Why you should involve the client on project reviews

19 March 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Talk to the vast majority of businesses involved in client delivery programmes about how they conduct their post project reviews and they will largely be done internally with the central team from the project. This may consist of a senior manager, the project managers and some of the team involved in the projects implementation. Occasionally, you may get the odd supplier or contractors involved also.

But how many of these businesses involve the significantly important client? This is the person whom the project is being delivered for, who had the initial plan and vision for the programme, the expectations and requirements that needed to be met. Why would you not include the client when reviewing the project with the aim of finding ways of improving future projects?

There is a fear and exposure factor attributed to involving the client on post project reviews. The perception is that somehow the business might show some flawed processes or lack of experience, that weaknesses will be shown or their reputation affected in some way. But turn that on its head and you are looking at a business that is going through a small amount of pain in order to improve itself, provide better skilled staff, refine processes, take mistakes seriously, implement changes and best practice over and above its competition and earn more respect in the marketplace. A business can only do this by finding out what elements of a project went well and did not go well from ALL stakeholders.

Project reviews that involve the client are good for business and great for reputation. Assuming that the business wants to retain the client, build a long-term relationship with them and win more business from them as a consequence, involving them in reviews provides several positives:
• It tells the client that you want to build a productive, long term business relationship with them
• It will bring the project team closer to the client and make them more aware of client perspectives, issues, rationale and drivers
• It will help the client to raise issues or complaints in a controlled environment, rather than not airing them and creating resentment and negative feelings that could affect future business
• It demonstrates to the client that you value their input in the development and improvement processes
• It provides opportunities to refine working practices with the client for the next project
• It shows the client that your business is dedicated to improving your internal processes
• It gives the client the perception that as a business, you are open and honest in your methods

The value of these benefits cannot be underestimated if you want to stand head and shoulders above your competition. Building longer-term relationships with clients can go a long way to winning more profitable business, based on value given to the client. If that client feels that through your business improvements they will benefit from better methodologies, refined processes, better programmes, less set backs through risks and a more effective work force, so much the better.

Taking the construction industry as an example, we only have to read the press to realise that profit margins are tight. Balfour Beatty reported recently that they are withdrawing from bidding on low margin jobs. In an article written by Building, they stated that as a business they would be focusing on markets that could generate better operating margins. They lost out on the £300m Google HQ contract tender on price – because as a business they were not prepared to get a return of less than 2% margin.

This case in point states to me that the Balfour Beatty of the world can have a somewhat bullish approach to what business they are prepared to consider, but they won’t win just on price, they will compete and win on value and reputation.

To compete and win on anything other than price means proving to the client and market that you can provide something over and above the competition. How can this be done if the client is not made directly aware of those business improvements and strategies that will end up benefitting their project?

The end result of the project might be there for all to see, it will likely be viewed as a great success for its mere existence and completion. But the real success is not always seen or viewed by the client because they are never involved. That success stems from being better, more efficient, less wasteful and easier to work with as a business and for your clients to directly realise that too.