We all inherently know that our best options are to always to go directly to a source, whatever or whomever that is. In a recent post, I advocated for allowing your project team to engage directly with customers. While I strongly believe this allows you to deliver a better experience, I do think there are a few pitfalls to avoid.
1) Be careful about the “shoot from the hip” responses – Often times in design or business discussions an inquiry will ask “how long?”, “how much?” and it is common for people to “shoot from the hip” and give an answer. There must be a structured way to balance these casual conversations, with the reality of the project status, plan, resources, investment. Otherwise, you will get stuck in the never-ending project and perpetual scope creep.
2) Balance gut estimates with discovery – Everyone is in a rush to understand how long it will take to build this product, feature or system. You need to be able to leverage your knowledge of having done similar applications, with the project discovery you need to do to understand this particular project. Too often I’ve been caught in situations where I had to explain that while a team member said they had done something similar in 10 hours, this particular implementation was going to 40. At initial thought, this seems excessive, as compared to the similar project. However, once you start talking about all the additional project management, testing and discovery required for this one versus that other one, it becomes more palatable. Make sure you vet gut estimates with actual requirements and customer needs.
3) Avoid detours – A huge risk to allowing project teams to engage with customers directly is subtle permission this introduces to go directly to the project team. I’ve seen customers who will stop engaging with ticketing systems in lieu of going directly to project teams. This introduces quite a few disruptions to the process. First it makes tracking and accountability difficult as inquiries aren’t going into a central system. Second, it can overwhelm project team members as they try to balance assigned work with the customer engagement. The project team will sometimes feel that they “have to respond.” The project manager or customer success manager needs to step in and manage the process. The team needs to make sure that they are being responsive, but doing it in a way that addresses the customer priorities, and keeps the customer involved in making those decisions.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge advocate for engaging project teams with customers. This is not a free for all. There should be a structure and methodology, with appropriate accountability and check points to adjust for the changing environments.