As a new project manager it was glaringly obvious to me that my success was largely dependent upon customer satisfaction. I knew that I needed strong collaborative relationships with my customers. I needed them to respect me and trust me to get the job done. I needed them to help keep the project priority high and to provide financial support and subject matter expertise.
I loved giving them good news and I hated giving them bad news. For some reason I came up with this equation:
Announcing new requirements (or any change in direction) as a scope change = Bad news
And this is when I learned, my wonderful customers with whom I had amazing rapport and respect had no clue why the project was late or why it cost more money.? Why, it was as if all of those conversations and agreements about adding five more days to development for more in-depth error messages had never occurred.? How could this be?
Sure my customer was happy; the end result was exactly what they intended all along.
No changes occurred; everything was in-scope from day one. This was simply another case of Information Technology taking too long.
And I had learned a new equation:
Skipping change management = Undocumented overages plus poor customer perception
I moved on, determined to be a better project manager and to continue to enjoy a great working relationship with my customer.
You can bet that on my next project there was change management. I documented it in the project plan and I reviewed it with the entire team. And when the first change surfaced, I helped my customer by filling out the change request for them! Talk about customer service, this made it easy. Now all my customer had to do was review and approve the form and off we went.
As you may have guessed, this did not make it easy. Now the perception was this was a form that had to be filled out by Information Technology for Information Technology in order to keep the project moving. I was still missing customer buy-in. And so I learned:
Change management without customer participation = Documented overages plus poor customer perception
I did not give up on change management; instead I learned that I needed my customer to be my partner in the change management process. They needed to understand and support the process. They needed to see the value of tracking changes and I needed to understand that expecting their support and participation was good customer service.
Some of the lessons I learned along the way:
- Assume a change management process as part of your project.
- If your current environment does not have a process, introduce a process. Invite input to the process and allow others to change and grow the process. This way you will ALL own it.
- Do not over engineer your change management process. Set up rules and standards that will allow for rapid processing of change requests. Set up rules and guidelines that are appropriate to the size of the effort at hand.
- Never act apologetic for expecting customers, project sponsors or team members to issue change requests.
- Documented changes support better estimating for future projects.
- Documented changes help customers to better understand the true scope of their request and the true nature of their requirements.
With no change management in place, there is no accurate accounting of project scope, schedule and budget. This is a disservice to all. And this means:
Skipping change management = Poor customer service