Any project manager with a measure of experience has worked a project where the customer was not as engaged as they should be (or not at all). These situations make successful delivery of a project nearly impossible – how are you supposed to make your customer happy when they don’t (appear to) care about the outcome of your project. Here are some guidelines on keeping your customer stakeholders engaged throughout the project.
Often times when customer stakeholders check out of a project it’s due to lack of communication and updates from the project team. It’s vital that the project manager and other key members of the team keep customer stakeholders informed and communicate progress, issues and risks to help keep up the collaboration between both teams. Depending on the environmental nature of the organization these ‘black holes’ of communication can lead to frustration or even apathy on the customer’s side. Once the customer team becomes disengaged it’s even more difficult to get them back into the fold. So as a project manager, your strategy should be to over-communicate to your project stakeholders (holding to your communication plan at a minimum) to ensure that all your project stakeholders are well-informed on project progress and feel that you are keeping them as up to date as possible.
Engage Early and Often
Getting your customer engaged early on in the project is a key step in maintaining momentum throughout the project. Usually at the kickoff meeting where you are often meeting the customer and their team for the first time is where this needs to be established. There are very few projects where the customer will not have an active role and work to do as part of the project so use that to your advantage. Advertise that you and your project team are going to keep the customer team busy (with the guidance of the customer PM of course). This needs to be a delicately balanced and delivered message as often times the customer project team members have full workloads and may not be as excited about this project as their boss or project manager. So when an outsider (i.e. you) comes in and starts telling them about all the work that they will have to do as part of this project, you can have the exact opposite effect on what you’re trying to accomplish. Typically what you should do is engage the customer project manager prior to the kick off and determine how best this message is delivered in a way that gets the customer project team members excited but not overwhelmed by the additional work that they will need to own as part of this.
Prove (and keep proving) Project Value
Keeping communications up and engaging early are two great ways to keep your customer project team engaged on a project but the truly “organic” way to maintain excitement and engagement on your project is to prove and continue to demonstrate value that your project is bringing to the customer organization. Maybe it’s a new solution that will replace a buggy system that makes additional work for them – show them a means to an end with the work they put into this project. It’s not enough to sell your customer project team a “project mission statement” – that will suffice for the kick-off but you need to continually prove value that your project is delivering. Perhaps iterative demonstrations of your progress to show customers what’s been built to-date, something they can see and (virtually) touch to keep up the excitement level. However you do it, it’s important to understand their perspective – what value is your project bringing to them that warrants them putting their time into it.
Keeping customer project teams engaged on a project is often owned by the customer project manager but they cannot do it alone. Customer engagement is vital to successful project deliveries and cultivating and maintaining that excitement is an often overlooked task when building out most project plans. Having a strategy in place for keeping up customer excitement and engagement by using these techniques is a great stepping stone on the way to a successful project.
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