Every project manager will experience this: what Sales sold and what needs to be delivered can at times be two different things. Lots of projects experience this and it’s ok. It takes tact and knowledge to be able to deliver the message effectively and maintain customer confidence in you and your team. Here are three tips to preparing yourself for that uncomfortable conversation.
Know Your Contracted Scope and Expected Scope
Knowledge is key in these situations. Understanding the specific scope of what was sold is vital to starting these conversations. A common mistake is looking solely at the signed contract. While this is what legally defines the scope on a project, it’s often supplemented by other extraneous documentation such as spreadsheets, meeting notes etc. It’s these documents that help customers form working understandings and intimate details that are in these documents often do not make it into the signed contract but that doesn’t change the perception of the customer and what they are expecting to receive. Knowing the contracted scope and expected scope are two key elements to being able to define what was sold and what is needed and if there is a gap.
Know Your Customer Requirements
You might say this is the ‘expected scope’ but that’s not always the case. What the customer requires may not be what the defined scope is, depending on how thorough the sales team goes during the sales process. For example, what if a customer requires an integration to one of their business systems. However the customer is in the process of migrating to a new platform for that specific LOB and they are doing an 18-month gradual migration. Now the sales team estimates effort based on the new system but what the customer needs is integration to the old (legacy) platform. Anyone who’s built an integration will know that this could pose a serious threat to budget, schedule and scope of your project. Understanding the customer requirements is vital and when layered on top of what you have been contractually obligated to do, provides a strong foundational understanding of how to facilitate that difficult conversation.
Define (and Prove) the Delta
Being able to clearly explain and prove to your customer what was sold vs. what they need is truly a difficult conversation to have. You have to put yourself in their shoes in that you’re essentially pulling the carpet out from their proverbial feet. It’s incredibly important that you are as clear as possible in explaining what was sold vs what is needed without making the customer feel like they were duped or mislead during the sales process (i.e. don’t make them feel you’ve done a bait-and-switch). If possible/needed, get the salesperson in the meeting to explain to them what was sold and help to manage those expectations and keep the client relationship strong. Being able to tactfully explain the deltas in a way that the client understands is no easy feat and is not often done on one’s first try without support.
Having scope discussions with customers is rarely a comfortable situation. You’re (in their mind) breaking a commitment that was made by your organization. But if done tactfully and with an educated response, you can appeal to their logical side and prove that what they are looking for is indeed not included in what was sold.