Managing Customer Expectations: Myths

Problems or issues with projects often result when the customer and the project manager are not on the same page regarding how the project will work. The longer this misunderstanding exists, the higher the risk of project failure. A good project manager should address these issues very early in the life of the project, putting the project manager and the customer on the same page from the beginning.

Here are five myths a customer may believe that can adversely impact the success of a project.

Managing Customer Expectations

Address customer concerns very early on in the project

Myth: It’s Easy to Add (or Subtract) Work

A well-defined project will spell out what work is to be done and what work is not to be done. The customer may not understand that resolving a request to add new work is not a trivial exercise: sales and engineering may need to get involved; cost and schedule will probably need adjusting; and progress on work that is already underway may suffer. It may be less obvious, but is equally true, that resolving a request to remove work can be just as difficult.

The project manager’s company has perhaps sold a “package” that cannot have pieces easily removed. They are expecting to do a certain amount of work, have committed resources, and have perhaps already spent significant amounts of money in preparation for doing the work contracted for.


Myth: It’s Easy to Add (or Subtract) Calendar Time

Sometimes during execution of a project, the customer may express the desire to avoid project work on specific days, and to “give the project manager a break” by agreeing to add extra days to the agreed project completion date. However, resources may already have been committed, and money already spent, to do work during the new “break” period. Additionally, the project manager is expecting to release resources at the conclusion of the project, and now must renegotiate to retain resources through the extra time. Finally, subtracting time from the project is extremely difficult to do, and, if technically feasible, requires the project manager to obtain and commit additional resources at additional cost.


Myth: All Internal Work Is Free

If the customer is within the same company as the provider of the work, and therefore no money is exchanged, then the customer is very likely to view work by the provider as “free.” This can lead to more work being requested than would make good business sense to request if someone had to pay. In reality, the provider still has “cost” in resource time and other expenses that should be considered. The customer should request only those projects that provide appropriate business return on investment, and that fit within the provider’s overall budget.


Myth: Change Orders Are Bad

The customer is prone to confuse the desire to limit change introduced to a project and the requirement to request, document, coordinate, and approve any change that is actually required. We do want to avoid change, because change will probably introduce adjustments to time, resources, and budget. However, if change is truly required, we definitely want a good “change order” or “change request” process in place to make sure all parties agree on exactly what will be changed, and how that will influence cost and time.


Myth: Rate Multiplied by Time Does NOT Equal Distance

Remember this from high school physics? Except the science says that Rate multiplied by Time DOES equal Distance. It applies to project work as well. The rate at which we do work (perhaps person-hours per day) multiplied by the number of days (time) equals the total amount of work that can be done (distance). We can change or control any two of these variables, but then the third one results from those two. For example, if the project manager is directed to do the same amount of work (distance) in half the time, his or her only option is to double the resources (person-hours per day). Rate multiplied by time DOES equal distance. It’s physics.


Ensure A Successful Project

The customer often proceeds through a project with expectations that some of the above myths are true. At the beginning of a project, the project manager should have good discussions with the customer that put them both on the same page for how the project will work. This will manage these expectations and help ensure a successful project.


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