Contrary to the popular belief, the customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes the customer may be the one delaying the project by not giving the approval of a completed phase when required, by not communicating effectively, by missing deadlines for the review of the deliverables – shortly, by being aloof to the project.
Customer’s delay translates into delay of the project, monetary loss, and decrease of the motivation and morale of the project team. Sometimes the customer may be too busy, especially if he or she represents a large organization and yours is just a side project for them. Other times, the customer may not see the implications of his or her attitude or may be just relying on the project manager’s decisions. Regardless of the motivation, customer’s delaying the project is a problem that you, as the project manager, must solve.
Ideally, this situation could have been avoided by accurate project planning. A communication plan, including deadlines to be respected by both sides, and monetary penalties for project delays should have been approved by the customer. More important, since customer’s performance is actually a major project risk, mitigation plans for it should have been included in the risk management plan. However, in small projects, sometimes this documentation or part of it has been overlooked.
In this case, you as the project manager need to use your communication skills to convince the customer to get involved in the project and respect deadlines. The project team obviously costs money and time to your organization, so you could claim that waiting time is billable. However, unless this has been agreed upon in a contract, it may be difficult to convince the customer. In this case, you need to attempt other strategies, such as organizing face-to-face meetings explaining the gravity of the situation and the negative implications to the project’s time frame and cost.
If the project is extremely important for your organization and you cannot afford losing this customer or abandoning the project, despite customer’s total lack of interest, you could decide to wait and insist for the customer to approve the next phase of the project, even if the waiting time means your organization is losing money and possibly resources. These drawbacks should be balanced against the advantages that completing the project would bring, regardless of the delay from the customer. This is, however, a risky choice and should be discussed with higher management and agreed by the organization.
Escalating the problem with the customer may seem unprofessional since communication with the customer is your responsibility as the project manager. But if the project risks being delayed or cancelled because of customer’s non-involvement in the project, this issue becomes the responsibility of the higher management. They could use their authority to convince the customer to agree with the next phase of the project.
The last alternative if the customer is delaying the project too much and all efforts to get the customer “in” fail is to abandon the project and the customer, and focus on other projects, making sure you learn from your mistakes. The customer is not always right, especially when the organization undertaking the project is losing money.
Customer delaying the project is a major risk that should not be overlooked in any project; it needs to be identified as a risk and mitigation plans should be developed in the planning phase of the project.