As a Delivery Lead at Atomic, I sit between the client and the product team and one of my responsibilities is to enhance the client’s experience. What does that really mean? It varies depending on the makeup of the client team and the objectives for their project. However, a common element of any client enhancement plan should include concrete steps for bringing the customer along.
The “Design by Committee” Risk and Why You Should Take It
If I’m being transparent, I have to admit that on every project I weigh the benefits of bringing the customer along and the risks of ‘design by committee’. Project and product managers know that having too many stakeholders steering decisions will often cause project paralysis. However, I’ve found that it benefits the outcome of the product if the client is engaged at all points along the way. Here are some benefits that outweigh the risks:
- Saves time in the long run. The more often the client is kept informed of the project status, the fewer requests they send my way asking for project updates.
- Shortens the feedback loop. Decisions are made in a timely manner because the client already has some base level of knowledge to rely on.
- Helps form commitment to the project. There are going to be times when the client disagrees with the approach or direction that development is taking. But if the client has been consulted with along the way they are more likely to be committed to the overall plan.
- Brings the voice of the customer. Clients [should] advocate for their customers. Without this voice the development team doesn’t know the problem they are trying to solve.
There are many ways to help clients feel like they are truly part of the project experience. Below are the most common steps that I work into my routine on every project.
8 Ways to Bring the Client Along
- Communicate frequently and regularly. I aim for some touchpoint (email, phone call, post or meeting) at least once a week.
- Invite them to participate in daily standups and sprint planning meetings.
- Review project budget and burn rate, bi-weekly.
- Give access to the development backlog system and make sure they feel comfortable navigating it.
- Consult with them before building.
- Share visuals such as diagrams and workflow maps which clearly depict the direction the team is heading in.
- Build small chunks and demonstrate regularly.
- Use their terminology. Companies have their own language filled with acronyms and business jargon. Learn their language early on in the project and use it.
When a project runs smoothly, the impact of bringing the customer along can be subtle. Where this approach pays off most is on complex projects where highs and lows fluctuate. If the client feels like they are part of the decision-making process, it improves their experience and in turn the outcome of the product.