Project Management Institute

The Customer Within

There's a Clear Path to Improving Internal Stakeholder Management

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By Frederico Cox, PMP

Customer focus is a common and beneficial mantra in many organizations, but the term “customer” is usually interpreted as someone outside the company. However, organizations can benefit even more if they extend this customer focus to their internal customers.

Every employee in an organization has customers, whether internal, external or both, and a culture that recognizes this can become a differential for organizations. Project managers can be an important part of adopting such a culture.

HOW TO GET THERE

As team leaders who also interact with a variety of internal and external stakeholders, project managers are important allies in spreading a complete customer focus across organizations. Project managers can begin to shift the culture of their own projects, involving and engaging their teams to think and act with customer focus. In addition to maintaining their usual attention to any external customers, project managers should:

■ Identify internal customers, understand their needs and plan how to satisfy them.

■ Teach team members to constantly ask themselves: “How can I better assist or support my internal customer?”

■ Empower employees to solve internal customer problems.

■ Define and monitor key performance indicators for internal customer service performance.

Project managers can't spread a customer-focus culture on their own, of course. Changing an organization's culture also requires top leadership to define the strategy, disseminate it and, especially, follow up on the results. But I've seen project managers make a major contribution as part of a comprehensive effort.

BRIDGING THE GAP

The need for strong internal customer service was driven home to me a few years ago during a project crisis. My organization had delivered a solution to our client to enable a new service. The service surpassed expectations, and demand for it was now growing exponentially.

My organization then agreed to the client's request for a second phase of the project to increase the platform capacity, and I came on as project manager. However, since this phase came about suddenly, my project team struggled with configuration activities, software installation and integration of the additional platform to the nodes already in operation. We contacted our local and regional competence centers—resources to assist ongoing deployments—which agreed to provide emergency support to the project team.

To our surprise, this didn't help the problem. Frequently, staff at the centers pointed to resources that did not fit the project need. Some technicians did not have enough knowledge of the customer solution or environment, while others were not available to meet the project timeline.

The competence centers, while technically agreeing to our requests, were focused on the administrative management of their resources rather than understanding our needs and proactively thinking about solutions to the resource problems.

In the end, my team had to take back some project activities from the competence centers, as well as implement a procedure to validate the experience and talents of the staff at the competence centers, so we had people with the right expertise and availability to fit the project timeline and the customer's needs. This cost extra time and money.

THE IDEAL

The aforementioned scenario might not seem unusual, but let's look at how it could have gone differently. In a similar and more recent experience, the competence centers viewed the project team as its important internal customer and immediately sought to understand its situation. These technical centers sent professionals to the site to ensure the correct mapping. They worked with the project team to assess the current status and identify root causes and improvement points, which fed the creation of an action plan and defined metrics for monitoring progress. The project got back on track much quicker, and internal and external relationships grew instead of being threatened.

On another program I took over, teams were far more concerned about their own assignments and needs than about those of the other project teams. What was lacking was engagement among various teams—they understood how to delegate activities to others but not how to truly serve each other. Employees failed to understand that the focus of each team's assignments should not exclusively be on executing activities but in guaranteeing that their internal clients—other teams—were being served.

When project managers backed by leadership demonstrate a focus on all customers through their actions, these actions turn into leadership examples, which become models of reference and then culture. Successful implementation of this culture in turn contributes to positive relationships among departments, ensuring an organization-wide atmosphere of service quality that eventually reaches the final client. PM

img Frederico Cox, PMP, is ICT program director at Ericsson, São Paulo, Brazil.

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