In my mind your goal is to deliver the best product or service possible, your goal is to advice your client on how he or she could achieve his or hers goals in ways they never thought of. In pompous terms borrowed from Seth Godin, your job is to be remarkable.
When you enter a project together with a customer you enter into a collaboration – a relationship even. Just as in any relationship, we need involvement and passion. Much “us-and-them” thinking is floating about creating a lot of tension. There’s a clash between Customer and Client – which of course boils down to “payer of invoice” vs. “sender of invoice”. That’s a business transaction – and that’s probably where all tension originates. Nothing adds pressure as short-sighted financial goals. But this is not war, people. It’s collaboration.
I believe it was in a tweet from Jeff Patton where I caught this spot-on statement:
“We should be more like doctors – helping, and less like waiters – taking orders”.
Well put! How many times have you heard, or maybe even uttered, sentences like: “It’s crap, a road to ruin, but that’s what the customer wants so hey, by any means – let’s go build it, see if I care!”
Now for some prejudice based on experience: If you’re a consultant you’ve probably said the above one too many times yourself. Consultants are the hired guns of our world, and how to work with them intelligently is a whole different chapter for another day.
But back to essentials: All in all, it’s actually really, really easy: The customer has goals, you should go above and beyond in order to help the customer achieve these goals. Here’s where my much repeated mantra returns to haunt you: keep an eye on the end game. What is it really that the customer wants to achieve? This is a question of communication as well as commitment. Communicating what’s possible, what’s realistic and what is not. And committing to the work at hand, – whatever could anyone gain from NOT stepping it up and with solid and well researched arguments direct the customer in the proper direction?
You need to go above and beyond. Should your customer have a lousy process at their end, a process that you KNOW will cause an awful mess, then for the love of Taiichi Ohno, tell them so, and help them improve. If you don’t – go find yourself a line of work where such indifferent behavior is accepted. On the top of my head I can’t really think of one. But as you know, Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
It might be that this calls for a different breed of project managers, or maybe a different team setup – a configuration of people for whom system thinking and understanding of business goals is well rooted. A team where everyone involved truly understands the big picture and not only the role they themselves play. In my world, this means making designers and hackers take at least a minor interest in economics, law, marketing and other areas not directly associated with what they are hired to do. Difficult, but not impossible.
And again: a goal is an end game. I will repeat this until my nose bleeds. Helping your customer reach his or hers end game, even if this means not taking the job because what your customer really need is something you can’t offer.
Helping your customer excel. That’s the only success factor you should be interested in.