Developing Conditions of Satisfaction

If we had to pick one area where a project runs into trouble, we would pick the very beginning. For some reason, people have a difficult time understanding what they are saying to one another. How often do you find yourself thinking about what you are going to say while the other party is talking? If you are going to be a successful project manager, you must stop that kind of behavior. An essential skill that project managers need to cultivate is good listening skills.

Good listening skills are important in the project planning phase for two different project situations:

■■ The first situation, and the ideal one, occurs when a client makes a request for a project. At this point, two parties are brought together to define exactly what the request is and what kind of response is appropriate. The deliverable from this conversation is a COS.

■■ The second, and more likely, situation, occurs when you inherit what we call the "water cooler project." As the name suggests, these are the projects that are assigned to you when you accidentally meet your manager at the water cooler. Up to that point, you probably had not heard of such a project, but you now need to find out all about it ASAP. The COS document is the result of your investigation.

This section describes the process for developing the COS.

The conversations and negotiations that eventually lead to an agreed-on COS have several dimensions. The process of developing the COS involves four parts:

Request. A request is made.

Clarification. The provider explains what he or she heard as the request. This conversation continues until the requestor is satisfied that the provider clearly understands the request. Both parties have now established a clear understanding of the request.

Response. The provider states what he or she is capable of doing to satisfy the request.

Agreement. The requestor restates what he or she understands that the provider will provide. The conversation continues until the provider is satisfied that the requestor clearly understands what is being provided. At this point both parties have established a clear understanding of what is being provided.

Let's walk through an example. Suppose you want a certain model of widgets in forest green to ship to your warehouse by December 1, 2003. You decide to visit the manufacturer to make this request. The conversation would go something like this:

Requestor: I would like you to build five prototypes of the new forest green widgets and ship them to my warehouse on December 1, 2003.

Provider: You are asking if we can get five green widget prototypes into your warehouse by December 1, 2003?

Requestor: Actually, if you can get them shipped by December 1, 2003, that will be acceptable. But remember, they have to be forest green.

Provider: So if on December 1, 2003, I can ship five forest green widgets to your warehouse, you will be satisfied.

Requestor: Yes, but they must be the new model, not the old model.

Provider: The new model?

Requestor: The new model.

Provider: I believe I understand what you have asked for. Requestor: Yes, I believe you do.

Provider: Because of my current production schedule and the fact that I have to change paint colors, I can ship two forest green widgets on November 25, 2003 and the remaining three on December 8, 2003.

Requestor: If I understand you correctly, I will get five prototypes of the new forest green widgets in two shipments—two prototypes on November 25 and three on December 8. Is that correct?

Provider: Not exactly. You won't receive them on those dates. I will ship them to your warehouse on those dates.

Requestor: So, let me summarize to make sure I understand what you are able to do for me. You will build a total of five prototypes of the new forest green widgets for me and ship two of them on November 25 and the remaining three on December 8?

Provider: That is correct. Establishing Clarity of Purpose

By the time you leave, both you and the manufacturer have stated your positions and know that the other party understands your position. While the example is simple, it does establish a language between you and the provider, and both of you understand the situation. The seeds have been planted for a continuing dialog. As the project work progresses, there will be changes that can be dealt with effectively because the effort has been made up front to understand each other.

The next step in the COS process is to negotiate to closure on exactly what will be done to meet the request. Obviously, some type of compromise will be negotiated. The final agreement is documented in the POS.

Our example was fairly simple. More than likely, the parties will not come to an agreement on the first pass. This process repeats itself, as shown in Figure 3.1, until there is an agreed-to request that is satisfied by an agreed-to response. As part of this agreement there will be a statement, called success criteria, in the POS that specifies when and how the request will be satisfied. It is important that this statement be very specific. Do not leave whether or not the conditions have been met up to interpretation. An ideal statement will have only two results—the criteria were met or the criteria were not met. There can be no in-between answer here. The success criteria (aka doneness criteria) will become part of the POS. The result is documented as the COS and becomes input to the POS.

Negotiate Agreement and Write Project Overview Statement

Figure 3.1 Establishing the Conditions of Satisfaction.

Negotiate Agreement and Write Project Overview Statement

Figure 3.1 Establishing the Conditions of Satisfaction.

This early step of establishing and agreeing to what will be done is very important to the success of the project. It is difficult to do a thorough job, especially when everyone is anxious to get to work on the project. It is also a painful process. People can be impatient; tempers may flare. You may be inclined to skip this step. Remember, pain me now or pain me later. You choose what you are willing to live with. Even if the request seems straightforward, do not assume that you understand what the requestor has asked or that the requestor understands what you will provide, even if the request seems straightforward. Always use the COS to ensure that you both understand what is expected.

Specifying Business Outcomes

As indicated in the previous section, it is a good idea to specify within the COS what exactly the outcomes are that demonstrate the COS has been met. The outcomes have been called success criteria, explicit business outcomes, and objectives, among other names. Whatever term you use, you are referring to a quantitative metric that signals success. We discuss that metric in more detail later in the chapter. For now all we need say is that it is a quantitative measure (profit, cost avoidance, improved service levels) that defines success.

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