Did You Remember to Include the Customer in the Project Plan? – Part 1 of 2

Your project plan is meticulous. Requirements, scope, timeline, milestones and budget have all been finalized. You’re poised for success. Now enter the customer.

Nearly 70-percent of all organizational change initiatives fail. Scholars and professionals have analyzed the internal factors that caused them to fail and developed a set of components to help companies lead successful change initiatives (see John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change). However, many of these guidelines don’t address the customer, one of the most important external components of every project. Oftentimes, companies forget to keep their customer base satisfied when undergoing a large business transformation.

An example

In 2013, a growing industry leader launched a strategic IT initiative to redefine and innovate their core business offering. After nearly a year’s effort, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, and two missed deadlines, the firm sought the help of West Monroe Partners and our turnaround management offering. We conducted a project health assessment to understand the current state as well as the cause of their recent troubles. We discovered that the initiative was victim to missing and vaguely defined requirements – a very common issue when developing proprietary software. So, the client hired us to turn the project around through formal requirements gathering, use case creation, and vendor management.

We started by following many of the components laid out in Kotter’s 8-Step Process, securing buy-in from leadership and establishing a sense of urgency that was necessary for success. We helped empower the organization by having all members of the various business units take part in portions of requirements gathering sessions, and together we outlined an agreeable definition of success. Our teams were able to generate short-term wins by hitting use case deadlines, and we frequently demonstrated the progress that was being made to our client. However, as we continued, we noticed fleeting support from our client’s executive sponsorship and other key subject matter experts – skipping important requirements gathering sessions and final quality assurance reviews. As a result, our teams started to receive business requirements after deadlines, and we began fielding requests to modify already developed functionality. These aspects added to the project’s scope and applied extra pressure to a project with already tight timelines. So what caused the shift in focus and presented the challenges that we were facing?

If we were strictly going by the book, it would seem as if we covered everything that Kotter laid out in his process and that the project should have been running smoothly. However, an element was at play that isn’t discussed in Kotter’s list: the customer base. An unhappy customer base shifted our client’s focus from the transformative initiative that was nearly 50-percent complete to an all-hands sales strategy in order to maintain and grow new business. This shift severely diminished the importance of hitting upcoming project deadlines and challenged our team to regain our client’s energy and dedication.

Ultimately this project ended in a success (read the full case study). We were able to refocus and engage the project stakeholders to move the initiative forward while allowing them to address the needs of their customer base. But, our client’s experience with customer disruption is not uncommon. Maintaining the same level of client service while undergoing transformation is extremely challenging.

Transformation without disruption

So what can companies do to keep their customers happy while going through a major transformation? Stay tuned for part two where I’ll discuss why organizations should consider their customers when planning and executing a transformative initiative, and identify some customer-specific items that should be included in your next project plan.

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Chicago, IL 60606
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