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Does the Project Manager Know Better?

by Hal on April 6, 2009

in PM practice, project planning

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zipperImage by himmelskratzer via Flickr

Better than who? Better than what? What does better mean? Seth Godin wrote this morning about zippers vs. buttons on jeans. From a technological and ease of use many people would assess that zippers are better. However, after years of wearing jeans with zippers Seth has switched to buttons. Why? Because for him buttons are better. That is the key point.

"Better" is always personal.

"Better" is a value statement, an assessment, that we make as customers. I've never owned jeans with buttons. I can't imagine thinking they would be better than a zipper. But, don't make that decision for me. This reminds me of my new home. A year ago, the framer decided that he should center a window on the back wall of the garage because it would look better. He even spoke with the project manager about it. She agreed. When I saw it installed I was surprised they had not followed my plans. The project manager said it would look better. But what she didn't know is how I intended to use my garage. It was worse for my use, not better. "Better" is always personal.

Project managers routinely find themselves in the situation where they have to choose alternatives. Sure, there are decisions that they can comfortably make regarding some of the technical issues that are usually in the background. But how do you know what is in the background? How do you know what the customer really cares about and the basis for assessing something to be more value? You take the time to ask. Do customers know what they want? Not always. You might have to educate them. That could delay the project. Customers always take too much time with their decisions. Isn't that right?

Take the time to find out what is valued more.

Not checking with the customer can take more time, cost more money and result in customer dissatisfaction. Do you want to risk that? I don't. So, what will it be, zipper or buttons? Take the time to find out what is valued more.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pawel Brodzinski April 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

If you have zipper jeans in magazine and the customer doesn’t know you’ll go to find out whether zippers will suit them fine, not whether buttons would be better.

It’s not always about digging deep enough to learn what would be customer decision. Sometimes either way is fine and the sooner you come out with some proposition the sooner you’re able to move ahead.

And yes, it’s the role of project manager to decide which dilemmas are worth digging deeper and which decisions should be made fast even if that mean little consultancy with the customer.

2 Bruce April 6, 2009 at 2:15 pm

There should be two guiding principles here:
1) Aligning decisions with the overall outcomes (or goals) the project is aiming to achieve
Of course this requires that the project goals be clearly stated and understood at the start of the project. It may also relate to wider goals of a programme or portfolio.

2) Aligning decisions with the stated requirements (or scope) of the project
Once a requirement has been signed off it should not be changed without a proper change process including consultation with the customer/end-users and sign-off on the changes.

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