Why do customers need reports

If you are a project manager you definitely have ever told your colleagues “I hate these reports! Why do they require those stupid report for every tracked hour? I spend several hours to create it!” You have a weekly call with the customer on the status and have to prepare for it whole the day? You hate Mondays, not only because it is the hardest day of the working week but also because report call? You have to explain each hour spent on the project? It rings the bell? If yes, we are on the same side.

Let’s imagine that we are on the other side: you have chose the company to develop the application for you. You already gave them the trust credit, as you have pointed them out among the hundreds of other companies. The team you are introduced to seems to be nice – everyone is smiling and looks like they know what to do. The development process starts… How would you know everything is going ok? Yes, that PM is a good guy, but is it enough to hear “Everything is going according the plan” from him during the status calls? Customer is not present at the daily meetings, demos, etc.

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The initial trust credit continues working until the first fail. The team promised to implement this functionality before date X (product manager on the customer’s side promised his boss to present it during the meeting with investors), but fails. Level of trust drops immediately – “What the fucking idiots are there??? I asked them to do this only thing and they failed!”. Customer starts doing the only reasonable thing – finds the ways how to prevent fails in future. He is completely right. The only wrong thing is the way how he tries to prevent problems – usually he tries to find, whose fault it was and adds 100500 reports to the process, as it gives a certain level of “confidence”, as if he controls the situation.

So, you clearly see the reason: client knows almost nothing about the process, he sees only the results – team failed. There is no transparency between the team and the client, so the client tries to reduce anxiety with the first thing that comes to his mind – control everything! And how he can control? Asking us to prepare him detailed reports, so he can see what we are doing!

So, what increases customer’s anxiety level:

1) No transparency in the development process. When customer knows what we are doing, what is the progress – he feels control of the situation. So he is calmed down. As you increase transparency – the customer’s anxiety level goes down.

photo 22) No trust after the big failure. Even if you have the good transparency level – after a big fuck up your customer starts feeling uncomfortable.

3) No stable team – when people are changing often, customer just can’t manage to build the relationship and trust with the team.

How to reduce the customer’s anxiety level:

  • Communicate often. If you talk to the customer and hear something “I don’t understand why ….” – it’s time to explain. Keep your hands on the customer’s expectations.
  • Be proactive. If you talk to your customer once a week and feel that now you have the hard times, when you can fuck up the build – start talking each day, show them the progress and what you are doing. I usually had the daily calls/daily meetings with the customers when we had hard times. Later we returned to weekly calls or even calls in the beginning and the end of the week. The trick is to feel the moment when customer starts feeling the lack of information/confidence and inform him about the status at that moment.
  • Involve your team in the communication. When your customer knows the developers personally – they become not “units” but real people for him. Mention who is doing which task during the status call, encourage developers to write emails to the customer and participate in skype chat.
  • Show all details of the process. With my teams we developed the document shared with the client where he could find out all the information about the project in almost the “real time” – backlog, springs backlogs and progress, velocity graphs, planning, number of sprints left prognosis, etc.The most interesting thing for the customer was “dashboard”, where he could find the general info and 2 most valuable numbers: % Budget spent, % Functionality done. These numbers were updated almost every day, when the statuses of the user stories were changed to “done” and PM added spent hours. These 2 numbers showed client if the project is ok – he spent a few sec to get the idea – are we on track or not.

Screenshot 2014-02-03 15.39.00

How to get rid of reports:

  • Reduce customer’s anxiety level through introducing more transparency.
  • Discuss with the customer why they need the report. On one of my projects client required the detailed hours report each week. I spent 4 hours to create it with the QA team. Once I asked my customer – why do we need such detailed report? You see our progress, we have calls several times a week, demo in the end of the sprint. And he told me – “Our accountant department requires report, so they can include it to the invoices history.” Our next step was reducing the complexity of the report, so I created it in 15 min and everyone was happy. They just needed a document “to be attached”.
  • Show your client how expensive is the report for him. Just count the number of hours you spent on it and then multiply by the hour rate. Your customer would be surprised, how expensive is the “calm” that he buys by these reports. But be prepared with the “alternative plan” – you need to show customer what to do instead of sending him these reports.

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