How to meet client expectations: Product-based Project Planning
What steps can we take every time we have a business interaction to give ourselves the best odds of success? Identify and clarify your client’s expectations.
We don’t have to think too deeply about the deliverables – what is it that they expect to get from us – this is second nature for most of us. “What do you need? How many of them? And by when?”
Unfortunately, the problems that inevitably follow are usually caused because we failed to establish the quality expectation up front.
When that product is a report, how do you know for certain what your client expects to have in hand when he or she envisions "quality"? Fall back on your ISO9000 certification?
Content, style, formatting, and reading-level are all subjective criteria if not explicitly defined.
Don’t drive nails with a sledgehammer
Let's face facts - when was the last time you saw a detailed Quality Management Plan (QMP) which adequately addressed the quality specifications of a written report?
Of course, for a small project, a full-fledged QMP would be overkill. Still, you need some sort of a plan to specify the quality expectations you need to meet.
Why not consider a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS)?
More Project Management?
Those of us who have had some project management training are very familiar with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Translated from the language of the PMP, a WBS allows us to break the various activities of a project into smaller, more manageable bites. These smaller pieces can then be more easily tracked, can be assigned to appropriate personnel, have resources allocated, and timelines attached to them.
Your PRINCE in Shining Armour
Developed as a process-oriented approach to project management within the Public Service of the UK, PRINCE2 utilizes the Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) in defining the hierarchy of a project breakdown.
The difference between a PBS and a WBS?
In its most simplistic form a WBS says, “do this activity, and do this, and do this – in this order and at this time.” Most of us are all too familiar with the ubiquitous Gantt Chart:
In contrast, the PBS says, “make this thing, and make this, and make this – using these resources at these times, to this standard of quality.”
A simple PBS that we are all familiar with is the Table of Contents found in any book.
The table is product based, and if you were to describe the individual sections (create product descriptions) this would include the quality specifications and acceptance criteria for each of them.
Benefits of Product-based Planning
Some of the benefits of product-based planning can include:
- less ambiguity over expectations
- user/client involvement in specifying requirements and quality expectations
- identifying external products - products that are outside of the project scope but necessary for it to proceed
- clear definition of review and approval responsibilities
Define the Products
Once you have created your PBS, you can move on to writing the product descriptions for those items identified in the structure. Following the PRINCE2 methodology, product descriptions should include:
- Format and presentation
- Quality responsibilities
- Quality criteria, quality tolerance, quality method and quality skills required
An Expectation of Quality
When it comes down to it, most customers expect quality, but do not necessarily want to pay for it. So, when you build "quality" into your PBS, you don't have to add quality activity work packages to your WBS and the "cost of quality" is nicely camouflaged.
If you have had that client who said, "I’ll know what I want when I see it," then you know from experience that quality does cost. The price of rework can be margin crushing.
So the challenge when you start your next project is to take a moment to look at your WBS through a PRINCE2 lens. Before you start breaking it down or building it up, why not consider looking at it from a "product" perspective and creating a PBS?
Have you had any useful experiences, either good or bad, with building quality expectations into your client interactions? We would love to hear about your approach to this difficult topic.