As a young project manager starting-out I noticed that the supplier for the project had recently tendered unsuccessfully for a large government project in the UK. The tender bid cost £1m. I said to the supplier: “You must be making a lot of money on the contracts you win, to be able to offset the costs of those you don’t”
The reply caught me by surprise and shaped the next 20 years as a project and change manager.
The response was: “The bid reflects exactly what your client asked for and is reasonably priced. The truth is that we know that what the client asked for is not what they need, and we will make all our profit by charging them for changes.”
I was sceptical: “But what if a client knew exactly what they wanted, and had a project manager that ensured you delivered exactly that?”
The response was simple. “Neither of those circumstances are likely ever to happen, but if they did we’d make a loss. But there is no such thing as a client who knows exactly what they need, or a project manager that is precise with the contract or its management”
Sadly after the elapse of 20 years I have found that to be consistently true.
Even when a project manager is willing to hold a supplier to account the client’s requirements are seldom sufficiently well-defined to provide solid ground. Instead there is debate, discussion, flexibility and compromise.
What do you think?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Rogers is an experienced Management Consultant, Project and Change Leader. He is also Commonwealth Triathlete and World Championships Rower and a Tutor/Mentor on the Chartered Management Institute.