Your customer has a budget ready for the project. Great. But that doesn’t necessarily indicate that they are really prepared for the project. Can you go forward? Yes, definitely. But how prepared they actually are will affect the project schedule – and even the mindset or team – that you head in with to the project. Never, ever, just assume they are ready.
We would like to think that our customer – the one who is spending the money – has been diligent in their preparation for the upcoming engagement that you are about to lead for them. It only makes sense, right? If they are prepared, that means smoother sailing, possibly a shortened project window, and a decreased project budget. Cost savings for the customer! A good thing, right? One would think so, but I never cease to be amazed…
What should your customer come to the table with? Well, at a minimum, they should have the following:
High level requirements. The customer who comes to the table with no requirements planned out is a huge red flag. Certainly you should expect to help them to some degree with requirements – and it’s absolutely necessary for you to help them flesh out more detailed requirements in the planning phase – but when they come to the project with nothing it’s time to put on the brakes.
An assembled core project team. If you’re dealing solely with the project stakeholder at the kickoff meeting, then your customer may be unprepared. They need a core team of their own to assist you and your team in putting more detail into the project, identifying issues and risks, and verifying the project schedule that you’re proposing.
A group of subject-matter experts (SMEs). During the engagement you’re going to need access to some end users and subject-matter experts because there will be questions you’ll have for them as you try to piece together the requirements you’re working with. These people need to be identified up front and need to be prepared to be adhoc members of the customer’s project team.
Preferably a project manager or point person. Again, dealing with a stakeholder is great and that person may, indeed, be the project manager. But if not, there needs to be a primary counterpart on the customer’s side to you as the project manager. Someone you can go to to get things done on their side. Someone to enforce accountability and direct activity because there will be customer assignments.
Training or software knowledge. This is a tough one and the customer may push back, but if you’re dealing with a software or IT project, then in order for you and your team to get the best possible requirements documented, your customer must have an understanding of what you’re implementing. If they don’t understand the capabilities at all, then they can’t truly fully understand how much or exactly what the solution will be able to do for them. Basic training is a huge plus to the project.
How do you know they’re ready?
So, I’ve presented a list – and I would welcome any comments or additions that any of our readers might have. This list is based solely on frustrations I’ve encountered on the many projects I’ve led over the years. I’m constantly surprised by how unprepared some customers are when they come to a kickoff meeting.
How do we figure out if this customer is ready or not? It may become evident as you start to go through the statement of work (SOW) because most of the project goals and assumptions are listed there. If the SOW discussion surprises your customer, and they seem uncertain of what’s expected of them, it may be time to slow things down.
If you are implementing a software solution and the customer has no knowledge whatsoever of its capabilities, then there’s no way they’re really going to be ready to discuss detailed needs and requirements. You likely need to offer training. Ask about their project team because you’re going to need that information for assignments in the project schedule.
Likewise, If the customer doesn’t have a team ready, then you may want to give them a week to put the proper team together. Discuss the project schedule that you’ve drafted. If there are any major sticking points with the customer, then halt the kickoff and get those ironed out before proceeding with the engagement. The worst thing you can do is start the project before both parties are prepared to start because you’re going to find yourself behind schedule very quickly as you work with your customer to identify and fix these weaknesses.