You labor to complete a project and diligently tracking the leading and lagging indicators is a big part of your business. The client comes by and asks, “So, what do you have?” You tell your story, mention the metrics, but to your horror, you see your client’s eyes gloss over. The client smiles and says something congratulatory.
Oops, did you really succeed?
Success must be communicated
Does your client understand metrics?
Let’s view success differently. Set aside the merits of metrics for a bit. Try this: success is when others appreciate what you’ve done. And appreciation requires understanding.
While zooming through the halls to get to a meeting, I turned a corner and caught the client manager for my project. The “Always be prepared” motto came to mind, and I was! After a quick greeting, he gulped his office-supplied tea and hurriedly asked, “How’s the project coming along?” Just what I expected. Now, at this point in my life, I had learned EVM and was eagerly applying it to everything, including this project. I belted out “It’s great! Our SPI is 1.1 for this iteration,” with an energetic grin. “What the hell does that mean?” barked back the manager. My glee shrank about 1.1 inches, and then I quickly translated: “We’re a little ahead of schedule because I convinced Chris to optimize that batch job. I think there are a few more similar improvements we can implement; with your backing, sysadmins can agree to make time for that.” “Good, I’ll speak with them later.” Afterwards, the manager came to rely upon my persuasiveness with other teams because I had communicated the real value, not a mere number.
Not everyone uses metrics or understands metrics. Just because some metrics are used by convention or standard where you work doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable using them or understands how they’re derived.
If metrics were a language, we can see that people speak this language to varying degrees. Some may speak it as their first language, some may know a few phrases, and some require a full-time translator. Or, they may use a different set of metrics akin to speaking a different language.
Make the effort to verify that your client understands the metrics you use. Use metrics that they understand. Then speak to these regularly so that together you develop an intuitive feel for them. For a client like this, their metrics are like a second language and your success is understood
A successful manager or project manager will seek to understand how well-versed their client is in the vernacular of metrics. For you to truly succeed, make sure you communicate your metrics in a way that your client will understand. If stating you have 1,000 available man-hours doesn’t register, translate it to “we have room for a 3-month project for 2 resources”.
Make the effort to verify that your clients understand the metrics you use. Use metrics that they understand. Then speak to these regularly so that together you develop an intuitive feel for them. For clients that do this with you, the metrics become a second language and your success is more easily understood.
Success must be communicated
Success comprises meeting expectations and delivering value. Metrics don’t communicate either.
Your client may not communicate everything they expect—they may not even know themselves or know how to articulate their expectations. You’ll likely never see them get into a room and write their expectations down for you. That means you’ll have to own it.
To address this, I use two tactics. First, I have BAs elicit these expectations from stakeholders at the start of the project. It’s stakeholder interviewing, but with a focused understanding of their tolerances, preferences, and off-the-record concerns. We revise the project charter as needed based on this input or—at least—create a watch list to ensure we’re meeting their expectations.
My favorite technique is to visualize with clients what life is like at the end of the project. I review with them how they benefit from the project—what they can do in the future that they cannot at present. Then I present alternate scenarios of how we can complete the project and, in the process, I glean further expectations for the project.
During a project charter review, we had everything addressed: scope, schedule, resources, end-of-project review, communication plan, support transition, etc. We felt we had thought of everything and the risks were covered. That’s when I knew the end-of-project visualization was paramount. I opened with, “How would you like your superiors to recognize the ongoing project success?” Eyebrows raised and the client said, “Hmmm…there is a bi-weekly project update I participate in.” “Is it verbal or do you present material?” I offered. “It’s a slide deck of metrics and the green/amber/red status is key.” I jumped at the opportunity, “How about we prepare that slide for you, but could we add screenshots of the application as it’s being built?” A smile lit up my client’s face, “Yes, that would be great.” Summarizing progress and screenshots/demos into a slide for him became a new requirement—a requirement for communicating success. The tactic was a great boon because his management knew what was going on beyond a number and had more confidence in him and our team.
Once these undocumented expectations are spoken, it is easy to evaluate and adjust unrealistic expectations or to begin trying to meet others. The closer to the start of the project, the easier it is to mold and negotiate the expectations, and the client is better off for the effort. For you, what is considered a success becomes clearer.
Whenever I report to my client, I know I have to answer an unspoken question hanging in the air for them: “What does it mean for me?” The numbers in report metrics just measure things, they do not provide meaning or describe value. Success for the client means that they can do something whereas before they couldn’t. Every time you report progress or success, you have an opportunity to help the client understand the value they’ve gained—that something they can now do.
State success in terms of what they can do after the project: “You can now communicate to your customers regularly,” or “The cost savings from this platform allow you to budget more for sales,” etc. The key is effectively answer “What or how does the business gain from this?” and be sure to address all the benefits to all stakeholders.
Ideally, this is captured in a business case, but in practice the business case isn’t reviewed or emphasized during and after the project. And, the personal value of team members’ contributions won’t be mentioned in the business case.
At the end-of-project review for a global CRM and content management solution we partook in, the discussion points were mainly about lessons learned. What came closest to describing the value of all the work was a review of the project purpose: to allow global regions to share contact information and branded content. Thinking of the value—what the business can now do—I shared what I could envision: the business now has an experienced team that can deploy additional global solutions for the business, this same team can handle greater challenges, the business now has deep and standardized data to better understand customer behavior in the different regions and share best practices, and the business now has a world-class solution to improve its reputation. After the meeting, I shared with the team members what I saw as the value they brought to the project and how their strengths and experience could catapult their careers. By seeing and sharing the value, the team truly felt success, both personally and as a team.
Success must be communicated
Metrics don’t speak for themselves, expectations don’t declare when they’ve been met, and value doesn’t sell itself. Worse: people’s appreciation wanes.
The perception of your work matters and you have to safeguard it. At the start of the project, ensure that you captured the proper metrics, expectations, and value so that your client knows the value you’ll deliver. Document and regularly communicate your hard-earned success so the client has the correct perception of you.
Reprising the situation at the start of this article with reporting the success to your client, I hope it is clear what is missing. If you partner with the client upfront, like we do at Acumenity, you will know what metrics to report to whom, what expectations to meet, and be able to express the value you’ve provided your client. We know how to communicate success.