Successful Project Management Starts With a Focus on Client Outcomes

by | Aug 18, 2020 | ZAG Standards

In complex IT projects, a Project Manager spends considerable time during the planning phase identifying, scheduling, and resourcing every task and sub-task within the project’s statement of work. Upon completion, these tasks and sub-tasks are the project’s outputs from the project team’s perspective. From the customer or client’s perspective, they are the project deliverables.

With IT projects containing dozens or even hundreds of tasks requiring management, a Project Manager’s (PM) focus and time are captured by ensuring that each task is performed to its planned schedule and cost.

Ask yourself, what is more valuable to your client: the amount of effort put into planning and managing project outputs, or the project deliverables? If you answered “deliverables,” I challenge you to take the next step in your thinking toward “outcomes.”

Clients anticipate successful outcomes

Information Technology (IT) projects are interesting because they are often a small part of the scope of a much larger project. For example:

  • Building a new plant to expand business capacity – IT installing Wi-Fi access points in the offices is a small percent of the overall cost of a new plant.
  • Installing new processing equipment to improve productivity – IT connecting processing machines to a network represents a short amount of time in the overall schedule.
  • Moving applications to a cloud for security, performance, and resilience – IT migrating servers from on-premise to the cloud is a minor risk compared to the software development effort to build a new release.

In all these examples, IT project elements represent only a percentage of the cost, time, and risk, compared with the client’s overall project objectives.

Your client cares less about project tasks like, ‘the switch ports were configured,’ ‘data cables are certified,’ or ‘the SSL certificate has been installed,’ than the outcomes delivered by those tasks. What they want to see are project deliverables being accomplished: ‘WiFi’s up,’ ‘machines are on the network,’ ‘users can access the web servers securely.’ Clients are focused on the major outcomes, not the sub-tasks leading to these achievements.

Aligning project outputs with client outcomes

Ensuring that your project’s outputs fulfill your client’s desired objectives usually does not require a lot more time. You can accomplish this by changing the focus of communication between the project manager, the client, and the project team.

Instead of focusing on project tasks with the client, take the initiative, and expand your conversations to address the client’s expected business outcomes for the project. What are the goals your client hopes to achieve with the completion of your project? Perhaps delivery speed is the client’s most important requirement? Maybe it’s a bulletproof security solution? Or an inexpensive fix to a temporary issue.

Whatever their desired outcome, once you understand it, you can lead your project team to prioritize tasks to support the client better. It could be as simple as expediting a hardware order to make sure key equipment is available early or having an extra technical review to address security design considerations. These minor course corrections can produce dividends for time management and client satisfaction.

Leadership steps for successful client outcomes

To improve your impact as a project leader, try adding some outcome-related conversations to your communication:

  • Ask your client to explain their entire project, from business benefit to costs to schedule.
  • Tell your client’s story to your team to get them invested in a successful outcome. Give them a sense of why the project is important, who are the other vendors involved, the total cost, and the overall implementation schedule.
  • Prioritize the project outputs crucial to successful outcomes; make sure to schedule and resource these first.

The more a project team understands the client’s “why,” the more they will be engaged. It is not only important to find meaning to the work you perform, but as a PM it can improve the motivation and rewards felt by your team. Give your team a purpose for all the tasks they complete by helping them understand the client’s larger goal.

Lastly, go beyond anticipating your clients’ needs and speak with them about their goals. Small conversations with your client and team can lead to goal alignments and satisfaction all around. Upgrade your projects with some leadership initiative. Go beyond merely managing your team task outputs and begin delivering on your client expected project outcomes. Don’t simply manage your project, get involved in it. Doing so can reward you and all involved with a productive and successful experience.

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