The hidden success factor

look to the client -- not scope, budget or timeline -- to determine if the project succeeded or failed

By Frederico Cox Jr., PMP


ORGANIZATIONS AROUND THE WORLD successfully complete only 64 percent of their strategic initiatives, according to PMI's 2015 report Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management. Given all we know about project management today—the need for strong executive support, qualified team members, regular user input and more—why aren't success rates significantly higher?

In other words, if the causes of project success have been identified, why do so many of our projects still fail?

The project manager must ensure the expectation created in the client's mind is as close as possible to the project reality.


Perhaps the factors we as project managers focus on are not the only ones that contribute to success. To identify another success factor, look at projects from the customer's perspective.

The goal of project management should be customer satisfaction. Scope, time, quality and cost contribute to customer satisfaction but do not exclusively determine it. In fact, a client may be extremely happy with a project that did not achieve its planned scope, quality or even cost.


Customer satisfaction is related to expectations. If the customer's expectations are met or exceeded, he or she will be satisfied. This means project managers must understand the concept of quality in terms of projects, especially IT ones.

Many people associate projects with the delivery of products, which can be experienced before they're purchased—meaning the customer knows what to expect. However, projects are much more similar to services than products. This has big implications for the way quality is perceived.

Services can only be evaluated when they are delivered to the customer. The length of time between when the customer negotiates the purchase of the service and when the service is actually delivered gives rise to expectations that may be unrealistic. The great challenge of the service provider—and therefore the project manager—is to manage customer expectations.

This is particularly true for IT projects. These projects are usually based on highly complex software, innovation and a specific application. On top of this, these solutions are typically integrated with the client's existing solutions, thus requiring adaptations and specific customizations. All these factors make it difficult for the project manager to fully explain the solution to the customer, which can lead to unrealistic expectations.

The project manager must ensure the expectation created in the client's mind is as close as possible to the project reality. This expectation management starts during business presentations and gets intensified early in the project execution, remaining until customer acceptance.

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The project manager also must ensure that the client understands the project scope in full. Customer expectations must be managed in relation to the functional requirements (the function the software is intended for) and nonfunctional requirements (such as security, scalability, portability, stability, availability, performance, documentation and ease of operation). Finally, the project manager must manage expectations about the services associated with the software, or value-added services. This could include installation, training, data migration, implementation, knowledge transfer, assisted operation and support.

The formal alignment of customer expectations—functional requirements, nonfunctional and project services throughout the negotiation and establishment of the project—and management of those expectations throughout execution are crucial ways to ensure that the customer has the right perception of quality. And that makes ultimate satisfaction with the project more likely. PM

img Frederico Cox Jr., PMP, is a São Paulo, Brazil-based program manager at Ericsson, a PMI Global Executive Council member.




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