At your recent customer review meeting, you sense friction between your team and the Government Task Lead. Your team is doing their best to complete the project on time, on budget, and within the original scope, but the client’s requirements are constantly changing, and their expectations evolve right along with them. Even though your team might be using an agile framework such as Kanban, Scrum, SAFe, or Scrumban, the customer feels like you’re not agile and flexible enough.
This causes friction in the relationship, and the long-term impact of this kind of conflict goes beyond one project. It can, in fact, hurt your business growth.
This situation is particularly challenging because you are dealing with two perceptions of reality: your team’s and your client’s. Whose perception is right? Isn’t the customer always right? What contributes to these polar opposite perceptions?
In our experience, the most common root causes of this kind of friction are ineffective collaboration and inadequate communication. Improve these two things, and you’ll find that your project team and the client will soon be on the same page.
Put another way, agility and flexibility are mindsets best exhibited by your team’s ability to collaborate and support your client in an ambiguous and changing environment.
Collaboration with Agility
When we talk about being “agile,” the first thing that comes to mind is the agile management frameworks made famous by the software industry, such as Kanban, Scrum, SAFe, and Scrumban. While these certainly help when used appropriately, they are primarily a means to an end. What if your project doesn’t use an agile framework, or none of them is a good fit for your situation?
In this article, when we talk about agility (or nimbleness), we’re talking about the ability to move quickly and easily from task to task.
Contrary to the common misconception, agility requires extensive planning—continuous planning that benefits from current information instead of relying on “guessing” the future. Think and plan in terms of three to six months at a time rather than twelve. Collaborate extensively with the client in planning work, and document those plans. Then iterate.
Of course, hitting a moving target is never easy, so keep project requirements and priorities stable and static for a period of two to four weeks. Like any good planning, you need to maintain a healthy balance with the project scope, schedule, and cost any time you modify plans
Again, communicate those short-term plans with the client to get buy-in. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it is vital.
Agile collaboration requires you to:
- Establish a continuous planning rhythm jointly with your client.
- Confirm the long-term vision using a release or product roadmap.
- Apply rigor to your short-term plans (i.e., have fixed requirements for your team for the short-term, such as the two to four-week sprint plan).
Make those plans visible to the client and the entire project team.
Flexibility Is the Other Side of the Coin
Defined as “willingness to change or compromise,” flexibility in a client service environment means having a mindset to accept and consider changes – changes to planning or changes to requirements – change requests. An excellent way to do this is to maintain a change request log. Triage all changes in a backlog. Acknowledge new demands and changes, and collaborate with the client about prioritization.
Inform clients of your awareness of evolving needs and changing circumstances, and discuss any plan modifications. It’s okay for the client to change their mind, so don’t dig your heels in simply because you want to maintain some sense of decisiveness.
Remember the iron triangle: the scope, schedule, and cost of the project must balance. Be careful that a change request doesn’t tip the scales too far in any direction.
Discuss ramifications for change requests with the client. Will they be better served by deprioritizing something else? Should you extend the schedule to put in more work? Can the budget be increased? However, you do it. Your goal is to make change requests a part of your ongoing communication with the client—to cement the perception that you are flexible.
Client communication is an excellent opportunity to showcase your agility and flexibility. Government contracting tends to rely on email communication—a lot is said and done over email. Make them visible. Decisions, change requests, and re-prioritization requests need to show up in your formal progress reports. This allows the clients to see how you’re keeping abreast of change requests and evolving priorities.
Reinforce the tenets of agility—requirements can change, but they must be stable in the short-term. Talk through such things and be forward-looking in your discussions. For example, a regular review of the change request backlog to plan upcoming tasks allows you to be agile and flexible in your team and the client’s eyes.
Whatever you decide to do, communicate with the client and the team with an impact. Remember, the impact comes from documented data. Project management tools such as Atlassian Jira, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams facilitate this, so use them to set up a Kanban board or sprint board for your team. Importantly, use those tools to get the reporting data that showcases your agility and flexibility.
Is being agile and flexible a priority for you?
Agility and flexibility are present-day requirements for the future growth of most professional services organizations. Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published best practices to be agile, so check them out for additional tips and tactics. Whether or not your project is a software development project, your government client will undoubtedly be interested in your agile approach and expect flexibility.
If cementing your hard-working team’s perception as agile and flexible is a priority for you, contact me to receive a project communication dashboard that you can use to demonstrate your flexibility. Give me a call at (202) 609-9861 or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and simply say “Send me the project communications dashboard” and I’ll get it over to you.