Few business leaders would disagree with the idea that retaining customers is as important to success as finding new ones. Many would actually say that keeping customers is actually more important, and even support this notion by creating customer-centered policies, strategies, marketing campaigns and operations. There is no secret agenda or conspiracy. In a market where customers have many options if we do not satisfy our customer, they will find someone else that can.
Humor me for a moment and replace “customer” with “stakeholder.” Now let’s read that statement again. In a market where stakeholders have many options, if we do not satisfy our stakeholders, they will find someone else that can.
For us, the project manager-stakeholder relationship is just like the business-customer relationship. Additionally, our ability to bring in a successful project hinges as much on the quality of stakeholder engagement we develop as on the quality of the product, service, or result we deliver.
The tool I mentioned in the title is: Systems Engineering. This interdisciplinary approach enables the user to define customer needs and the required functionality of the product or service. If you have had the opportunity to work on projects for the US Government, then you are probably familiar with how systems engineering is used to deliver projects.
Following the documentation of requirements, a design synthesis and system validation is performed, considering the product’s Operations, Performance, Test, Manufacturing, Cost & Schedule, Training, Support and Disposal. Systems engineering takes into account the business and the technical needs of all customers, with the goal of delivering a high-quality product that meets stakeholder’s needs.
Using this approach, project managers can bridge the gap between the project management profession and the technical disciplines required in some more intricate and complex projects. Perhaps you may recognize some of the tools and techniques often used in Systems Engineering: USL (Universal System Language), UML (Universal Modeling Language), QFD (Quality Function Development), CONOPS (Concept of Operations), and Product Life Cycle.
The benefit of adding this broader approach to delivering projects is two-fold for Project Managers. First, we gain a greater understanding of the challenges that others in the organization experience once they accept the product, service or result we just delivered. This understanding can go a long way toward developing goodwill and teamwork in functional and matrix organizations. Second, we demonstrate the value that project management brings to the organization and every stakeholder.
I am confident that adding Systems Engineering to your Project Management ‘toolbox’ can benefit you as a project manager and ultimately your stakeholders and organization. We must be focused on delivering the best value possible for every project we get involved in, not simply delivering another product, service or result. Only when we do this consistently will we be demonstrating our full value.