aware that projects don’t exist in a vacuum. They are born out of the need to achieve an organizational goal, such as increasing revenue or increasing brand awareness.
A project is created when someone, whether it’s an individual or a group of people, believes that the initiative will bring some type of business benefit. Usually, the project sponsor is the person who stands the greatest chance of gaining the most value from the project.
The Sales Director might sponsor a project to install customer management software. This will allow the sales team to cross-sell to existing customers. The project’s output is sent to the sponsor who wants to do something with it in order to meet organizational goals.
A successful project team requires excellent relationships between the ‘permanent project employees’ – those who work predominantly in projectized ways such as project managers or business analysts – as well as those who are seconded as subject matter experts or stakeholder.
Project teams are made up of many professionals from different backgrounds. It is crucial that all stakeholders are involved in the project’s success. It is important to establish close working relationships with both the customer and end users.
Customers who are satisfied make great allies in difficult times.
Who is the customer for this project?
Project customers are stakeholders who have a significant stake in the project’s success. This includes the project sponsor as well as any executive who provides resources for the project. This could also include the customers of the end product. For example, the Senior User in PRINCE2 (r) terminology.
It doesn’t matter what you call customer or how many customers you have. It is important that the project team shifts from’stakeholder’ to “customer” and the team begins to think about the people involved in the project as individuals who need a service from the project manager team as well as a deliverable at project’s end.
This is the mindset shift for customer-centric project management.
Project customer vs sponsor
Although they may be the same person as the sponsor, they could also be different.
In the book’s case study, we were delivering a project to the entire business with several operational groups representing our internal customers. The project sponsor was however a senior director who was involved in the organization. Although he did not get the benefit of the project, he was a sponsor and kept the whole project together.
The customer and the sponsor will be supported by the project team. The organization structure of successful projects will allow both the customer and sponsor to co-exist, even if they are held by different people.
One example is that the project sponsor could be an employee manager and the client could be the customer. There are many ways to define the customer relationship. There is no one-size fits all approach to project management.
Customer defines value for them
This attitude shift makes project managers more aware of the value they provide to their customers, whether they are internal or external. It is crucial to capture value criteria. These should be directly related with what the customer considers important.
Each customer will have a different understanding of what “Value” means to them. Therefore, each customer will have a different perception of why and how they will benefit from working with a project manager.
These value criteria are captured and aligned with the project goals by customer-centric project management.