Client / Customer Leadership
The customer or client role is one of paramount importance within a construction project. The decisions made at this early concept stage are likely to mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful project in terms of the value that is gained – or lost!
It is the customer or client that will stay with the project from concept to operation and ultimately it is their responsibility to ensure that the needs of the end users are correctly identified and addressed. In many, but not all, cases the customer and the end user will be the same. The client/customer should consider :
- Having a network of advice in place
- Committing enough time when it is required
- Signing up to the ‘Client Charter’
- Demonstrating and understanding the importance of leadership within the team
- Making a realistic financial commitment from the outset
- Signing off all key stages of the project
- Embracing a positive attitude
- Understanding the project management processes involved
- Engaging all stakeholders early on
- Developing a clear project management strategy
- Instigating regular team meetings
- Minimising changes throughout the project
Having a network of advice in place
Inexperienced customers or clients can often benefit from a network of trusted advisors to help on specific issues that arise during the project.
- Talk to your peer group to see if they have any advice based on previous experience
- Advisors could be experienced professionals from any sector of the industry (including experienced customers) working on a consultancy basis
- Consultants should not lead the customer or client on their need – this is an area for the customer or client to specify
- Customer or client requirements (often set out in the form of a “brief” should be cross checked by the advisors to ensure they are realistic and achievable (eg financially) before being issued to others (eg in a tender)
- Customers or clients should pay particular attention to procurement and contractual advice as there may be legislative or commercial issues to consider
- The Construction Clients Group (CCG) is a dedicated client organisation that promotes best practice through its network of public and private sector clients.
Committing enough time when it is required
Construction customers or clients need to be prepared to commit sufficient time to the project. Certain times and events in the project will be crucial to its success and these require the attention of the customer or client to ensure that decisions can be made promptly and the project is able to move forward. The customer or client should identify these key times/events in advance and prioritise their input accordingly. It is in the interests of the customer to ensure their investment is being managed effectively.
- Plan key inspection dates around the project programme
- Regularly liaise with the delivery team to get updates on project progress
Signing up to the Construction Clients’ Charter
The Construction Clients’ Charter is available to all construction customers or clients, whether from a private or public sector background and provides a platform to clearly state their commitment to improve and monitor their own performance. There is also the facility to benchmark their own performance and judge themselves against other clients within the industry.
- This can give the rest of the project team confidence in the commitment of the client
- It supports the creation of the mutually rewarding business relationship required for project success.
Demonstrating and understanding the importance of leadership within the team
“The client must demonstrate leadership within the team, even when not physically leading the team”
On larger scale projects a Project Manager may assist the customer or client to ensure the project is managed within time and budget. However, the customer or client still has an important role to play within the team even with a Project Manager in place.
The ‘silent client’ role should be avoided as it is important they get their views across to the rest of the team and show clear and strong leadership. Characteristics of good leadership include:
- Being visibly proactive and a dynamic team player
- Giving appropriate recognition and reward for good performance
- Offering balanced and objective viewpoints
- Contributing to a positive culture
- Motivating and communicating with the team
- Demonstrating positive attitudes and behaviours
- Offering clear vision and direction
Making a realistic financial commitment from the outset
“The project should be based on the finances available, not the other way around”
Having a realistic budget is crucial to the success of a project. The customer or client has to provide an honest summary of the finances available at the earliest stage of the project.
- Ensure that these figures are not subject to continual and unmanaged change.
- Ensure that any conditions to the funding are clearly defined.
- Undertake a comprehensive feasibility study at the concept stage is invaluable.
- The study should focus on the whole life costs of a project and consider the value that is required from the project rather than the lowest possible cost.
The following quote by John Ruskin is a reminder of the “buy cheap, buy twice” principle :
“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.
It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
Sign off all key stages of the project
Signing off all key stages of the project demonstrates genuine commitment to and understanding of the project. It also:
- Demonstrates accountability and involvement by the client or customer
- Assures the delivery team that the customer or client is happy with their service
- Encourages a regular review process
- Encourages customer/client involvement throughout the project
- Consider implementing a formal review and approval process e.g. the OGC Gateway Process
Embrace the project
Construction knowledge and previous experience is not always necessary for the customer or client to fulfil their role, providing they embrace the project from the outset.
The customer or client needs to be focused, with clear objectives and a willingness to drive these forward, whilst remaining open minded to other suggestions.
The best customers or clients;
- Are prepared to work with the project team
- Want to understand the processes
- Want to get involved
- Are ambitious
- Are committed to the project
- Are open minded
- Are prepared to take the lead on key issues such as team culture
- Have clear objectives
Understand the processes involved
There are a number of resources available to help customers or clients understand their role and maximise the value of their involvement.
Less experienced customers or clients will need to prepare well and ensure they understand the project process. This can be done in a number of ways;
- Client training schemes.
- CDM guidefor clients
- Talk to other clients – they are more often than not happy to talk about their experiences and what they would have done differently given the opportunity i.e. CEW Project Locator
- Signing up for the ‘Client Charter’ and encourage the whole supply chain to endorse it
- Clients will learn the most when they are on site. Once the physical works are underway show your interest and visit the site on a regular basis
Engaging all stakeholders early on
Get stakeholders “on board” from the outset – or, at the very least, those who will have greatest influence over your project:
- Identify who your key stakeholders are;
- Understand what “value” means to them;
- Prepare a stakeholder management grid to determine which of your stakeholders have greatest/least interest in and influence on your project.
- Develop strategies to bring key stakeholders “on board”;
- Involve them in early workshops to determine what “value” they want or expect from the project;
- Take a lead on political issues.
An example of engaging all stakeholders early on can be seen below or via CEW Project Locator
Have a clear project management strategy
“Project management is a way of managing change. It describes activities that can meet specific objectives and can be used to introduce or improve new or existing products and services”.
A successful project needs a clear strategy from the outset with strong and consistent procedures in place to direct, control and monitor progress. Clients or customers should consider :