Daily Archives: March 15, 2011

Managing client expectations

A big key to IT success is the ability to manage your client’s expectations. In my last post, I talked about the “client is always right”. I’ve encountered many situations where the client was not factually correct, , , but their expectation was exactly what it should be given the situation.

Let me give you a perfect example. In one company I joined as their new CIO several client managers told me during my initial assessment that I should fire one of the IT employees in my organization.

Not one, not two, , , but three managers told me this. When you get this many, there is an issue to be sure. My job is to determine what reality is and take appropriate action. In such a case, there will be one of two issues to exist:

  1. The employee is not performing.
  2. The client’s expectations are incorrect.

What I discovered in this case was a bit of both. The employee was not performing to the level needed, , , but it was because there was considerable more demand than staff to provide such support. The employee in question had a good attitude and tried to do the job well but there wasn’t enough capacity to get it all done, , , we needed 3 or 4 more people to do what was necessary in this support situation.

In this case, it was not an employee problem, , , it was a management problem because we weren’t managing the client’s expectations about what to expect from their IT organization. Now, the client was correct about support not being sufficient for them to do their job, but they were incorrect in what the problem really was, , , and especially wrong about what the solution should be.

Once I fixed the staffing deficiency problem, no one felt that I should fire this employee, , , in fact, they thought the employee’s morale had improved immensely. That’s really funny because the employee always had a good attitude, , , just could not possibly get all the work done to support the client. I didn’t do anything but fix the real issue, , , insufficient capacity to support the business.

Learn to be conservative
To manage client expectations, you must be conservative. What I mean is you need to set expectations that position you to over deliver. That means telling clients you will complete a project in 6 weeks when you think you will be able to do it in 4 weeks, , , and telling your client the cost of a project is $120,000 when you think you should be able to complete it for $100k to $110k.

There is what I call a Law of IT principle in that, “IT projects always take longer and cost more to complete than you think they will.”

If you are not conservative when you commit to do things for your client, it’s going to be rough going for you and your team. Teach your employees how to be appropriately conservative when they commit to do things for others.

Another example – programming productivity
There are approximately 160 work hours in a typical month. I know from experience you should get 110 to 120 hours or more a month of productive programming time on average from a programmer over the course of a year. Some months will be much less due to vacation, training, meetings, etc. and some months will be a lot more, , , but over time you should average around 120 hours of code produced a month by every programmer on your team.

When setting your client’s expectations, tell them you can produce 100 hours per month per programmer. If you have 5 programmers working on the same application, that means you position your client for your team to produce on average 500 hours of code each month when you expect to be able to produce 550 to 600 hours a month.

By doing this, you position your team to over achieve.

Another simple rule
No one gets upset if you complete a job faster than you say you will or less expensive than you say it will cost, , , but someone always gets concerned if you are late or over budget.

Learn to be conservative every time you tell someone you plan to do something for them and teach your staff to do the same, , , it is going to help you deliver what you say you will do, when you say it will be completed, , , and within the budget you submit.

This makes you a reliable manager and that’s something everyone wants from you.

Your client is always right

Before you think I’ve lost it completely, , , let me explain.

In an IT organization, we are there to support the technology needs of people who need technology to do their jobs. In most situations, technology is not the company’s core competency. It is banking services, manufacturing widgets, selling food, clothes, or books, , , or doing something to sell products and services they provide. It is rarely developing technology.

Our IT clients are primarily two groups of people in your company:

  1. Senior managers
  2. Department managers and their employees

If your clients think you do a good job, , , great. However, if they think you are doing a poor job in supporting their business, , , guess what, , , you are.


Let me clarify just a bit.

You might actually be doing a super job with the technology. In fact, you could be the best technical organization around, , , the VERY BEST !

However, if the client thinks you are doing a lousy job in supporting them, something is askew. It could be that you are simply not managing their expectations very well. If that’s the case, then there is a problem.

Delivering technology services well is not just about doing a good “technical” job. You must also manage the client so they agree you are delivering support successfully. The flip side of this is that you could be doing a mediocre job technically, but if your client thinks you are doing a great job in supporting their business, , , guess what , , , you are.

Now, I know what the technical purists are going to say, , , something like, “Mike, that’s crazy. You should know that unless the technical part is handled well, there is no way to be successful in supporting technology.”

All I can tell you is that I’ve seen many outstanding technical organizations get low marks from their clients because they aren’t managing the client’s expectations well. They may be superior technicians but they are respected less because the client’s expectations are out of whack.

Something to think about!