8 Things Your Project Customer Should Never Hear – Part 1

Tape-Up-MouthHonesty is key.  I firmly believe that the project manager must be the #1 communicator on the project and that they must always be above board with the project customer.  After all, the customer is paying for the engagement, it’s their money, they want us to succeed, and they know that we are the experts that can get it done.  That’s why they enlisted us to take the project on, right?

That said, there are certain things that our project customer should never hear us say.  Why?  Because first and foremost we are here to satisfy the project customer.  I’m a firm believer in my adopted motto, “I’m only as successful as my last customer thinks I am…”.  I want my project customer happy with every delivery.  And I always want to avoid sounding negative to them.  So I never want to say something is impossible or that their idea doesn’t make sense as an immediate response.  Say you’ll go away, analyze it and respond.  You may still be telling them ‘no’ later, but at least you didn’t come across quickly as negative or critical and you didn’t lose the opportunity to turn that client request into a valuable change order on the project.  Here is my list…

That can’t be done.

First, let me say this – and it will apply to all these things below – always try to respond positively to whatever your customer brings to you.  Immediate, negative responses will always seem defensive to the project customer or off-putting and can cause customer satisfaction or confidence to dip immediately.  And then you have a hole you have to dig yourself out of.  So, “That can’t be done” is not something you should ever utter in the presence of your project customer.  Instead, state that may be a challenge and you’ll need to discuss it as a team and respond.  It’s likely that many things can be done…for a price.  So your next conversation may need to involve softening the blow of a potentially large dollar proposed change order presented to the customer.  More revenue = win for the PM and delivery team.

We don’t have the resources for that.

You can always get the resources – even if it means bringing in an outside consultant.  And if it’s outside of the current requirements – and a request or need for a response like this usually is – then it’s a change order.  So if the customer wants is – really wants it – they’ll be the ones paying the high price for that outside consultant and you will be building your own profit on top of that consultant’s rate.  Another win.  But never say “no.”

That’s not what you want.

Don’t tell the customer what they want is wrong.  At least not as an initial response and not that way.  Say that what they are asking for is an interesting idea and that you will perform some analysis to identify and present to them the best approach to handle it.  And that may involve you actually presenting a different approach and a different solution – but let that be a result of your own analysis.

That is going to cost a lot.

Indeed what your customer is asking for may end up costing a lot.  But let that knowledge come from the presentation of a proposal or change order, not from your initial response to a customer question or statement of need.  In fact, avoid even giving them a “ballpark” estimate if you’re asked for one.  They will keep that number in their head and you’ll look bad if you come back much higher or much lower than that initial number you throw out to them.  It’s like when a hiring organization asks you what your salary expectations are in an interview.  Never give that number out if you can possibly avoid it – nothing good ever comes from it.  You either never hear from them again because you’re too expensive or they come back with a low offer because you tried to make yourself too flexible or desperate.  Go away, analyze, and present a thoughtful and professionally prepared estimate in the form of a proposal or project change order.

That’s the first four of my eight things your project customer should never hear from the project manager or team.  In Part 2, we’ll cover the last four on my list…for now.


Brad Egeland

Brad Egeland

Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM author with over 25 years experience as a developer, manager, project manager and consultant. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.

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