First thing’s first: what are deliverables? When you manage a project either internally or for a client outside of your organisation, a deliverable is something you agree to have achieved by a set deadline. Each deliverable counts towards the completion of the project. By breaking things down in this way, it can be made sure that everyone involved is producing their piece of the puzzle on schedule.
To understand what your clients really want, to keep them updated, and to ensure you don’t stray from what the job requires, you need to communicate with clients in the right way and at the right stages. At the same time, smart use of deliverables can help to break up even the most complex projects into manageable, bite-size chunks, while KPIs can tell you if you’re meeting client expectations across your business.
Here, we’ll help you understand how this works in practice, and show you how it all fits together so those crucial, early day client relationships are a success.
Understanding the importance of clear communication
As part of its 2015 annual survey, The Project Management Institute asked project leaders to consider any projects they were involved in over the last 12 months that were deemed ‘failures’ — and to list the primary causes of those failures. “Inaccurate requirements gathering” (i.e. a failure to grasp what the client is looking for) was cited in 38% of cases. More generally, “Inadequate/poor communication” was mentioned by 30% of respondents, while both “Inadequate cost estimates” and “Inaccurate task time estimates” were mentioned in more than a quarter of instances.
In short, if a project is not well organised, it’s much less likely to be because of the people involved were not up to the job. It’s more down to the fact that they failed to get to the heart of what the client is looking for; and/or what the job is going to entail. Appreciating this can, however, be reassuring: it shows that if you focus on communication from the outset, you can substantially reduce the risk of failure.
How deliverables can help you build better client relationships
Once you’ve successfully won your first client, you might realise it can be hard to get to the bottom of what it is that they want. In other situations, they might provide you with apparently clear instructions, only to declare that the finished piece of work was not what they were expecting — despite the fact that you delivered it on brief.
This is where ‘deliverables’ can be highly useful. These are the building blocks of an overall project, and when a deliverable is presented to clients, it can reassure both sides that the work is on track. If you’re designing software for instance, the first deliverable might be a basic walk-through model. Following this, you might present a beta version for the end-user to test out. The final deliverable is likely to be the complete platform.
When each deliverable is presented, it gives the client the opportunity to confirm whether the work so far lives up to expectations. From your perspective, it makes it easier to keep track of time and resources. If for instance, the client decides after seeing your first deliverable that they want features which were not in the original brief, you can set out clearly what this will mean in terms of extra cost and give a revised deadline date. They cover your back, as well as helping to structure the project.
KPIs and client relationships
Each project you are involved with is part of a learning curve, and the outcome of each one can inform you where there might be room for improvement in managing projects and handling client communications. For this, it’s useful to use KPIs (key performance indicators): distinct, quantifiable measurements of how your project team is performing.
There are many potential KPIs to measure. As a starting point, for each project, consider recording project time overrun, budget overrun, the number of issues found during internal review of the work and the number of revisions picked up by clients. For instance, if projects frequently run behind schedule, it could be that you need to revise your timetabling and/or time estimates. You might also consider investing in additional staff, too. If you are frequently asked by clients to go back to the drawing board after presenting a deliverable, it could be a sign that you need to focus on early-stage communication and getting a more accurate picture of what the client really wants.
Communication throughout the project
The initial ‘pre-kickoff’ meeting with your client is essential for setting the scope of the project, the detailed requirements, the timeline and the next steps. If it’s a business client, find out as much as you can about the business before the meeting such as the type of work it is involved in and the makeup of its staff. This will help you to build rapport and can help you to guide the client to a more accurate list of requirements. For instance, if you learn that the client’s business has two branches in different locations, how might this affect the functionality of the product you are putting together?
Make full notes of the meeting, and draw up a list of what you understand to be the client’s full requirements for the project. Ask the client to confirm in writing that those requirements are correct before you embark on the first stage.
For communication during the project, it’s important to put together a process that both you and the client are comfortable with. Some clients will be very happy to let you get on with it (after all, they have other commitments on top of this project). In these situations, you might agree that the next communication will be to arrange presentation of the first deliverable — but that you will contact them in the interim if an issue arises. Other clients may desire a more hands-on role, in which case a weekly progress meeting could be appropriate.