If You See The Kitchen You Won't Eat At Restaurant
Projects are often marred with issues; question is how much your customer should know!
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Often our selection of a restaurant for a dinner or lunch event is either based on someone's recommendation or through an App-led search qualified through appropriate ratings, menu options, pictures of food/location and pricing. We expect the food to be tasty, low waiting time between order and service and a nice ambience that makes you feel good. We end up talking about the restaurant with others or give a good or a bad rating based on the experience. While in the restaurant, we are least bothered about the kitchen being clean, if the raw material used is of good quality and if the kitchen infrastructure is functioning well.
Trust drives our behavior
The reason we are not bothered about the kitchen condition is mainly because of the underlying trust that is built through the review process leading to restaurant selection. This may not always be true and the case may be per the title of this article "if you see the kitchen you won't eat at the restaurant". Well, if it just a single lunch or dinner event, we can live with a bad experience as the stakes are not high. However, if we extend this analogy to a Project which has been awarded by a Customer to a Service Provider, there is a heavy price to pay for all the stakeholders involved.
A perfect Project is a myth
In a perfect world, Projects start on time, get delivered per the planned scheduled and the budgeted cost conforming to the scope laid out per the agreed customer requirements. This ideal state scenario is the expectation of project stakeholders when they envision the need of such a project. There is no harm in expecting this because if you expect that the Project will have problems from the beginning then you will never embark on the journey.
Project management as a discipline has been around for quite some time now. There are best practices that usually a seasoned Project Manager (PM) will deploy to ensure that the Project execution is smooth. Documenting and tracking Risks and Issues is a very common practice and helps in mitigating it. Yet, even with all the best intentions and good practices in places, Projects often hit roadblocks and sometimes it is beyond the control of the PM.
The Big Question remains: should you involve the customer when you hit a snag?
This is a matter of debate and there is no one-size fit-all answer to this question. People do follow different practices in such situations. While some follow the "Keep Customer Involved" strategy while others follow "Handle it Yourself" for as long as possible. There are pros and cons for both the approaches:
Keep Customer Involved: In this scenario, irrespective of the nature of the issue (strategic or operational), the customer will always be involved. The good part of following this approach is that there are no surprises for the customer at any point in time. This does not take away the accountability from the project team to mitigate the situation. The downside of this approach is that the customer may get overwhelmed with the amount of issues they see every day. Their trust on the service provider may go down as every small issue is visible to them. Also, there will be an additional overhead to manage the customer expectation with status updates on even the smallest of the issues. Also, over exposure may lead to penalties that the service provider may end up paying for delivering a bad experience.
Handle it Yourself: In this scenario, the project team tries to handle the situation themselves and expose it to the customer only when it is outside their capacity to handle it anymore. The downside of this approach is while it seems that everything looks Green, it suddenly turns Red without any early warning. The customer may not be ready for such surprises and this can cause them to get upset badly. The good part being that the customer is away from day to day operational issues which they wanted to avoid at the first place in order to focus on their core business.
These are two extremes situations. The first one is quite analogous to the "Hell's Kitchen" concept. If you have seen this reality show on the Fox channel, you will find teams trying to get food out for the dinner service. The kitchen setup is transparent and any guest can see and hear what is happening in the kitchen. The food quality is monitored by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and one can hear him hurling the best of the abuses when he doesn't find the quality up to the mark. Definitely, the food which comes out is of great quality and also the entire thing is visible and audible to the guest, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth when you experience the whole thing end to end. On the other extreme, you may end up in a restaurant where you cannot experience the kitchen at all and you are at the mercy of the restaurant to serve you good quality food at the end.
Ideally, both the extreme situations should be avoided and a mid-between path needs to be figured out. The involvement of the customer in Project issues is absolutely necessary. Yet, there has to be an understanding between the Project Team and the Customer on the kind of issues that needs immediate attention vs. the ones that can be handled without the Customer's knowledge. It is also important that the Customer organization exhibits maturity to let the Project Team have some autonomy on solving issues their way. A balance between control/involvement vs. empowerment/detachment will help both the Customer and Project Team to better manage the situation.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.