Saturday, June 4, 2011

Setting up a project for success with a client

When setting up a new project with a client it is critical to analyze what kind of a project it is from the customer involvement perspective. Understanding the degree of involvement of the customer in the Form and Function elements of a project is foundation for its success.

Form and Function exist in every project. Every solution has an aesthetic element and also a functionality element. So what I mean by form is the aesthetic angle including style, shape, theme, color, usability etc... and what I mean by function is the actual value that the system delivers to the client.

To make it measurable and therefore controllable, let's give an index value to the degree of customer involvement with each element using a range from 0 to 10. For example, if the customer's interaction with Form is high we give it a 10 and if the interaction with the Function element is low, we give it a 0. Then we can say that the Customer Involvement iNdex (CIN) for this project is: 10-0.

A project's CIN value can serve as the foundation for defining the rest of the project parameters and resources from estimation, development methodology, type of resources to use to the tools used.

For instance, what is the CIN that you would give a project that involves building a standard security or database engine? On the Form factor, I would give it zero as there's little involvement or say of the customer on how it looks and feels, after all it is an engine.

On the Function factor, I would also give it a one as beyond defining the objective of the engine, there's not much customer involvement. So for this project the CIN is 0-1, very low. Now we can make our selections on how to set it up (including the expectations of the client) in accordance to a low CIN rating.

For example, for a estimation/billing model a low CIN rating leans itself towards giving the customer a fixed price. Also, there wouldn't be a need to setup a system of project tracking with the customer. We can also use a waterfall development approach vs. iterative, also we can use outsourced resources vs in-house etc... All based on the CIN value of the project.

On the other hand, a custom software development project has a high CIN rating close to a 10-10. For instance, there will be a lot of customer involvement and say in the Form factor and a lot of customer involvement in the Function factor. The customer's change requests will be endless because it would be an exploratory project.

So for a high CIN project, we can choose an iterative development methodology, a project tracking system, a change request process, T & M billing if we can get away with it or just include a 50% buffer, use in-house resources etc...

One last example, let's suppose the project is a simple website development project, what is the CIN for this kind of project? Websites usually involve a lot of aesthetics so let's give it an 8 on the Form factor. For function, a simple website's function is well defined so we can give it a 5 on Function. So the CIN for this simple website project is 8-5. This can help us setup this project for success by either limiting how many mockups a customer can have or charging T & M for that aesthetic part and give fixed pricing for the functionality part. A hybrid approach.

Paying attention to the Customer Involvement iNdex (CIN) can make or break a project.