Dueling Project Managers Win No Favor

portable Over the many years of assisting clients implement a wide variety of technology solutions, we have repeatedly verified a common understanding: A good project team is critical. Less-than-satisfactory projects have almost always turned south on the substandard performance of a key individual or two.

The single most important player on the vendor's team is usually the lead project manager (PM). A good PM will make the client feel like everyone on the team is focused only on its satisfaction. Most vendors say client satisfaction is their chief goal, but not every vendor delivers on that promise.

Vendor Profitability Vs. Project Budget
Implementation services are clearly the primary source of revenue during the initial sales cycle. Hardware and software sales margins are so small that most vendors cannot survive if they are just moving product. However, this sometimes leads to curious sales recommendations, such as compressing a client's three-year schedule for deploying to 30,000 users down to nine months. We have heard many implementation teams bemoan sales promises that require extra effort to deliver.

A key goal of the vendor PM is maintaining profitability. Most vendors will claim that goal is not as important as client satisfaction, but we see many examples where the latter was sacrificed to maintain the former. This is not necessarily wrong (vendors need to make a profit to stay in business), but it can be a challenge if the sales promises exceed the implementation team's ability to comfortably deliver at the contract price. The vendor PM is usually under internal pressure to maintain cost-effective resource allocation or help identify every opportunity for a change order request.

It helps if the client can keep the vendor's needs in mind. A client PM is usually focused on delivering the project on time and under budget while being sensitive to user satisfaction. This often includes a lack of tolerance for change orders, even when fully justified. A client PM will often face strong internal demands for services beyond the contract's statement of work, and doing the job well means resisting the urge to squeeze the vendor for more as an entitlement.

Sometimes the vendor PM's need to maintain profitability and the client PM's focus on budget leads to sacrificing the opportunity to deliver a customized solution that leverages the best benefits of a new technology. We have seen clients accept vendor plans based on cookie-cutter solutions that may even be like-for-like replacements just to get to the finish. Given the lack of noticeable improvement, users of course often end up wondering why the company purchased the technology in the first place, and the client will likely end up spending time and money on post-implementation optimizations that could have been addressed in the initial project.

User Satisfaction First and Foremost
Having a remote project manager who is not fully engaged is a common reason why an implementation experience was disappointing, our clients have told us. Even if the vendor PM is competent, being remote can mean missing subtle clues that something is off or can lead to a failure to address day-to-day client concerns.

Clients report several other issues they have had with vendor PMs. These include the PM adopting an attitude that the vendor knows what is best for the client, and thus dismissing the client's needs. Vendor PMs often want to approach projects in a way that works for them, justifying this based on experience from other projects. But this leads to the tendency to stuff a client into a template instead of adjusting to specific requirements. Besides, post-implementation changes can be profitable!

The best vendor PMs will balance client needs against profitability requirements in a harmonious way. . A good client PM will be reasonable while demanding full delivery of promised services and the individualized approach that ensures the vendor addresses the company's specific needs.

A successful implementation will focus on user satisfaction. The best projects have included the two-way sensitivity around costs -- both the client's budget and the vendor's profitability. The ability to work as a true team while advocating for what is fair for both parties produces the best results -- for everyone.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.