Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Lesson From Inside The Silo? We're All Client Facing.

Years ago, when I was first starting out as a project manager, I thought my primary job was to deliver each project on budget and "protect" my teams. Whenever stakeholders came to me with project changes I would often respond by pulling out our scope documents and pointing to certain paragraphs saying “This is not what we agreed to.” I was siloed within my department, ignorant of the pressures that demanded flexibility and adaptation to a constantly shifting marketplace. My view was internal and myopic.

Fortunately that changed.

A wonderful mentor helped me eventually realize that as soon as you have to pull out documentation to “prove” something to a client, you’ve already lost them. I eventually realized that delivering on budget was pointless if the project didn't satisfy a pressing need for the client. I eventually realized that each of us is client facing — regardless of our role or whether we have direct contact with them —  and our decisions should be informed by that understanding.

We may expect experienced professionals to understand this, but GM is in the news right now because someone, somewhere didn't. They forgot their business was based on satisfying the needs and safety of their customers and let a faulty ignition switch remain in vehicles. This decision led to the deaths of perhaps dozens of people. These people and their families (and GMs business) are now paying a terrible price.

This is an extreme example but a useful one because it reminds us that decisions made by over-weighing inwardly-focused criteria are rarely best in the long run — for our business, our colleagues and most importantly for our customers/clients — the people we hope will pay us to use the products and services we develop and deliver to them.

So how can we prevent this? How can we make better decisions?

By having businesses and project teams shift our thinking. Instead of building cars, or designing software, or creating products and services of any kind, we should instead be building an opportunity based, diagnostic culture focused on creating value — for clients, for the organization, for the end-user.

From the way we communicate to the methods we use to deliver, a focus on creating value helps us adapt as the situation and marketplace demands. Because change happens. Problems arise. And the processes we use must effectively allow for change because we understood change would happen from the beginning. This doesn't mean we don't ever push back, it just means we need to be strategic about it.

If GM had seen the faulty switch as an opportunity to examine their manufacturing and quality processes, they may have been able to improve efficiencies and become a better, more profitable company in the long run. If they had seen the faulty switch as an opportunity to improve customer service and loyalty, they might have been able to build stronger customer (client) relationships and create more long-term value.

Instead, GM found a faulty switch and made the decision to bury it behind cost estimates and legal threats. They apparently forgot we are all client facing. Their decision tragically reflects that.