8 Satisfying the client and end user
Most projects have an identifiable client or customer group which will benefit from or use the outcome of the project. The client may be external to the organisation which is implementing the project, for example, the customer for whom a new building is being constructed. Or the clients may be internal, for example, the users of a new IT system. As we have already seen, it is important that the client or end user shares and endorses the project's objectives and is actively involved in its development. If this does not happen, then the project is unlikely to be a success, as Example 3 demonstrates.
Powerco, a major UK energy organisation, introduced a new management information system (MIS) which, while it was delivered on time, on budget and without major technical problems, failed to succeed, in that many end users were not satisfied with what was delivered. The company discovered that the primary cause of this dissatisfaction was a failure by the project team to engage properly and honestly with potential users at crucial stages of the project. Ironically, this failure of communication occurred despite the fact that user participation was given high priority in the project. Research conducted after the project was completed indicated that there were several crucial reasons for this mismatch between rhetoric and reality.
At the beginning of the project, its aims were not properly communicated to interested parties. While the primary aim of the project was to get business units to switch from site-based to business-based accounting, this was never made explicit outside the project team. In fact, at a series of MIS roadshows held to overcome potential end user resistance, promises were made to a wide range of potential users which suggested that the system's benefits would be far greater than this. It was positioned by a project team desperate to win support for a panacea that would meet everyone's needs. Inevitably, a strong feeling that the project had been oversold eventually surfaced and there was deep disappointment, especially amongst non-financial staff, once the system was installed. In fact, it later emerged that no definitive list of end users had ever been drawn up!
Given the lack of clarity at the outset, it is unsurprising that end users were not given appropriate feedback on how the project was progressing once it was underway. Nor were implementation responsibilities made clear at any stage, with the result that some business units ended up with unrealistically high expectations of the help they would be given in implementing the new system from the project team and the corporate centre. In these respects, the project team appears to have sacrificed effective user involvement for the need to meet deadlines as the project progressed.
Once the project was complete and the system ‘successfully’ installed, ownership of it inevitably remained a matter for debate, with some business units taking charge of its support and development, while others claimed that this was the responsibility of the corporate centre. The company was forced to conclude that, despite the avowed emphasis on user participation, end user consultation and involvement in the implementation process had not been effective. As a result, it incurred considerable additional expense in terms of hardware, software and development time after the formal handover of the system in order to ensure the satisfaction of all end users.
Activity 6: What are the client's expectations of the project manager?
Make a list of what kind of behaviours you think that a project end user should realistically expect from the project manager and project.
Establishing an open, honest and co-operative relationship with the client should be priority for the project manager and project team if they want the project to succeed. Your list is therefore likely to include the following.
Honesty – Clients expect project managers to plan and report honestly about the project. In order to achieve this, they must brief clients frequently about the project's progress and be willing for the client to attend project meetings when appropriate.
Co-operation – Clients expect the project manager to demonstrate that he or she seeks a high level of co-operation with them. If indications of this are not forthcoming, then the relationship between the two parties is likely to deteriorate rapidly.
Communication – Clients expect meaningful communication from the project manager, which keeps them informed about the project's progress, any potential problems, and any clarification that they might require from the client.
It is also extremely important that the project manager strives to provide the best output for the client regarding schedule, budget and product or service. If the client's expectations in this regard are unrealistic, the project manager must correct these misunderstandings at an early stage.