Asking clients for feedback
In external projects we intend to deliver according to specification within time and budget. However, clients expect more from us. They want us to establish a good relationship based on mutual trust, open communication, opportunities for co-creation developing new products or technology, sustainable solutions, business opportunities as well as other benefits. This is typically not written down in a contract or other project-related documents. It´s rather an implicit expectation. Focusing only on explicit achievements in projects would result in a blind spot. Did we understand all project-related expectations of the client? Do we really meet the expectations of the client? Can we improve the way of collaboration with the client? Could we even improve our service portfolio and learn for future business? For that reason we should establish a feedback communication with the client throughout the project lifecycle.
Often project managers ask only at the end of project for feedback. I would argue the feedback starts already from the beginning, whether we´ve got all relevant information for the project to get started. Whether we have established a good relationship during the initial phase of the project and how we can improve it during the next phases. Feedback should be asked for on a regular basis, e.g. during the status meetings with the client, at important milestones or during any kind of meeting with relevant stakeholders. Feedback should be an essential part of any meeting agenda. During closure of the project, an intensive feedback session with all relevant stakeholders should be established. It may be helpful to have a questionnaire prepared with key questions for the feedback session. However, I would prefer to actively listen to the voice of the client and build the question on what message the clients is sending.
Through management systems standards project managers often seems to be forced using a standard feedback form. Did you ever fill such a form? It is boring and the client would run through it ticking boxes with no interest in giving a real feedback. This is why a project manager should focus on a real dialogue, asking questions more intuitively based on what the client´s answers on previous questions were. Client feels whether you want to please your own management system requirements or the desires of the client. Sometimes you need to read between the lines of a feedback, to get to the real point. Listen carefully, ask clarification questions and thus establish a real dialogue in order to show your interest in improving the relationship with the client. For me it is also important to give feedback to the client. Some may be surprised that a supplier “dares” to provide feedback. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity for the client to improve the way of working with partners.