Many of you may know the situation as a SAP project manager- you arrive at a customer’s site, you align the agenda with the customer, you prepare your day and suddenly the customer would like to discuss completely different topics as you agreed before and expected!
Now, there are different approaches to handle this kind of situation:
-1) Be frustrated because all your preparation was for nothing
– 2) Be shocked because you do not understand your customer at all
– 3) Be flexible and tell yourself that customers, just like SAP consultants, are only human beings and their priorities change just as fast as our priorities change
(BTW, #3 is the correct answer)
Besides all the technical, functional and specific expertise you need as basics for your daily work as a SAP project manaer, nowadays one of the key success factors is your flexibility and ability to manage moving targets caused by dynamic environments. These moving targets are not only
the big ones. The moving target is the environment, in which all of us live in.
This starts at moving objectives on personal level, conversations with your boss or project sponsor and ends in changes related to the project environment itself until changes in the company wide IT- or business strategy which will be drilled down until project level.
All project managers are challenged by this moving and dynamic environment.
How to face this situation?
One of the key success factors -besides a stable personality and your flexibility- is a long term relationship with the customer. After many months and years working at a customer’s site, you should be able to:
- get a feeling about the customer’s work environment
- be able to assess the behavior of the different key stakeholders
- know the branch specific influence factors
- have a good picture of the daily challenges especially at global and complex organizations.
Whenever a customer would like to change the topics you agreed before, you already have a good impression what their reason is and from where the change is coming from. Additionally if you know the customer environment quite well, you should have a broad network of colleagues, partners and customer employees. This network is very helpful in order to gather background information, put these changes into a broader context and get a general understanding of the situation. A project manager is like a spider capturing information instead of flies. This information is one of the most valuable assets a project manager possesses. Based on this information you can show your customer a better understanding of the situation and propose specific options to solve the issues. If these solutions proposals are based on a solid ground, the customer can feel that you understand their challenges and provide solutions to concrete issues.
I know that not all of us have the opportunity to be in one or more than one long-term project at the same customer or at least in the same industry. Many of us are jumping from one to another project across different industries. The key objective is that we try to manage the customer projects as good as we possibly can, and therefore you should create yourself an environment based on customer-related information, which enables you to achieve your goals (as well as the customer’s goals).