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Episode 222: Customer-Centric Project Management (Free)

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Elizabeth Harrin

There have been many changes in the focus of organizations - whether private or public - away from a traditional product-or service-centricity towards customer-centricity and projects are just as much a part of that change. Projects must deliver value; projects must involve stakeholders, and as you will hear in our interview Elizabeth Harrin and her co-author Phil Peplow demonstrate convincingly that stakeholders are the ones who get to decide what 'value' actually means.

Today’s episode is based on their book Customer-Centric Project Management. It is intended as a short guide explaining what customer-centricity means in terms of how you work and its importance for project performance; using tools and processes to guide customer-centric thinking will help you see the results of engagement and demonstrate how things can improve, even on difficult projects. We’ll define what the problem is with how we do things today and then we’ll move quickly into the new paradigm.

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. 

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #222. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #222. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.
Before we get started, I wanted to say thank you. Four weeks ago I had to fly out to Switzerland to attend a family emergency and I have received dozens of emails from you with your best wishes. Thank you everyone for keeping me in your thoughts. But I also wanted to say thank you to everyone who stuck with me during this time and didn’t unsubscribe. I know that 4 weeks of not putting out a new episode is a very long time but I’m hoping to get back into some kind of a production schedule again. I’m still in Switzerland and my main priority is still the well-being of my father and his care. However, I’m able to work a few hours every day so I should be able to keep the podcast going albeit at more on a reduced basis. And now, on with the show!
There have been many changes in the focus of organizations whether they are private or public away from a traditional product or service-centricity towards customer-centricity and projects are just as much part of that change. Projects must deliver value. Projects must involve stakeholders. And as you will hear today, Elizabeth Harrin and her co-author Phil Peplow demonstrate convincingly that stakeholders are the ones who get to decide what 'value' actually means.
Today’s episode is a short guide explaining what customer-centricity means in terms of how you work and its importance for project performance using tools and processes to guide customer-centric thinking which will help you see the results of engagement and demonstrate how things can improve, even on difficult projects. We’ll define what the problem is with how we are doing things today and then we’ll move quickly into the new paradigm.
And now, enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Elizabeth Harrin, author, blogger and speaker.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Elizabeth. Welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™!

Elizabeth Harrin: Hello, Cornelius! Thank you for having me.

Cornelius Fichtner: Sure! Well, it’s this time of the year again when you and I attend the Global Congress in North America. This year it’s in Vancouver and we do our interview there somewhere in one of the meeting rooms or the big polls that they have. However, neither you are I are there this year. They’re starting tomorrow, right. What’s your excuse?

Elizabeth Harrin: Well, I’m going to the order of software project management or software management conference in a couple of weeks and two big conferences in a space of a couple of weeks. It was a bit too much to manage so this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to [Sweden] instead to talk at that conference instead of making my way to Vancouver which is quite a long way to go. It’s a shame. I’ve never been to Vancouver before.

Cornelius Fichtner: I’ve been there once. I would have been there twice. I’ve actually already booked my everything to go to Vancouver and then my family emergency here in Switzerland kind of put a stop to that. I had to cancel everything.So here we are, you in England, me in Switzerland. This is sort of a virtual, our yearly interview from the PMI Global Congress coming to you not from Vancouver but from Solothurn in Switzerland and London in the UK. So you have published a new book and it’s called “Customer-Centric Project Management”. And the interview we want to do today, the big idea that you told me about is we want to talk about the fact that post-implementation reviews, they aren’t enough and we should engage people at all the way through a project and assess success at every step and not just at the end. So let’s begin at the beginning here. Post-implementation reviews and what are they and who’s involved in them?

Elizabeth Harrin: Well mostly, we use post-implementation reviews to determine whether a project has been successful or not. And you might call them project post-mortem or post-project review. They are all got this word “post” in common. You sit down at the end of the project with the stakeholders, with the people who have been working on the project and work out what worked, what went well, what didn’t go so well. And it’s often the only opportunity to assess the project success. If you don’t have a really serious, robust way of doing benefits tracking.

Cornelius Fichtner: So what are the limitations here?

Elizabeth Harrin: Well, I think for me, post-implementation reviews cover process-related things like how we manage central changes as a team, whether or not the reporting schedule gave everyone the information that they needed. And it’s an opportunity to discuss statistics and metrics related to the project but they are normally quite backward looking. So you might look at things like the percentage of effort spent on testing or how many days it took the quality team to audit deliverables and that’s useful going forward for future projects so that the other projects have the benefit of your experience in hindsight but not so useful for you delivering or doing a good job on the project that you’ve worked on because the project is over.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right.

Elizabeth Harrin: So I mean there’s a logic to doing them. I think it’s traditionally the only way that project managers have had to determine whether a project has been a success or not. We do them because you have to have some way of knowing if you’re doing a good job. You set your success criteria in the beginning and then you pull them out the drawer at the end and then you have a meeting to decide if you hit them or not. We do it because it’s a way to assess performance and have a data but like I say, typically, it’s quite a retrospective way of looking at whether or not a project was a success.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right! Very traditional, right?

Elizabeth Harrin: Yes! And I think that’s probably the biggest limitation and sometimes, customers will be asked to feed into the project’s evaluation process. But at that point, it’s a bit too late to do anything about any points that they raise. So say they complain that you didn’t do enough reporting and they didn’t know what was going on. You can’t get back in time and then suddenly report more regularly or give more information. A post-implementation review for me, it’s just a case of “How can I help you? No, it’s too late. Why am I bothering to find out all these stuff now?” Great! Other projects will benefit but unfortunately for you, it’s too late.

When I was writing the book with my co-author, we came across some research from a South African university and it showed that project sponsors prefer people to be proactive with feedback over the whole process. They prefer to choose to work collaboratively so that they can make sure their expectations are met. So I suppose, the backwards looking thing is one big limitation in post-implementation reviews.

I think the other thing that I think, I find limiting about them is that they focus on the project management side of it --- principles and methods, which like I say are useful. How much do we spend on testing further going forward, feeds into other projects but it doesn’t make a distinction between the success of the project and the success of the project management effort. Did that make sense?

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes, it does. It does.

Elizabeth Harrin:  So we’re looking a lot at ‘did the project deliver what it was supposed to do at that part?’ it seems to have been almost forgotten. It’s much more around did we do reports, did we do quality, did we do scope, did we hit the time, did we hit the budget, blah, blah, blah which is how I do as a project manager not whether I’ve done anything useful for the business.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright, well, it’s probably a rhetorical question here already because it’s almost a foregone conclusion here. What’s the alternative to this?

Elizabeth Harrin: I’m glad you asked. No. I think the alternative for me, well firstly, don’t stop doing post-implementation reviews I think. There’s still great value in doing that. If you don’t, you’ll never know how you could improve the risk management or scheduling lessons. So it’s still worth doing that but it’s worth doing something else on top of that as well and that’s where I would advocate continuous reviews.

So instead of waiting until the end to find out all these stuff, work out on a monthly basis with the main stakeholder or the key stakeholders. And I think other than that, recently I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about engagement. We have to do engagement. But there’s not an awful lot of practical advices about how do you actually do it and how do you get people engaged. This is a bit more than sending emails. So having continuous reviews is a very practical way of making sure people stay engaged in the project.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! Before we move on to anything more about the continuous reviews here, let’s take a side step here quickly and talk about people just briefly.

Elizabeth Harrin: Okay.

Cornelius Fichtner: Why did you write about customer-centric project management in the first place?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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