on track

5 ways to keep your customer on track and on budget

by Shane Howard

Few things more satisfying than the success of a well-executed project that finished on time and under budget. But what about the projects that don’t fare as well? 

Experts estimate that around 70 percent of projects fail to deliver what was promised to clients. Fortunately, experts also found that by adding a formal management process, a failed project’s risk drops under 20 percent. 

I like those odds much better. 

As a long-time practitioner of a formal PM process, I keep control by doing five things that empower my team to stay on point and help align the customer’s vision with the project’s trajectory. It begins with a formal kick-off meeting. 

 

Start with the kick-off call. 

This is a critical time for setting expectations and establishing roles. Who’s responsible for what? Who are the key players? What is the agenda? This is the time to design the communication plan that everyone will refer to for direction.  

Use this time to introduce who makes up the client’s team and introduce your project team members. Go over the project timeline, communication plan, collaboration tools, project approach and needs, meeting structure, revisit scope, identify risks and assumptions. 

A kick-off call ensures the project moves in the right direction, with the most receptive approach. It’s also important to invite stakeholders to the upcoming monthly steering committee meetings. 

 

Communicate early and often. 

Proactivity is vital for project management success. Since this is the time to discuss any changes in scope, schedules, or budgets, I schedule weekly meetings to provide updates. The earlier you communicate, the better, and regular communication gets people thinking about things that could happen down the line. 

Information management is a large part of keeping a project moving forward. I keep these weekly meetings formal to make sure the right people are invited to those meetings to maintain clear lines of communication. Most of the time, conversations and general information are shared with all team members. But there are also meetings where information needs to be treated with more discretion among key stakeholders. Using a formally scheduled meeting ensures that the correct information is presented to those who need it. 

 

 

Refer back to the design document—often.

A lot can change as a project progresses, so it’s essential to refer regularly to the original design document. It’s common for more recent conversations to create a shift in the original plans. 

Remember, a lack of clear goals is the most common culprit for project failure. Should your client get distracted from the original plan, it’s your job to reposition their focus. 

“Setting clear goals helps you to track the milestones and the progress, giving you a clear picture of where you are at the moment,” say PM experts at TeamStage.com. “Thanks to this data, you can make some tweaks or reinforce the practices that benefit your end goal.” 

Review the approved requirements. Review past discussions, then make sure what is going on now still aligns with the original document. This will give you an opportunity to set expectations and answer the question: “What does done look like?”

 

Use RAID logs.

RAID stands for: Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies.

This log format quickly tracks issues, risks, identifying problems, etc. When necessary, it helps you devise a mitigation plan to resolve issues. Since both the client and the project team have access to this interactive and collaborative log, it’s easy to trace and track what’s happened so far. 

Along with the RAID log, be sure to have a place to track action items and decision logs, and review this logged information during regular status calls. I often add these to my RAID log so that I don’t have to track through six months of emails to remember where or why a decision was made and who was involved in those at the time.

 

Have meetings.

Let’s face it. Project management and meetings go hand-in-hand. But not all meetings are alike. And the type of meeting you arrange to share information makes a tremendous difference in how the information is delivered and received. 

I often use two types of meetings: 

Status Call Meeting or SCRUM 

I use this weekly meeting to go over task levels, specific tasks, progress updates about what we’ve done, discuss what we are doing now, and plan on doing next. I cover housekeeping items, such as schedule, scope, and budget. This is the time to handle action items and due dates and identify the responsible party for certain tasks. During this time, be specific about who is responsible for a particular task. Then track it. 

Follow up by sharing meeting notes with everyone who attended. I share notes within 24 hours following the meeting, and I like to share them as a PDF file so that they are easy to open on any device.  Be sure to include internal team members when sharing notes.   

 

Steering Committee Meeting 

Conducted with a more formal and structured format, these monthly meetings have a different audience and tone, and may not be appropriate on all projects. All stakeholders are invited to this meeting and other people who may not be involved in the day-to-day tasks. The Steering Committee meeting aims to present information covering broad topics like blockers, budget, and big task requests. This meeting helps you stay on schedule, within budget and allows for stakeholders to weigh in on decisions. It keeps them informed and aligned. 

This meeting doesn’t typically get into the specifics that are covered in the Status Call meeting. Instead, it provides general information to a higher-level audience. These meetings are typically for larger projects. This meeting is key to get client stakeholders and sponsor buy-in, but also to get a commitment from them to help provide what is needed on their side to enable the activities and decisions needed to move forward.

 

Unfortunately, controlling the nature of your meetings is often overlooked. But I’ve found that scheduling Status Call and Steering Committee Meetings are pivotal to maintaining alignment with the project while it exposes breakdowns in the client’s chain of command so that they can be corrected.   

Whether your project lasts two months or two years, establishing expectations within both teams, staying focused on the end goals while staying in control of information is constant. Although your projects may change, these five tasks will ensure your projects go smoothly and without fail. 

To learn more about best practices for project management and more at Simplus, click here

 

Shane HowardShane is the VP of Global Operations at Simplus. With his expertise in Professional Services, Operations, PMO, and Software Development and his experiences in partner, C-level, VP, and Director positions in various industries, Shane thrives in operational excellence. He solves complex internal and client-facing problems with scalable solutions.

[email protected]

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